Astor Theatre Society chair guardedly optimistic about fall program

·4 min read

The doors of Liverpool’s historic Town Hall Arts and Cultural Centre and the Astor Theatre will be opened wide when Phase 5 is introduced in a couple of weeks, or at least that’s the hope.

“We’re excited that things are progressing in the right direction. The signals are good right now,” said the chair of the Astor Theatre Society, John Simmonds. “But we’ve been disappointed before. We were at this stage at the same time last year,” he added.

Several events had to be cancelled in the fall of 2020, following an optimistic summer and a hopeful return to normal activities that didn’t happen.

A few small activities have taken place since COVID-19 began, such as a couple of Breath of Fresh Air productions, a municipal election debate and a pared-down music festival. Things ramped up a bit over the summer as actress Ashley-Rose Goodwin hosted three youth theatre camps at the theatre.

“She was a great ambassador for us and the camps turned out very well. The kids and parents all enjoyed them,” said Simmonds, adding that he and staff want to make the theatre more appealing and accessible to youth and having these camps is a good start in this endeavour.

Art exhibits

The summer momentum continued with an art collection by the Mi’kmaw artist Melissa Labrador in August, with more than 30 pieces of her artwork displayed throughout the Town Hall Arts and Cultural Centre, which is also run by the Astor Theatre Society.

Simmonds said the show was well attended.

This month, the South Shore artists, Janet Stewart and Fran Ornstein, will display a collection of their works at the centre.

Live music returning

Work on fall musical programming is now taking shape with two concerts fully booked and more to come.

“We’re trying to diversify a little bit and bring in music that will appeal to different demographics,” said Simmonds. “I think bringing in some blues music, classics, country and pop will give us a good mix.”

First up on the program is the jazz trio featuring drummer/percussionist Nick Halley, pianist Glenn Patscha and composer and double bassist Patrick Reid, who will be appearing September 10. Seating will be limited to 120 people.

On October 16, blues artist Charlie A’Court will be teamed up with the Annapolis Valley country rockers, Witchitaw, who are performing in their When Country Gets The Blues Tour.

On October 26, the theatre will play host to the Lunch at Allen’s tour, featuring Canadian music legends Murray McLauchlan, Marc Jordan, Cindy Church and Ian Thomas.

Staff members also are working to bring popular Elvis impersonator Thane Dunn to the Astor, as well as the group Atlantic String Machine.

However, Simmonds advises all of these acts hinge on the prevailing COVID-19 regulations set by the province.

“We want to make promises and commitments because we’re getting all kinds of people coming to us. Our social media pages are busy and people are asking, ‘when are you going to start movies, when is the programming going to start?’” he said. “So there’s a lot of built-up interest and we want to be able to start serving those needs as soon as we can.”

Safety

Under current government health regulations, Astor Theatre can entertain up to 120 people inside. Should the province enter its Stage 5 in the pandemic, the theatre should be able to return to its capacity seating of 350.

However, Simmonds assures that health safety will remain a priority.

“We will always maintain the safest of COVID-19 protocols. We want to err on the side of caution, and we want to make sure everybody feels 100 per cent safe in coming into the theatre,” said Simmonds. “We will ensure our staff and volunteers are fully vaccinated and will continue to wear masks until it is abundantly clear that we no longer need to.”

He added they are unsure of what action regarding vaccination of audience members they are going to take and will continue to monitor provincial guidelines and follow the lead of other major venues.

Projector update

Meanwhile, the work to fix the projector continues. After eight months of waiting for a technician to come from New Brunswick to replace a part, following his recent visit it was discovered that he will have to return.

Simmonds anticipates that they can begin showing movies again by the end of September.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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