By Ken Schwartz
As I write this, it’s been 120 days since I huddled around a radio at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts with my colleagues to listen to a bulletin from the provincial government. Within hours I was driving a group of youth leaders to destinations around the province, and the Centre was closed to the public. Everything changed, for nearly all of us.
In the weeks that followed, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s 2020 season was postponed until 2021.
120 days later, what is it like to work in the performing arts?
The word “unprecedented” gets used a lot these days, and there’s a good reason- none of us in the performing arts have ever faced a world like the one we face now. It’s not that we are unused to adversity, or that we can’t be creative in solving problems. Performing artists are excellent, by and large, at dealing with restrictions and making it look easy. But this is different.
Live performances depend of the congress of people. People sharing the same space, the same atmosphere. When we began to discover that the lifeblood of our artistic expression was a potential health hazard that was territory none of us had ever seriously planned for, or even imagined outside of the confines of a disaster movie. But now it’s a reality.
What does the future look like?
At Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, we are looking to the 2021 summer season (our 30th anniversary!) with optimism that we will be able to carry out an outdoor season of theatre safely and without compromising our artistic vision. The administrative, artistic, and institutional work we need to accomplish in order to do this is huge, but we are rolling up our sleeves and tackling the problems one day at a time.
In the meantime, our sector is reeling, and the most important resource we have- the freelance artists who create the work presented on our stages- are now among the most vulnerable and precariously placed workers in our society. And that is a big part of what has changed. Artists are constantly advocating for their own survival in a much more urgent way than they have before, and that’s saying something.
Our orchestras, dance companies, theatres, and operas are empty shells without the performers that take the stage, no matter how large or small. A big part of my job now is advocating for the very people who have made my career as an artist possible. And, of course, the big question that looms over everything when we look to the future is this one:
Will audiences come back?
If the feedback from our own patrons is indicative, then our future is bright. It will take some time for all of us to become used to new protocols and procedures, but after 120 days, we have all become used to those.
One bright spot for those of us in the performing arts is how much the public has gratefully consumed artistic content while we were locked down for several months (or longer). The absence of the live experience in our lives has, in many cases, reinforced its importance as we begin to re-emerge. It is also important to remind the public that much of the free content that was consumed over social media in the early days of Covid-19 was offered as a generous gift by performing artists, many of whom are now facing unprecedented challenges.
So, what is it like now?
We have not lost faith in what we do or why it is important. If anything, our role in society has never been more vital. But if we are to retain generations of performing artists working in Canada today, it will take a collective effort to support the people who, in so many ways, make life in this country what it is, and show us what it could be.
120 days later, I’m hopeful, a little nervous, inspired, and sometimes relieved. But I have never been more committed to the art of live theatre as I am today.
Consider this your invitation to the opening night of Two Planks and a Passion’s 30th anniversary season in July, 2021, at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. What a time we’ll have.