I got back from a couple of weeks of holiday this week and saw that, during my time off, many Canadian theatres have started to sell tickets for in-person, indoor performances again.
The Arts Club in Vancouver has just announced a short season of solo shows that will play to a maximum of 50 people this fall, while the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton is opening its 650-seat Shoctor Theatre later this week to 100 people a night for a 10-minute play festival called Horizon Lab.
Meanwhile, the Orillia Opera House, first out of the gate on this front in Ontario, is already a week into a run of Norm Foster’s two-hander On a First Name Basis – selling up to 50 seats a night in a 677-seat theatre. The comedy, which stars artistic director Jesse Collins and his fiancée, Viviana Zarrillo, is on stage to Sept. 4.
Canadian theatre companies may be ready to stage performances again, but are Canadians audiences ready to attend under strict COVID-19 protocols (physical distancing, masks et cetera) and before a vaccine?
Some are. Wendy Fairbairn, general manager at the OOH, tells me she’s selling about 40 tickets a night to On a First Name Basis. (The summer theatre there usually sells about 80 tickets a night – and usually performs in the OOH’s 100-seat studio theatre.) In Edmonton, meanwhile, Jessie van Rijn, producer at the Citadel, says tickets are almost sold out for Horizon Lab.
Perhaps the strongest signs that (smaller, distanced) audiences will return to theatre during the pandemic are coming out of Quebec.
Theatre Duceppe, which performs at Montreal’s Place des Arts, announced late last week that tickets are selling well for its reconfigured fall season, which includes a pair of solo shows and a December remount of Catherine-Anne Toupin’s three-actor thriller La Meute.
La Meute has already completely sold out its 10 performances, and the short Duceppe season has sold 4,200 tickets in total to date. (The company is only selling 177 seats a show in what is normally a 755-seat theatre.)
Other Quebec theatre companies that have announced alternative autumn seasons, such as Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal (which is selling 160 seats in its 750-seat theatre) and Le Trident in Quebec City, are doing well at the box office too – and have already added extra performances because of demand.
Marie-Claude Hamel, Duceppe’s communications and marketing director, tells me that there is plenty of demand to add more performances of La Meute as well, but the company won’t put more on sale until later this fall, because they want to wait and see whether conditions change.
Conditions, or provincial politics, really. If Quebec’s theatres seem to be ahead of those in the rest of the country, it’s because that province started allowing indoor gatherings of up to 250 early in August.
In Ontario, the indoor gathering limit is still capped at 50, which may explain why we haven’t see some of that province’s bigger companies with larger venues announce alternative seasons yet. (In British Columbia, the indoor gathering limit is currently 50; in Alberta, it’s 100.)
But the audience appetite for risk may also be different in Quebec compared with Ontario.
It was interesting to see today that La Licorne, a favourite mid-size Montreal theatre of mine that normally sits 180 in its larger theatre, has announced a three-show season for 50-person audiences. The similarly sized Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, on the other hand, decided in June that its stages will be dormant for the entire 2020-21 season.
Two months ago, I didn’t think I’d be ready to see a show indoors, but now I think I am – if the proper safety measures were in place. What about you? Let me know at email@example.com.
This week, I’ll be headed out to review my first play since March – but it will be outdoors. I’ll be seeing the Theaturtle production of Wajdi Mouawad’s solo show Alphonse on Thursday in Dufferin Grove Park. And I’ll be seeing it twice: Once with Alon Nashman playing all the roles, and once with Kaleb Alexander playing all the parts. Look for my review online Friday.
Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.