Ellie King’s production of Screwball Comedy, which played earlier this month at New Westminster’s Anvil Centre and Surrey Arts Centre, has suspended the rest of its run. (Brian Giebelhaus photo)

On the Semiahmoo Peninsula, the show must go on – or not

Live arts suspended, but potential seen in new strategies

The show won’t be going on in the Semiahmoo Peninsula in the near future – beyond what can be found on television or online.

In keeping with developments nationally and worldwide, chances are any entertainment or arts event scheduled for the next six weeks has already been cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes theatre productions, live-music performances or any other event likely to exceed the 50-person maximum limit established by provincial and federal authorities on Monday – not to mention further limits on gatherings that may be announced in the rapidly accelerating pandemic scenario.

For most local arts and entertainment producers – particularly non-profits and those balancing tight budgets and high venue and insurance costs – such a limit makes a break-even difficult and any kind of profit well-nigh impossible.

And all of them emphasize in their notices to the public that, above such considerations, that they have no desire to endanger the health of patrons. All suggest that people revisit their websites over coming weeks for updates.

Despite the uncertainty, a number of arts producers are looking at their enforced absence as a time for regrouping and strategizing for the future.

At Hilarapy (formerly Addictive Comedy), Lizzie Allan and Elaine Cheung’s schedule received a serious curve-ball, knocking out travelling to the Orlando International Fringe Festival in May and the warm-up production of Allan’s one-woman show (un)expecting May 2 at Peninsula Productions’ black-box theatre, and postponing a comedy evening by Addictive Comedy alumni April 25 at the Elks Hall that was to have been filmed for a forthcoming documentary.

But Cheung said the team is remaining positive about current developments.

“We’re OK with it,” she said, adding that the company has already taken the opportunity to post some online skits on the Addictive Comedy Facebook page.

“Everyone’s going online right now,” she said, noting the crisis is accelerating the trend by performers and production companies to include more online content as part of an overall marketing strategy.

There are many things happening for the company this year, she said, including finalizing permits with the City of White Rock for Hilarapy’ new studio space, building a website for the new brand and working on the concept and format of the documentary.

“We see it as a good breathing space for us – it will allow us to deal with stuff properly, instead of rushing it,” she said. “A lot of great stuff will be coming out of it.”

Michele Partridge, whose performing arts training company, The Drama Class, is pushing back spring classes for youth and adults to the beginning of May (subject to updated public health advice) is also co-founder, with Heather Rees of NUVO Music School, of the Peninsula Arts and Culture Alliance (PACA).

Recently restructured as a paid-membership organization, PACA has been successful in bringing together diverse local arts and culture businesses, individuals and non-profits (including White Rock BIA and Semiahmoo Arts) to share information on each others’ activities, and jointly organize and promote arts and cultural events.

And while she describes the current situation as “unreal” and “chaotic,” she said it is times like these that will prove the strength of the organization as a support and a resource for the arts community in distributing up-to-date information and developing new strategies for the future.

“We have to group together and stick together, and by having this network we don’t have to feel we’re alone,” she said.

“For my students, I’m telling them that this is a good time to do the stuff you want to do – write that monologue, read that play, don’t just sit there on your phone buying into all the doom and gloom. Allow yourself to be creative.”

Blue Frog Studios, the Total Music Group (producer of Crescent Legion Club 240 Live dances), White Rock Legion Branch 8, Rock.It Boy Productions, White Rock Players Club, subscription classical series White Rock Concerts, The White Rock Traditional Jazz Society and Peninsula Productions are also among organizations that have paused the current production/concert schedule for at least a month or until further notice.

Encore Peninsula Concerts has also cancelled the rest of its season of Sunday concerts at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.

In nearby Surrey, Ellie King’s Royal Canadian Theatre Company (which had been in the midst of a multi-venue run of Norm Foster’s Screwball Comedy, including two nights at Surrey Arts Centre) has suspended further performances.

King told Peace Arch News there’s still a remote possibility that Screwball Comedy might finish its schedule with a planned run at Coquitlam’s Evergreen Centre later in April, but added that three theatres in this year’s run have expressed interest in a remount.

Forget going to the movies, either. Hollywood 3 Cinemas, owners of the Rialto White Rock and the Caprice 4, has also closed all of its movie theatres temporarily until further notice.

The closure of city and library facilities in both White Rock and Surrey – such as the Landmark Pop-Uptown Gallery at Central Plaza, the Semiahmoo Arts spaces at the South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre, and the FVRL’s White Rock Library and Surrey library branches – have even further limited public arts activities, even supposing there were enough people willing to take a chance on attending them.

The Pop-Uptown Gallery’s show Better Nudes & Gardens, featuring pieces by Susan J. Falk, Tony O’Regan, Marilyn Dyer, Kat Siemens, Savannah Chanel and Catherine Honeywell was dismantled Tuesday following notice the city was closing the venue (the next scheduled show, Outside The Frame, which was to have featured work by Sandy Gagnon, Veronica Newell, Jacquie Janzen, June Bloye, Caroline Baasch and Catherine Brown, had already been cancelled at the decision of the artists).

Following an emergency meeting of the White Rock Players Club Board Tuesday night, it was decided to close the White Rock Playhouse theatre for all uses other than essential maintenance until May 31. But club president Dave Baron told PAN that box office/house manager Jessie Morton will continue to answer phone calls to the theatre line and emails to the club from home.

This necessitates two major changes to the remainder of the club’s 75th anniversary season: the upcoming production of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time (originally scheduled for April 15 to May 2) has been postponed to become the first show of the 2020-21 season – running Oct. 7-24 – while the musical comedy Monty Python’s Spamalot (which was to have run from June 10 to July 4) has been pushed back to Aug. 5-29. Tickets already sold will be honoured for the new running dates, Baron said.

He added the club is waiting to hear whether the FVGSS A Musical Theatre Company production of Anything Goes (scheduled for July 16-24) is still going ahead as planned, along with the annual White Rock Youth Ambassadors event, scheduled for July 31.

“We were going to soldier on, by limiting audience sizes and increasing separation, but it was evident from the announcements this week that something had to be done,” Baron said. “The saying ‘the show must go on’ is not operative any more. The safety and health of our patrons – and our own people – is paramount. We’ll be losing money for sure, and as a non-profit that puts a serious dent in our budget, but we’ll weather the storm. We want to thank everybody for their past support, and, once this thing is settled, we’ll be happy to see them again.

Peninsula Productions president Geoff Giffin said that since the company’s regular productions currently are staged readings, “they’re not big-budget shows” that would be catastrophic to delay or cancel.

Which is not to say there are not costs and rights commitments and some hard decisions involved. The upcoming staged reading of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, directed by Jessie award-winning director and playwright Amiel Gladstone, for example – originally announced for two performances at the black-box theatre on April 26 – is now on hold, pending further public health and safety developments.

Plans are even more up in the air, Giffin said, for this summer’s 10th anniversary full-scale remount of the company’s very first production, Waiting For The Parade, directed by co-founder Wendy Bollard (who has been working in theatre in the UK).

“The question is, (a) will she be able to get here and (b) whether we’ll be able to put on the production the way we planned,” he said.

“We’re moving forward as if things are going to be OK, but there’s a lot of uncertainty right now.”



alex.browne@peacearchnews.com

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