Theatre, concert venues in Edmonton postpone shows as Omicron rages on

·3 min read
Cast and crew rehearse for the February production of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium.  (Edmonton Opera - image credit)
Cast and crew rehearse for the February production of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium. (Edmonton Opera - image credit)

Many theatres and concert venue operators in Alberta are making tough decisions to postpone or cancel shows due to COVID-19.

But for a few, the show will go on — for now.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra announced this week that it's postponing two January shows until March because of the significant spread of the Omicron variant.

"The health and welfare of everyone must take priority as well as doing our part to lessen the burden on our health-care workers with this current surge," said Annemarie Petrov, Winspear Centre president and CEO, in an email.

The Arden Theatre in St. Albert is rescheduling several shows. Some that were scheduled for the end of January or February have been pushed to April or June.

The Northern Light Theatre cancelled its two-person play, The Hunchback Variations, which was scheduled to be performed at the ATB Financial Arts Barns Jan. 13-29.

Large venues like Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton are also postponing concerts and events.

Varying restrictions across Canada create an uncertain climate for artists on tour, especially those from the United States, said Stuart Ballantyne, president and chief operating officer of Rogers Place and Ice District.

"It's hard to create a tour where someone is going to come to Canada and go across the country," Ballantyne said. "It creates a lot of uncertainty with the artists, with the promoters and even with the fans."

Celine Dion cancelled her entire tour this year, while bands Rage Against the Machine and the Arkells postponed.

The show goes on cautiously

Edmonton Opera is forging ahead with its production of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, set to hit the stage at the Jubilee Auditorium in early February.

If it goes ahead, it will be the company's first indoor production in almost two years.

"It's been incredibly difficult, obviously, for everyone these last two years," said Joel Ivany, artistic director, adding that the company is doing everything it can to return to the stage.

Edmonton Opera hired a full-time COVID-mitigation officer. The cast and crew get rapid tests at every gathering and the singers even wear masks during rehearsal.

Still, managers and directors question the next steps on a near-daily basis, Ivany said.

"Should we be postponing? Should we be cancelling? Should we be putting this on in a different time, or should we be proceeding cautiously?" Ivany said.

"It's difficult. It has its toll mentally, on morale of the team. It's really hard to know what way is the right way."

Edmonton Opera will also be handing out KN95 masks to patrons at the door before the shows on Feb. 5, 8 and 11

Shadow Theatre put on its first performance — the Mountain Top — in nearly two years, at the Varscona Theatre in Old Strathcona.

The company has been testing the cast and crew every three days for COVID-19. They've also been careful to keep in small social bubbles, said artistic director John Hudson.

"The major success is: we did it. The show is up and the show is running," Hudson said. "That's what we really had our fingers crossed for."

Everyone has to be fully vaccinated to get into the show and wear a mask, he added.

Planning for performances a roll of the dice

Planning for shows has become a gamble for organizations, said Sanjay Shahani, executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council.

"It's almost like a day-to-day thing," he said. "Things can just happen and your entire effort and your entire energy you've spent in building something up to present to the public, is gone."

The arts council does what it can to support organizations and believes most will pull through, Shahani said.

"The role of the arts has become even more important, because it's a form of connection, that's how we connect to each other."