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A preview performance of Blindness from Mirvish Productions on Aug. 4, 2021.

Mirvish Productions

Want to see a show with an all-vaxxed audience? British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec have now all announced plans for vaccine passports or other forms of certification that will be needed to access indoor events such as theatre.

In Ontario, meanwhile, it remains up to producers and presenters of live events to set their own policies regarding attendance – which they have recently started to announce almost all at once.

On Monday, Mirvish Productions announced that it will require audiences to either be fully vaccinated or provide a negative test to gain admission to its 2021-2022 shows. That same day, the Blue Jays and the Toronto International Film Festival issued similar policies.

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All summer long, there has been discussion and debate over whether theatre companies should – or could, legally – implement vaccination requirements on their own. What made Mirvish decide to do this now?

John Karastamatis, director of sales and marketing for Mirvish Productions, gave me some insight into that theatre company’s decision-making process in response to questions I e-mailed him.

J. Kelly Nestruck: I’ve seen Live Nation announce vaccinations will be required to attend concerts, of course, and I know this is happening in many other places… But how did Mirvish determine that this is legal/allowed in Ontario? (I’ve heard different theatres are getting varying legal advice on this.)

John Karastamatis: The legal experts we’ve consulted with see no reason why we cannot mandate who can and who cannot enter any of our premises, especially as the sole goal is the safety and health of everyone. Furthermore, the Ontario Premier and his ministers have all publicly stated that private business have the right to determine the vaccination status of all employees and patrons. In fact, the Ontario government has indicated that it would be better if individual businesses did this instead of the government. Furthermore, the government itself is requiring all members of the provincial parliament to be fully vaccinated.

Nestruck: How does Mirvish plan to verify vaccination status of audiences? Does the company expect Ontario to set up a vaccine passport by December? Have you reached out to ask the provincial government to set one up? Is there a plan if they don’t?

Karastamatis: The Ontario government issued a media release [on August 17, outlining how Ontarians can access their vaccination receipts and indicating the federal government’s plan to implement a national vaccine passport for international travel]. This is the beginning of the process that we believe will result in a legitimate and easy-to-use system of vaccination confirmation that should be up and running long before December.

How do the theatre unions and associations feel about Mirvish’s vaccination requirements? I reached out to Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to find out.

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“Employers, like Mirvish Productions, have a legal responsibility to maintain a safe workplace – which may include requirements for staff, artists, stage technicians and/or volunteers to be fully vaccinated in order to enter their premises,” CAEA executive director Arden R. Ryshpan responded. “Equity will not interfere with this management right.”

John Lewis, IATSE international vice-president & director of Canadian affairs, sent this statement: “Allowing for reasonable accommodation, the IATSE strongly supports vaccinations and we welcome the opportunity to work with our employers to ensure that audiences are safe and that our members are also working in a safe environment.”

But what about the actual shows for the 2021-2022 season Mirvish announced Monday? I shared some thoughts about the lineup of musicals and plays on Twitter.

Blindness, which Mirvish recently extended to October 24 at the Princess of Wales, isn’t the only hit theatrical installation currently welcoming audiences in Canada.

The Magic Hour, an immersive experience based around audio, light and stagecraft created by director Kim Collier and playwright Kendra Fanconi, has just been extended until September 4 in North Vancouver. It’s presented by Electric Company Theatre, Innovation Lighting and Presentation House Theatre, and features the voice of Maiko Yamamoto.

Curtain Razors, a form-stretching theatre company that I’ve travelled to Saskatchewan to write about in the past, also has a immersive work running in Regina right now.

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Untitled Peter Tripp Project, created by Johanna Bundon, Lee Henderson and Jayden Pfeifer, is named after a “once-celebrated radio DJ [who] performed a publicity stunt in 1959 wherein he broadcast continuously, for 201 hours, from a glass booth in Times Square.”

It’s being presented in the Soundstage on College Street – which Bundon describes in an e-mail as “a 9,000-square-foot cultural venue (perfect for social distancing) [that] sits largely vacant since the provincial government cut the film tax credit in 2012” – and continues to August 29.

Theaturtle’s production of Wajdi Mouawad’s Alphonse has been back on tour this summer.

I reviewed the poetic solo show when both Alon Nashman and Kaleb Alexander were performing it last fall; this time around, Gabe Maharjan is playing all the characters in this show about adolescence. It wraps with a run in Chinguacousy Park in Brampton, Ont. this week.

What I’m seeing this week: I did not make it to the Shaw Festival’s Trouble in Mind on Saturday. My son woke up with a fever that day, so I decided not to go sit in an audience until he got a negative COVID test back (which he thankfully did by Sunday).

Such are the complications of being a theatre critic in pandemic times. Look for a review of the show (fingers crossed!) by the weekend.

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