The curtain has closed again for all shows at Festival Place.
Following the most recent round of provincial COVID-19 restrictions, the local performance art theatre cancelled all cafe shows and concerts.
“We effectively took out of all of our programming until further notice,” said Steve Derpack, Festival Place artistic director and facility supervisor. “We’re still open for customers to come in and purchase tickets for future shows, and staff are still working away on various other projects, but there is no actual activity in the building.”
The Up and Over Trio booked for this Saturday obviously won’t be happening and nothing officially will take place until late February when Dervish is booked for Feb. 23 and The Celtic Tenors, as well as the Ryan Davidson Trio, is slotted for Feb. 27.
Before the pandemic even hit, nearly the entire 2021 season up until September was booked — 85 shows in total, not including special rentals. The calendar was completely full.
Derpack noted he was not impressed by the province’s latest restrictions since it allowed places such as casinos, churches, and restaurants to stay open with reduced capacities.
“When we are being told we need to shut down, I completely understand that philosophically but professionally, it’s maddening to see big halls, restaurants, and churches allowed to stay open. Our livelihood isn’t going to get better if these places selectively allow these places to run-a-muck,” Derpack said.
“It’s hard to see the county and everyone who works in these kinds of facilities who are all doing a great job and doing what we need to and adhering to what we need to. We’re working according to the letter of the law. It’s just hard to stomach when there are not the same rules for everybody,” he said.
Shows relaunched on Thanksgiving long weekend, which saw seven full-scale performance take to the mainstage and four Cafe Series shows settle into the smaller, intimate space. All of the shows were sold out, as the venue reduced capacity to meet COVID-19 limitations.
Safety has been part of the venue’s new normal: directional floor signage, certain roped off areas, reduced theatre seating, and washroom capacity, and sign-in requirements for contractors and performers.
“Over the past couple of months, we gradually welcomed back live music to our venue and want to thank our community at large for all the support in doing so. Like you, we know how valuable the role the arts has played and continues to play in keeping our spirits up and our well-being sound. Once we know it is safe to do so, we will be open once again,” Festival Place wrote on its Facebook page on Nov. 26 following the provincial announcement. “Thank you once again for your continued support to keep the arts alive at Festival Place!”
Anyone who purchased tickets for an upcoming show will be contacted by Festival Place if the show is either postponed or cancelled.
Now, it’s just a wait-and-see game for the next round of provincial restrictions around the mid-way point of this month.
“I can’t imagine, unfortunately, things will change right now with the numbers rising — 1,733 new COVID-19 cases alone on Monday. It’s pretty disheartening,” noted Derpack.
“I’m sure it might come across to some people as melodramatic or whining, but there are people out there in the arts and culture community who say we were one of the first ones hit and we will be the last ones to recover. They’re not kidding because our livelihoods depends on the inherent medium of art and culture through engagement. It’s been really, really hard to function during the pandemic… We’re really looking forward to the day when we can get back to some sense of normal or, at least, the new normal.”
Festival Place previously pivoted its offerings to highlight more Alberta talent in order to reduce community spread caused by the talent’s travel. Currently, the venue is investigating if it can offer and produce programming online.
“We didn’t think that was something we’d like to do originally, but no one anticipated this would go on for as long as it has. If there is an opportunity to use the facility as a conduit to produce some programming, such as recording capacities, we have to take some time to do some research and figure out where we’re going to fund it because we don’t have an endless pot of money. When we’re in a scenario where we don’t have any activity going on, that’s a big strain on the county,” explained Derpack.
This time last year, Festival Place would be filled with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season: Celebration of Lights, Festival of Trees, Christmas concerts, Christmas dance recitals, and the county’s New Year’s Eve celebrations — but the pause button has been pushed on all of that.
“I’m coming up to my two-year anniversary next week. I’m super thankful for having that experience, but it’s also been a big tease as well because I got to see what a year-end Festival Place was like,” Derpack noted. “Our staff has had conversations amongst ourselves about how we’re going to get back to the hustle and bustle, and we’re going to see that through a different lens with a new-found appreciation for how important and soothing for the soul arts really are.”