Theatre of the mined: How the mining industry is like a play
Gary Jones, Special to Financial Post | 13/03/07 11:36 AM ET
The mining industry has entered a new stage: the Theatre of the Absurd, a style of play marked by broad comedy and horrific tragedy. Hence the theatre review cliché: “I laughed. I cried. It became a part of me.”
The PDAC conference is just the ticket to witness this shambles in person. In fact, the timing couldn’t be better, as the lead actors have all been fired and the accountants just wrote most of it down.
Shakespeare once wrote: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” If it’s true that we’re all merely players, then maybe the PDAC is simply a stage setting for a play, albeit an absurd farce of operatic proportions.
Just minus the laughs.
During my career, I’ve co-written a farce. Along the way, we had to ask ourselves, line by line, “Who knows what and when do they know it?” If the audience is even a minute ahead of what you’re methodically feeding them, you’re sunk. If the audience sniffs for a second that the writer and director are not confidently steering the ship, they’ll walk out in droves.
Or look at this way: If your stock has plummeted 50% in the past year, you’re fired. If you might have to write down US$14-billion from dreadful acquisitions, you’re fired. If the cost of your US$3-billion gold project in some bleak and hellish pocket of the Andes has swelled to US$8.5-billion, then guess what? Oh yeah, you’re fired.
Putting a mine into production is really no different than writing and producing a Fringe Festival play, in that they both need cash and they need it by yesterday. OK, there’s one difference: I’ve never heard any of my fellow actors say, “Hey, we’re producing a play for the Fringe. We need $1-billion by tomorrow, or it’ll be $3.5-billion.” They usually just need to borrow somebody’s couch or standing lamp.
The point being, the impulse and drive to discover a huge mine is the exact same impulse and drive to create a smash Broadway hit. You need the right lead actor/CEO in place that the backers/board of directors have confidence in.
When those folks need a scapegoat for their overspending and meagre profits, you can bet they’ll fire that very same CEO they introduced with much fanfare a few years ago.
It’s akin to kicking Robert De Niro off your play because of lousy attendance on a drizzly Saturday matinee (especially in terms of the “pay or play” exit package). But never mind that. Investors want results! Audiences want to be wowed!
No one wowed investors and regulators last year quite like Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd., which claimed that its Cow Mountain property in British Columbia may hold up to 90 million ounces of gold. Coincidentally, the town of Barkerville, which had a gold rush in the 1800s, currently hires actors to stroll around as gold rush-fevered townsfolk pretending that all their world’s a stage and all their stage is a world.
There is definitely a place in this universe for Frank Callaghan, Barkerville CEO and irrepressible mining promoter. He is a classic example of the colourful, puffed-up theatre impresario who will not be ignored.
Canada’s most famous impresario is Garth Drabinsky, who made a name for himself by bringing Phantom of the Opera to Toronto and living large in the world of über-budgeted productions such as Ragtime and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Both he and Callaghan were prone to astonishing claims, although with Phantom’s hugely successful run, Drabinsky must have felt that he was sitting on one of the biggest gold deposits in history. Callaghan claims that he actually is.
Unfortunately, the early reviews on Barkerville are in from the British Columbia Securities Commission, and they aren’t good.
The regulator forced Callaghan and his company to Exit Stage Left for a while, leaving him as the Phantom and his investors, with their cease-traded stock, as Les Misérables. No matter. The curtain is always set to rise on a good story, and we all love to stick around for the second act.
Personally, with the blatant similarities between these two worlds, I can hardly wait for opening night of Bre-X: The Musical. A musical with, apparently, no music. You can’t write down what doesn’t exist.
Gary Jones is a Vancouver-based freelance writer, actor and award-winning playwright.