Happy new – oh, forget it. 2022 is not starting off particularly happily for lovers of the performing arts in Canada and there’s no use ignoring it.
In Quebec, theatres have been shuttered since last month and there is no timeline to reopen them. In Ontario, theatres will be shut down to audiences as of Wednesday for at least three weeks, though rehearsals, recordings and livestreams are allowed to go ahead.
Theatres are still open, at least at reduced capacity, in other provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia – but producers across the country are certainly aware the situation could change in an instant.
Is there another path for the performing arts through this part of the pandemic than shutting down? This latest intermission gives an opportunity to pause and look at what is going on elsewhere in the world in the face of Omicron.
I was interested to discover, for instance, that in South Africa, where this highly transmissible variant was first reported and cases have now reportedly peaked, theatre has been allowed to go on with some capacity restrictions.
The popular annual Janice Honeyman pantomime, for instance, returned to the stage in Johannesburg in November – the first major live musical to be staged in the city since the pandemic began. While it had five performances cancelled in early December, the holiday show was otherwise able to continue on to the end of its run on Christmas Eve.
In New York, Broadway hits such as Chicago and Jersey Boys are still open despite a surge in hospitalizations there. That American commercial theatre district is the most-covered theatre scene in the world – and so the attempts to keep shows on there in the face of frequent outbreaks backstage are well-known.
Some Broadway shows, such as Jagged Little Pill and Ain’t Too Proud, have found the conditions too challenging and shut down or announced closings, while the new musical Mrs. Doubtfire has taken a different and unusual approach: It’s going on a nine-week hiatus from next Monday to March 14.
On the West End in London, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cinderella is on a similar break into February, when its producers hope Britain will on the other side of an Omicron wave.
(As I was putting this newsletter together, a press release popped into my inbox announcing that Paradise Square, the Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky’s new musical, would be delaying its first preview on Broadway by three weeks to March 15 and now open on April 3.)
The shuttering of live shows by government edict, rather than by choice or circumstance, is not a phenomenon limited to Canada, mind you.
Belgium tried to do the same in December – but that story took an interesting twist when protests erupted and a theatre technician named Mathieu Pinte decided to take the Belgian government to court. Last week, the Council of State, that country’s supreme administrative court, suspended the closing order saying the government needed to show the public-health rationale behind such a “disproportionate” measure, according to a Reuters report.
Might performing artists or technicians or producers in other countries consider taking court action to reopen? Such a move certainly doesn’t seem on the table in Canada right now.
What to watch this week: Though live, in-person shows are once again endangered, there are a number of virtual performance opening. I might finally check out Re: Current Theatre’s New Societies, which is described as an “interactive theatrical experience to create your ideal society in a mega-game of collaboration, competition, and potential.” Vancouver’s Rumble Theatre is presenting it this time around on Friday and Saturday.
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