Local theatres wondering when the show will go on

By Gordon Lambie

On March 12 of this year the Province of Quebec made the announcement that indoor gatherings of more than 250 people were officially banned. It was one of the first of what would become daily announcements of new measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus and, as a result of that announcement, theatres and performance venues across the province had to scramble to announce what, at the time, was going to be a series of postponements.
A little over two months later, in a time when many of those spaces would usually be moving into a busy summer season, the seats still sit empty and, in many cases, inaccessible even to staff.
“Like for everyone in Quebec, it is a very destabilizing situation,” said Mario Trépanier, General Manager of the Université de Sherbrooke’s Centre Culturel, the complex that includes the Maurice-O’Bready Hall and the Antoine Sirois Art Gallery. “We are in a new world.”
Trépanier talked about the world of arts and culture as moving through the stages of grief while standing in solidarity with the collective mission of beating the virus.
“We were the first to close and there’s a chance we will be the last to restart, the general manager said, reflecting on the fact that although there has been a great deal of ingenuity and creativity brought about by the shutdown, the core mission of any performance venue is one of bringing people together, which works against the current flow of society.
“Live arts is live arts,” agreed Sonia Patenaude of Centennial Theatre in Lennoxville, arguing that the best televised show in the world just doesn’t stand up against being at a performance in person. “It’s not just something you go see, it’s something you feel, it’s something you share.”
Although she said artists’ efforts to fill the cultural void are appreciated and important, Patenaude argued that they are “band-aid” solutions to a larger problem to which there is no good solution right now.
“It’s a waiting game,” she said, “and the questions are endless.”
Although there is a serious question of what theatres and other venues can be expected to present once they are allowed to open again in some form, Trépanier said that the “what” all depends on the “when”.
“It remains to be seen how long the wait will be,” he said, pointing out that the first month of restrictions saw an evolution from temporary delays to a fixed closure up to May 4. While that process was complicated enough in the way that it required contacting all the performers and audience members to inform them of delays and later cancellations, the manager said that what came next was much worse. “The last message we got as presenters was a halt on activities until further notice, and not having a precise date is very difficult to work with. When it was until May 4 then we had a clear restart date, but now everything is up in the air, and no one knows for how long. ‘Until further notice’ could mean two hours, or it could mean two years.”
“We’ve had to come up with plan a,b,c,d,” Trépanier continued, “but we’re working off of hypotheses. No one has a crystal ball.”

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