Vancouver theatre companies cancel live performances amid COVID-19 surge

·3 min read
The cast of Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol perform at the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month. (Moonrider Productions - image credit)
The cast of Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol perform at the Stanley Theatre in Vancouver earlier this month. (Moonrider Productions - image credit)

As B.C. continues to report ever-growing numbers of COVID-19 cases across the province, some professional theatre companies are making the difficult decision to cancel performances.

When the cast of Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company, took a bow following their Christmas Eve performance, they didn't know it would be the final curtain call.

On Boxing Day, two cast members tested positive for COVID-19.

The Arts Club Theatre Company was forced to cancel all remaining productions. The show was set to run for another week.

"It was easy to make the decision because health and safety come first," said artistic director Ashlie Corcoran.

She says her box office staff then took on the difficult job of refunding around $150,000 in ticket sales.

Theatre companies adapt

Time and time again, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced theatre companies to adapt. Early on, provincial restrictions brought live theatre to a halt.

Corcoran says the Arts Club Theatre Company was been able to adjust, presenting five different single-actor plays, but Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol was its first production featuring a large cast this year.

"It was just so exciting to be together again as a community. And to be using our imagination and our empathy," she said.

"And our audience was so excited and grateful to be back at the theatre."

There are more than 10,000 active cases of COVID-19 in B.C., according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's website. Those numbers are expected to rise considerably when provincial officials give an update on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the provincial government introduced new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus and the fast-spreading Omicron variant, including 50 per cent seating capacity at events like concerts and live theatre.

In response, the Arts Club refunded half of its ticket holders, but performances continued. The latest setback, however, proved too difficult to overcome.

The Arts Club Theatre Company's Christmas musical wasn't the only victim of the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.

A similar story played out at The Cultch. Again, on Boxing Day, cast members tested positive.

Out of an abundance of caution, Heather Redfern, executive director of the Cultch, says the decision was made to cancel all remaining live performances of Theatre Replacement's East Van Panto: Alice in Wonderland.

Emily Cooper
Emily Cooper

Redfern says that her team knew producing live theatre during a pandemic would require flexibility.

"It's really sad, but we kind of feel great that we had a five-week run at it," said Redfern.

"This was always a possibility. COVID is very unpredictable and fast."

The show was initially scheduled to close on Jan. 2. Though in-person performances have been cancelled, a digital version of the live production is available online.

Though the decision to cancel shows is unfortunate, both Redfern and Corcoran agree the health of their audience and staff are paramount. And they attribute the early detection of the infections to their strong health and safety protocols.

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