Tirgan performs Nowruz Festival before empty chairs, will broadcast online due to COVID-19 pandemic

As large gatherings and events are being cancelled in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, groups are finding innovative ways to keep the party going — from home.

Tirgan, a non-profit that organizes Iranian cultural events cancelled its massive New Year's festival this weekend.

The annual Nowruz festival would usually attract between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees over three days. This year, organizers say they are doing what they can to keep it alive.

"We decided to take some of the performances online and also broadcast them through major Persian TV networks and postpone some of the events to later in the year," Tirgan CEO Mehrdad Ariannejad told CBC Toronto. 

"It's a new avenue for us I think. Hopefully this opens another door for us for the future. At the same time, when we have the actual festival, we can create an online version of it and so far it has been a very good experience. But it's unchartered territory so we don't know what's going to happen."


'Keep the spirit high'

Ariannejad said they didn't want to cancel, especially at this time when people are going to be staying home based on the advice of health authorities.

Additionally, this year's event had been dedicated to the victims of the Iran plane crash — five of whom were part of the Tirgan community.

"We dedicated the whole festival to the victims of flight 752 and we were supposed to have two different programs actually dedicated to the victims, but when the COVID-19 happened and we decided to go online, we just kept 15 minutes production to dedicate to the victims of flight 752 and that's going to be included in our programs," Ariannejad said.

"This year, especially the Iranian community, we've had a very tough year and I think we should keep the spirit high and we should look into the future, not in the past."

Mercedeh Madani, operations manager for Tirgan, said they were looking forward to bringing Iranians across the world together to promote Iranian arts and culture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to change focus.

"All of our roles are kind of changed to be able to support the online delivery of these programs," Madani told CBC Toronto.

"So, we have very intense recording schedules, our volunteers start at 8 in the morning until 11 at night. We help with the changeovers between various artists and different programs to make sure we can record as many programs as possible to be able to deliver an interesting and innovative [performance] for our audience."  

Tirgan is creating a broadcast using the space it had already rented for the festival.

Angelina King/CBC

Audience missed, but 'safety comes first'

One of the performers, Erwin Khachikian, says the audience is greatly missed.

"So we're still singing the story, we're still performing, but then we open our eyes and it's like, there's nobody there, so that's the only difference," he told CBC Toronto.

"Given the circumstances it's understandable. Of course you do want to play to a full audience and the way we were selling our tickets it would have been a sold out show, which is always a nice thing for an artist. But safety comes first, or health comes first."