Regular seasons suspended, arts organizations look for other options

Three of Victoria’s top performing arts organizations have suspended their seasons following weeks of uncertainty and the rollout of new COVID-19 safety measures that make large public performances all but impossible.

The Victoria Symphony, Pacific Opera Victoria, and Dance Victoria all cited COVID-19 health regulations and the safety of their staff as the primary factor in their decisions. The continued closure of the Royal Theatre and McPherson Playhouse — where scheduled events would have attracted audience numbers beyond what the province’s Restart Plan allows — also played a role in the suspension of the 2020-2021 seasons.

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“The [Restart Plan] published two weeks ago states very clearly that large gatherings won’t be possible until there is an effective treatment or vaccine mitigating health measures,” said Pacific Opera CEO Ian Rye. “Our mainstage Royal Theatre season is suspended until such time it is safe to gather again.”

The province has said that gatherings of more 50 are not allowed.

The three organizations will remain active while they plan their next steps.

Dance Victoria has been given the green light by Island Health to reopen its studios on Quadra Street once its COVID-19 protocols are in place. Producer Stephen White said the plan is to reopen June 1 for public instruction and the company’s summer residency program. The studios have been closed since March 18.

Smaller, newly created events “aligned with the various health directives” are a possibility starting in late summer, White said, but the company will proceed slowly.

“The pace at which things have been changing over the last couple of months has prohibited us from sitting down and doing a deep think about what is the best way that we can support the artform, if we’re not in a position to present on the scale that we’re used to.”

The Victoria Symphony cancelled Symphony Splash, its high-profile Aug. 5 event, on April 29. The organization has been offering online content throughout the crisis, from personal videos by the orchestra musicians to virtual learning tools — all of which have been well received, according to Victoria Symphony CEO Kathryn Laurin.

“The technology is there,” she said. “It’s a question of utilizing it and finding these creative ways to bring some music to people in these desperate times.”

Pacific Opera Victoria plans to fill the holes in its upcoming schedule with several initiatives over the next three months, from a mobile “sidewalk opera” to a potential arrangement with CBC Radio that would see the streaming of archival Pacifc Opera Victoria performances.

A taped dress rehearsal of Flight of the Hummingbird, which had played to more than 18,000 elementary and middle school students before performances were postponed in March, was made available for free this week on Telus’ Optik TV and Pacific Opera’s website and social media channels.

“That’s a way for us to stay relevant while this is all happening,” Rye said. Plans for an “alternate season” are expected to be announced in September, he added.

White said Dance Victoria will weather the storm financially, in part due to the support of subscribers who donated their annual subscriptions back to the company, despite refunds being available.

“The number of people that donated the value of their tickets for our canceled performances in the 2019-2020 season has just has been overwhelming,” he said.

Cost-prohibitive presentations are difficult to manage, no matter the context; there can be upward of 100 contributors to an opera, while the symphony requires more than 60 for a full performance. Each non-profit organization appears to have a contingency plan that it hopes will ensure its survival.

“There is not a business model for this, but that is not what matters at this time,” Rye said. “We are service organizations, and we owe it to our communities to deliver what we can.”

Dance Victoria will celebrate its 25th anniversary during its 2021-2022 season, “so having this length of time will permit us administratively to do some strategic planning,” White said. “There is lots to occupy us.”

The Victoria’s Symphony’s upcoming 78th season will not resemble those that came before it, Laurin said, but the organization has the ability to adapt.

“It’s going to be different. It’s not the season that we programmed. But we can do things that are still going to continue our mission, which is to provide extraordinary music to our community. And so we will continue to strive to meet that mission.”

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