Theatres in Quebec were among the first to reopen in Canada following last spring’s COVID-19 shutdown – and now they will be the first to completely shut down again as a second wave hits the province this fall.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, performance venues in Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches – regions now considered “red zones” for the coronavirus – must close to audiences for 28 days as part of wide-ranging new measures announced by the provincial government on Monday.
That means the end, at least for four weeks, to new, smaller and safer fall indoors seasons recently launched by companies such as Theatre Duceppe in Montreal and Le Trident in Quebec City.
But even outdoor events such as Centaur Theatre’s Portico Project – which opened last week with distanced, masked audiences watching performances in the entranceway of the Old Montreal English-language theatre – must be cancelled according to the new red-zone restrictions that prohibit private gatherings even in public (but allows schools and certain businesses such as gyms and shops to remain open).
Monday’s announcement was a source of great frustration for theatres and indeed all producers and presenters of live events in the Quebec red zones. Performing arts organizations and venues have spent time and money to get up and running at reduced capacity under strict guidelines that kept audience members at a distance from one another.
In fact, there had been encouragement to resume activities by local and provincial arts councils, according to Patrick Lloyd Brennan, managing director of the Quebec Drama Federation.
“Theatre companies in particular were asked to adapt and come up with new ways to work and create and bring people together in a safe way,” Brennan told me on Tuesday morning. “Now it feels that everybody has gone through this work and really followed the measures that were put into place and it all seems to have been snapped away.”
RIDEAU – a professional association of presenters that represents 850 venues and festivals in the province – released a statement Monday asking the government to revisit its position. The Canadian Association for the Performing Arts (CAPACOA) echoed the “consternation” of RIDEAU on Twitter, writing, in French, that: “Knowing that no outbreak has been identified among performance venues in Quebec, the decision to impose their closure seems ill-advised to us.”
Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic and executive director of Montreal’s Tableau D’hôte Theatre, released a particularly furious statement on Facebook on Tuesday morning condemning the new measures as “short-sighted, ideological and unscientific.”
“It is scandalous that as of Thursday you will be able shop at Chapters, but you may not visit a library. You can go to the mall, but not a museum,” Murphy-Perron said.
“Instead of tightening and changing their clearly inadequate back-to-school measures, the government has instead arbitrarily chosen to target a sector that has not been a source of risk for transmission.”
Nathalie Roy, the provincial Minister of Culture and Communications, held a group phone call to explain the government’s decision to arts service organizations on Tuesday morning. She promised that the Quebec government would soon announce financial support for recently relaunched organizations that now, again, were taking a hit at the box office, according to Brennan, who was on that call.
Theatres buildings can still remain open for residencies, rehearsals and for the creation of video recordings – but it’s a majorly dispiriting moment for performing artists and audiences in Quebec.
While the tourist-oriented Charlottetown Festival and its flagship production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical was cancelled for the first time in its history, the Confederation Centre of the Arts – which hosts both – announced this week that it has put together a new television special directed by Adam Brazier celebrating L.M. Montgomery’s red-headed orphan.
Feelin' Mighty Proud!, as the special is called, will feature new interpretations of songs from the 1965 musical by Island artists such as Vishtèn, Lennie Gallant and Meaghan Blanchard (who will be singing Gee I’m Glad I’m No One Else But Me).
The special promises may reignite the passion and Twitter hashtags of Anne with an E fans who are still angry at CBC’s cancellation of that TV series – as it will feature interviews with that show’s star, Amybeth McNulty. The hour-long special will air Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. local time on EastLink TV – and also on the Confederation Centre’s YouTube and Facebook page at 8 p.m. ET/ 9 p.m. AT.
By the way, if you are in Charlottetown and want to see a singing and dancing Anne live and in person, a scaled-down concert version of Anne & Gilbert: The Musical – a totally different musical based on Montgomery’s books – has been running at The Guild since July 28. Producer Campbell Webster e-mailed me this week to say his show has sold out almost every performance this summer. It closes on Oct. 3.
Shakespeare in the Ruff, an outdoor theatre company based in Toronto’s east-end Withrow Park, cancelled its planned production of As You Like It this summer, but this weekend a different show will go on with the same company of actors made up of Dora Award winner Christine Horne and former Stratford Festival company member Emilio Vieira, as well as Veronica Hortiguela, Tiffany Martin, Kwaku Okyere and Sepehr Reybod.
As We Live It is collective creation that tackles the performers' experiences and thoughts about the turmoil of the past six months “from racism to toilet paper wars to zucchini growing. It’s “a live, socially-distanced promenade show” with free and extremely limited tickets available.
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