Ever since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, a wave of cancellations and closures have rocked the Canadian arts and entertainment world. Now, as the crisis shows no sign of weakening, and with public gatherings being discouraged if not banned outright, cultural institutions have begun laying off staff.
After cancelling all upcoming public events on its campus, on March 19 the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta announced it would move into an “essential services” footing for the next few months and temporarily lay off some of its staff. “With little public activity now on campus,” a statement posted online read, “we have made the very difficult decision to move to a temporary layoff of some staff to help Banff Centre weather the economic and health crisis that is engulfing the world.”
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has temporarily laid off its entire orchestra, after initially suspending performances until March 31. On March 18, layoff notices were issued to all 67 orchestra members as well as 30 members of the WSO’s administrative staff. The layoff is effective March 29. At Centennial Concert Hall, where the WSO performs, all events and rehearsals are cancelled or postponed until April 15.
The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry has cancelled its June 8 readings by the prize’s yet-to-be-announced shortlisted writers, along with the awards dinner on June 9 in Toronto. The Griffin shortlist will be made public on April 7; the winners, on May 19.
The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame has postponed the 2020 induction celebration of Kim Mitchell and Pye Dubois to September, as part of the new dates for the postponed Canadian Music Week. As well, the posthumous honouring of inductee Ron Hynes that was to happen at the now-cancelled East Coast Music Awards in St. John’s has been put off for now.
In more positive news, Luminato Festival Toronto is still scheduled for June 11 to 28. The downtown performing arts event originally came about as a way to draw tourists back to post-SARS Toronto. According to a statement on the festival’s website, the 2020 programming will be revealed “as soon as we believe we can see the likely effect of COVID-19 on our plans.”
Scuttled arts and cultural happenings are worldwide in scope. France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, cinema’s biggest and most famous annual gathering, has postponed the mid-May event. Organizers of the annual A-list affair on the French Riviera said they are considering moving the festival to the end of June or the beginning of July. "As soon as the development of the French and international health situation will allow us to assess the real possibility, we will make our decision known,” the festival said in a statement.
On March 18, organizers of the iconic British music festival Glastonbury announced news of an “enforced fallow year" for the annual summer event held in the county of Somerset. The festival was planned for June 24-28, with headliners including Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Diana Ross, Lana Del Rey and Pet Shop Boys. Canadian performers included Caribou and Rufus Wainwright.
Back in Canada, on March 18, Toronto-based Canadian Stage announced the cancellation of a number of upcoming productions, even the popular summer-long Shakespeare in High Park event.
The National Arts Centre in Ottawa has cancelled all it performances and events until April 5, a move that nixes everything from Toddler Tuesdays to a touring production of Cats.
Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, an arts and cultural complex of 30 venues, is shut down.
In Quebec, all large indoor gatherings are banned, causing the Place des Arts, home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, to suspend its shows until further notice.
This year’s Lionel Gelber Prize Ceremony and Lecture, set for March 30 at Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, has been postponed until fall owing to travel restrictions related to the pandemic. The winners of the $15,000 literary prize for the world’s best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs are Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes for The Light that Failed: A Reckoning.
Following the British Columbia government’s directive to temporarily cancel gatherings of 250 people or more, all major events at Vancouver’s B.C. Place have been put on hold “until further notice.” On March 17, the Rolling Stones postponed its summer No Filter tour that included a stop at the stadium venue. Instead of offering refunds, tour promoters AEG Presents and Concerts West advised fans to "hold onto their tickets and await further information.”
Alberta has shut down large gatherings as part of its “aggressive” COVID-19 strategy. Edmonton Opera’s performances of Candide are no more. Calgary’s Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, is closed to the public until further notice.
And on it goes, with institutions closing and events falling like dominoes. Mind you, The World Championship Domino Tournament, for more than four decades held in Andalusia, Alabama, is set to go ahead as planned on July 10 and 11.
Here’s a look at what else has been happening in the arts world.
Days after announcing all Juno Week activities would go ahead as planned in Saskatoon, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences cancelled all Juno events, including the televised ceremony night at SaskTel Centre. The stunning declaration came as no surprise to a music industry already rocked by the cancellation last week of the annual South by Southwest music festival and conference in Austin, Texas.
Pearl Jam suspended its Gigaton tour, set to kick off March 18 at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Upcoming spring shows by the Seattle grunge-rock icons in Ottawa, Quebec City and Hamilton have also been postponed.
There will be more of that kind of bad news to come. On March 12, North American mega-promoters Live Nation and AEG issued a joint statement: “At this time, we collectively recommend large scale events through the end of March be postponed."
Following that announcement, Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was suspended from March 26 through May 2, 2020. Canadian dates affected: Toronto (March 28-29) and Montreal (April 2-3). The health of the Rocket Man icon himself would seem to be at risk, given that he recently postponed two shows in New Zealand due to a bout with pneumonia.
