How Waterloo Region arts, theatre programs are improvising amid COVID-19 precautions

·3 min read

With a combined 600 hours already spent in rehearsal, a New Hamburg-based theatre troupe got the news that production was cancelled. On March 12, the theatre’s board decided COVID-19 had upended efforts in putting on “Beauty and the Beast,” and tickets had to be refunded.

“We had put out expenses for costumes and props,” said Aaron Fewkes, president of The Community Players. Construction on the set had started, and marketing materials were designed and “ready” to roll out, he noted.

“So we basically had the show, sitting on a transport trailer, ready to go.”

After a year shaped by COVID-19, the Cambridge Times spoke to Waterloo Region art groups about limiting or cutting programs while discovering new ways for the show to go on.

“It's humbling to try to figure it out,” said Sheila McMath, curator and organizer of Inter Arts Matrix in Kitchener. The charity brings together artists of different disciplines to produce an integrated work related to a topic. In the past, the group has assembled musicians, visual artists and even engineers for a joint project, she said.

The pieces often require collective creativity and co-operation. While in typical years the projects could be made together in a short period of time at a residency program, the pandemic has put a halt on the collaboration, McMath noted.

As a “smaller” organization, Vera Causa Opera in Cambridge has a core team with the ability to be “a bit more agile,” said Dylan Langan, the executive director.

“With a young group and quite a bit of open-mindedness that I really appreciate, we’re able to look at new avenues of presentation and really take it as an opportunity to reflect and adapt rather than panic,” he said.

Each organization took some programming online to adapt within the virtual world. Vera Causa posted a full length opera of “Hansel and Gretel” on YouTube and The Community Players ran a 'revue' of hits in spring and winter Holiday special.

Inter Arts hosts an X-Camera lecture series on Fridays at 1 p.m. in Zoom, where an interdisciplinary artist will speak about their work for about 40 minutes, followed by a networking session where people talk about potential collaborations and “how they're managing,” McMath said.

Musicians who relied on live performances have been pushed to the online realm, where they compete with Hollywood artists reading scripts, TikTok and “mad Karens,” said Paddy Gillard-Bentley, communications director for Neruda Arts.

The music organization, based out of St. Jacobs, had to cancel its summer Kultrun World Music Festival in 2020, but paid artists through a series of three workshops called “Seclusion Inclusion,” which included drumming lessons by Alison Feuerwerker and a performance featuring local favourites KW Junk Music, she said.

At Flush Ink, where Gillard-Bentyley is founding artistic director, online and streetside performances earlier this year marked the frontier for artistic innovation.

Their mission, “instilling not just an understanding of culture through music and art, but also the celebration and a pride instilled in the people from those countries,” has been managed through government grants that help to keep artists paid, she noted.

In the midst of the provincial lockdown, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery cancelled its small, “easy-to-manage,” physically-distanced tours that started in June, said communications and media manager Stephanie Vegh. The contemporary art gallery and exhibition space has explored additional virtual programming.

Most recently, the gallery posted an explanatory video series of exhibitions on YouTube, which “demonstrate the ways in which white abolitionists represented Black lives in popular culture,” its website states.

With everyone across the globe sequestered at home, the arts have been given a renewed appreciation, said Gillard-Bentyley.

Art has filled the need, perhaps in a way it has always done, “as a way to feel connected and understand other people.”

Swikar Oli, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times