What summer 2022 was like for 3 live venues in rural P.E.I.

·4 min read
Richard Wood is one of the artists who performed as part of the Mont-Carmel Summer Concert Series in 2022. Artistic director Christian Gallant said the season was better than he expected.  (Submitted by Music P.E.I. - image credit)
Richard Wood is one of the artists who performed as part of the Mont-Carmel Summer Concert Series in 2022. Artistic director Christian Gallant said the season was better than he expected. (Submitted by Music P.E.I. - image credit)

Many have been calling this a post-pandemic summer on P.E.I., but for people who run live venues on the Island, the challenges of COVID were still alive and well.

Performers were cancelling at the last minute, and campaigns were needed to draw people back to live theatre and music after two years away.

Christian Gallant, artistic director of the Mont-Carmel Summer Concert Series, had artists coming down with COVID "and two days before the show letting me know, 'I have to isolate. I can't do the show.'"

After the series closed its season this past Sunday, he said, "it was such a sigh of relief… to know, 'OK, we don't have to deal with that.'"

Submitted by Christian Gallant
Submitted by Christian Gallant

Despite having to reprogram many nights at the last minute, Gallant said, "We had a great season — better than what we were expecting."

Concerts were held every Sunday at the Mont-Carmel hall, a small 165-seat hall overlooking the water in the Evangeline region.

About 77 per cent of its available seats were filled, on average.

Other venues outside the Charlottetown area were dealing with different pandemic-related challenges.

CBC
CBC

"Probably the main impact of COVID has been that people have gotten out of the habit of going to live theatre," said Haley Zavo, artistic director of the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown.

She said that applies to "especially our local audience, who maybe are feeling more comfortable at home than out in large crowds, and they're just not accustomed anymore to … regular weekly programming.

We're much more adaptable, much more quicker to kind of react to things. — Robert Tsonos

"We'd see kind of our regular audience and we'd say, 'Hey, we haven't seen you at the theatre in a while.' And they'd say, 'Oh, we're just, you know, we've gotten out of the habit,'" said Zavo.

One big surprise was how popular the playhouse's outdoor events proved to be, including a walking tour of haunted Georgetown.

"That's been a really interesting development for us and has reached a different kind of audience," said Zavo.

At the Watermark Theatre in North Rustico, artistic director Robert Tsonos said the season "exceeded expectations", with both of its plays doing very well.

Kevin Yarr/CBC
Kevin Yarr/CBC

Tsonos and his team made some changes this summer due to the pandemic: They shortened the season by three weeks, and they put on shows that required fewer actors on stage.

"We've been conservative. I guess, just because of the unknown," he said.

"I'm hoping next summer we're going to go back to 2019… full cast sizes and full summer runs. That's the plan right now."

Tsonos said the company debated whether to hire understudies to learn the parts of other actors in case anyone came down with COVID.

"That discussion was up — and across the country it's been up — about having understudies where you would never have considered understudies prior," he said.

In the end, Watermark elected not to hire understudies.

"We really just tried to protect [the actors] as much as we could, and isolate them just amongst our, kind of, company. And it worked fine," said Tsonos.

Thankfully, none of the actors contracted COVID and nobody had to isolate.

Plans A through E

Though the season was smooth, Tsonos said he's learned throughout the pandemic that you need more than a plan B. You need plans C, D and E as well.

"We're much more adaptable, much quicker to … react to things, and much easier to pivot than we were before," he said.

Gallant agreed that being able to change plans at the last minute is a skill he's honed.

"It just is what it is. It's the reality we live in, unfortunately, and I think we're going to be living in this reality for a little while yet," he said.

'We need to support our artists'

None of the three venues saw audiences return in the numbers they saw in 2019.

Gallant urged Islanders to continue to support live venues so that the province's musicians and actors have somewhere to perform.

He said some got out of the business "because the opportunities weren't there. And now that venues are open, we need to support our artists, we need to support our venues, we need to support the volunteers," said Gallant.

"So if you haven't been out to a live show, please do."