The remaining concerts on Celine Dion’s Courage World Tour have been postponed, shutting down April arena shows in Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
On March 16, Canadian Music Week, a major annual music industry event of conferences, award presentations, public speakers and artist showcases in Toronto, was postponed to September, from May 19 to 23. The Canadian Folk Music Awards, in partnership with Music PEI, announced the cancellation of its events, scheduled for April 3 and 4 in Charlottetown. The East Coast Music Awards, set to run April 29 to May 3 in St. John’s, won’t happen this year. Actor-comedian Mary Walsh was to host the April 30 awards show at Mile One Centre.
B.C. rocker Matthew Good postponed Ontario shows in London, Kitchener, Ottawa and Hamilton. Eight-time Juno winners Good Brothers, not related to Matthew, have shifted a dozen spring shows in Ontario (including Royal Canadian Legions in Elora and Port Elgin) to October. A pair of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons concerts at Ontario’s Casino Rama scheduled for March 21 and 22 have been postponed.
Toronto’s leading folk music venue, Hugh’s Room Live, had previously said it was searching for a new venue, with its lease set to expire on March 31. On Monday, the supper club announced it would postpone all its programming “until the COVID-19 pandemic wanes.” Shows affected include a March 28 appearance by the Sometimes When We Touch singer Dan Hill.
The Jazz Bistro in Toronto has closed its doors indefinitely.
Caesars Windsor has closed temporarily, shutting down upcoming concerts by Ice Cube, Pitbull, REO Speedwagon and Jason Derulo. Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara temporarily closed all casino and resort operations as a “precautionary measure.”
Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Dan Mangan postponed all dates in March and April of his 10th anniversary tour of his debut album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. On March 13, he played a short set of songs at an empty Danforth Music Hall in Toronto and taped the performance for a YouTube stream.
The Alberta balladeer Jann Arden did something similar on Monday, with an informal mini-concert – “I showered,” she told her online audience – on Facebook. Arden’s upcoming national tour is still set to happen, beginning May 7 at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
Canadian musicians have been affected by postponements elsewhere. Carly Rae Jepsen, Jessie Reyez, Dan Snaith, Deadmau5 and Grammy winner Daniel Caesar were all booked to perform at the two-weekend Coachella festival in the California desert, now postponed from April to October. Toronto-based indie-pop darlings Alvvays were set to play a profile-raising concert this past weekend with the Strokes in Los Angeles. The show was postponed.
Avril Lavigne cancelled the Asian and European legs of her Head Above Water Tour. American promoter Beaver Productions postponed 15 arena shows scheduled for the remainder of March and into April in the United States by the Canadian crooner Michael Bublé.
The SOCAN Awards, an annual event that celebrates achievements in songwriting, composing and music publishing, will no longer take place on March 30 in Toronto.
Toronto-based outfit Classic Albums Live, which offers live note-for-note performances of iconic rock LPs, postponed 20 upcoming concerts, including a presentation of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on March 28.
But, in what should be seen as a surprising development given his shaky health, 81-year-old troubadour Gordon Lightfoot plans to make good on his upcoming April concert commitments in Ottawa, Montreal and his hometown of Orillia, Ont. The Carefree Highway singer suffers from a chronic inflammation of the sinuses and recently returned to the road after a layoff caused by a leg injury.
Last week, in response to social-distancing mandates in the state of Washington, the Seattle Symphony announced it would rebroadcast earlier performances of fan-favourite symphonies and livestream new performances through March. The initiative is welcome news to classical music audiences, battered by countless cancellations caused by COVID-19 lockdowns.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra called off its three Pictures at an Exhibition concerts with Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan. With the abandonment of its Evening Epic fundraiser event at the Carlu on March 26, the TSO will be hit where it hurts. Four Beethoven concerts by Jan Lisiecki set for April 1-4 at Roy Thomson Hall are still on the docket.
Upcoming performances of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra up to and including an April 5 kids’ concert are cancelled. Opera de Montreal postponed its performances of La voix humaine & L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi, set for March 19-28. Its production of The Magic Flute at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier from May 16-28 is not affected by Quebec’s government-mandated 30-day social-distancing period.
The Canadian Opera Company has called off a number of public events through the first week of April, both at its home at the closed Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and elsewhere. The COC anticipates its spring mainstage operas (Aida, opening April 18; The Flying Dutchman, opening May 1) to proceed as planned.
With the temporary closures of opera houses the world over, Canadian opera singers who have lost work because of cancellations include Jane Archibald, Etienne Dupuis, Joshua Hopkins, Phillip Addis and Aviva Fortunata.
In British Columbia, where provincial health officials directed the cancellation of all gatherings larger than 250 people, the next two weeks of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performances are shuttered. On Sunday, however, a scaled-down and audience-less performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Symphony No. 6 was live-streamed online. The Vancouver Recital Society cancelled all upcoming March concerts. Vancouver Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria called off the rest of their seasons.
Calgary Opera suspended its 2019/20 season performances and events, including productions of Béatrice et Bénédict at the Mamdani Opera Centre and Ariadne auf Naxos at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.
