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When might the show go on for B.C.'s performance, live theatre sector?

Last Updated Jun 5, 2020 at 10:52 pm PDT

(Courtesy artsclub.com)

Performing arts venues have been shut down since mid-March, taking a toll on the budgets of arts organizations

Reopening amid a ban on large gatherings is likely not financially feasible for larger venues

Artists, arts workers and organizations are all anticipating financial losses and experiencing increased stress

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — More of B.C. is set to open up as the province enters Phase 3 of its restart plan, but a public health order banning gatherings of more than 50 people and continued advice to maintain physical distance means the future for performing arts remains uncertain.

Performing arts venues have been shut down since mid-March, taking a toll on the budgets of organizations that operate them.

A new survey conducted by the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance found that arts organizations that are “facility-based” are losing money at twice the rate of those without a facility.

“One of the biggest concerns in terms of the performing arts and particularly the theatre community is that the longer that the venues stay closed that means that there’s no revenue coming in which is obviously going to impact whether a venue can maintain their operations, maintain their space,” explains Executive Director Kenji Maeda.

“We don’t want to see theatre venues, performing arts venues closing down because once we’re actually ready to fully open, if the spaces aren’t there then where are the artists going to go.”

Reopening amid a ban on large gatherings won’t make financial sense for larger venues, according to Maeda.

“As the venue is bigger and bigger then it becomes harder and harder to produce a show when the operating costs are so high,” he notes, explaining that for a venue with a capacity of 500 staging a show for 50 people is just too costly.

Still, people who work in arts and culture are anxious to get back to work.

The survey found that 43 per cent of artists and arts workers are anticipating a 75 per cent loss of income for 2020.

“Artists and arts workers are very stressed right now as they are trying to figure out how long the pandemic will have an impact on their arts practice, when they might be able to come back. What we’re seeing, of course, is that as artists and arts workers are unemployed or very much underemployed –just like the rest of the community–  the concern is that if the spaces or venues continue to be closed, they have no work.”

Increased stress was reported by 93 per cent of workers and performers surveyed.

So the sector is looking at ways to get safely reopen.

“What’s happening right now within the cultural community is that they’re just trying to figure out what the answers are in order to create those policies for the time when they can open up,” Maeda says,

A virtual town hall took place Thursday in conjunction with WorkSafe BC, and health professionals to brainstorm some solutions.

“Artists and arts workers need to feel safe and feel comfortable working then when they’re ready to come back to the workforce,” Maeda noted.

Some options being considered are combining live performances with virtual ones in order to sell tickets to more people.

Safety of performers is also something that is being considered, given that some aspects of performances –like romantic stage scenes– are impossible to execute while maintaining a two-metre distance.