Manitoba Opera’s performances of Carmen on March 28, 31 and April 3 at the WSO’s home at the Centennial Concert Hall are no longer happening. The Brandon Jazz Festival (March 19-21) has been scuttled and the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra has shifted its Aretha Franklin celebration to June 28 and 29 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra cancelled its season finale concert, Taiko Returns, planned for March 22. And although Toronto’s Tapestry Opera cancelled its upcoming public performance of Songbook X, the company will live-stream a free virtual concert featuring Songbook X headliners Krisztina Szabó and Christopher Foley on March 21 on its YouTube channel.
Dance, theatre and comedy
Toronto-based Mirvish Productions suspended performances until April 12. Affected shows at Mirvish theatres include Hamilton, Come From Away, Summer and Us/Them. A limited engagement of The Boy Friend had its entire run cancelled.
At Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, productions of The Garneau Block, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Audrey Ochoa & Friends, After the Fire and The Filharmonic have been postponed until further notice, as has the 2020 Collider Festival.
Cirque du Soleil cancelled a British Columbia tour of its ice show, Axel, set to run May 28-31 in Victoria with performances also scheduled in Abbotsford, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George.
Ontario’s Stratford Festival cancelled performances from April 11 to May 2, as well as all public events in its facilities during March and April. The Grand Theatre in London, Ont., has suspended its productions, events and rentals to the end of the season. The Shaw Festival, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., has cancelled all public events and performances with the intention of resuming on May 1, with hopes to resume rehearsals and re-open its administration and box offices on April 6.
In Toronto, starting March 16 all scheduled performances for the next 30 days at Factory Theatre will be suspended, causing a presentation of One by Calgary’s Ghost River Theatre to be cancelled. Crow’s Theatre has cancelled Obsidian Theatre’s production of Blacktop Sky and Nightwood Theatre’s All the Little Animals I Have Eaten, both scheduled to run March 24 to April 12. Tarragon Theatre temporarily suspended its 2019/20 season. The performance of Three Women of Swatow, set to begin previews March 17, is postponed to a later date. Theatre Passe Muraille is closed until mid-April, with a tribute to the late theatre legend Bob Nasmith postponed until further notice. Young People’s Theatre is not open.
Letterkenny Live, a North American tour by members of the hit Canadian comedy series, has been postponed.
Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs in London, Ont., Burlington, Ont., Edmonton and Calgary are currently closed. Others are still open, albeit with fewer shows and reduced capacity to allow for social distancing.
The balance of the National Ballet of Canada’s performances of Romeo and Juliet in Toronto (through March 22) and at the National Arts Centre (April 2-4) are cancelled.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet tour of The Wizard of Oz in the United States is cancelled. The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre called off performances of A Thousand Splendid Suns, scheduled to run March 18 to April 11.
Given that Nova Scotia officials are encouraging people not to have gatherings of more than 150 people, Halifax’s Neptune Theatre is discontinuing all performances of Calendar Girls, Ghost Light and Alex Zerbe’s Zaniac Comedy Show.
Theatre Calgary cancelled all remaining performances of its current production, Admissions. The company has also postponed Million Dollar Quartet (originally scheduled to run April 21 to May 24) until further notice.
Galleries and museums
Canada’s national museums will be closed, effective March 14 until further notice. The institutions affected include the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian War Museum, Ingenium and the National Gallery of Canada.
The doors are closed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the Halifax waterfront, but the public can still check out Merlin the Talking Parrot on the museum’s webcam.
In Toronto, shortly after Ontario’s chief medical officer of health recommended the immediate suspension of all large events and public gatherings of more than 250 people, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum announced they would close their doors until April 5. The Aga Khan Museum is closed until April 7. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has also shut down temporarily.
Saskatoon’s Remai Modern is now closed, to reopen “as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is closed until March 30.
In Winnipeg, the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Winnipeg Art Gallery are off limits for now.
At the Sidney Museum in Sidney, B.C., staff have had to close their annual Lego show and cancel a March Break scavenger hunt. Vancouver Art Gallery and Museum of Vancouver are closed until further notice.
In Calgary, the Glenbow Museum is temporarily closed to the public.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television cancelled Canadian Screen Week events in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, including the Canadian Screen Awards gala slated for broadcast from Toronto’s Meridian Hall on March 29.
The country’s largest movie-theatre company, Cineplex Cinemas, has closed its circuit of 165 theatres through April 2.
Initially at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, “social-distancing measures” were implemented, with six-foot spaces, the equivalent of three seats, separating occupied seats. On Saturday, however, the arthouse cinema and home to the Toronto International Film Festival closed its facility for a one-month period, to April 14. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema has closed its doors, with hopes to reopen them by April 10. Paradise Theatre, Toronto’s newest film venue, is shuttered for the time being.
Vancouver’s Rio Theatre planned to go ahead with its March 20 screening of Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic thriller Contagion, but later announced “we will be temporarily dimming our lights and powering down the projector.”
In Toronto, the west-end Revue Cinema cancelled all screenings and events until April 5. The east-end Fox Theatre, after originally capping its seating capacity to 100 and encouraging social-distancing practices, is now closed.
The Kingston Canadian Film Festival (March 11 to 15) has been called off, as has the popular Hot Docs international documentary film festival in Toronto (April 30 to May 10). The Canadian Film Festival, slated for March 24-28 at Cineplex’s Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto, is also off.
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