Theatre company questions need for it to close, fears it will go dark

Brian Richmond of Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre has asked provincial leaders to reconsider recent changes to B.C.’s COVID-19 protocols, which include a moratorium on in-person theatre and concert performances for at least two weeks.

Those changes, put in place Thursday, will have a profound impact on arts and culture in the city if they continue to be enforced, Richmond said. “Theatres will die. They will die.”

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In a letter addressed to Premier John Horgan and the ministers of health, education, and arts and culture, Blue Bridge’s founder and artistic director asked for either financial relief or revisions to the existing orders before his and other performing arts companies go dark for good.

Richmond said he had not received a response to his letter as of Monday afternoon. But even if the province makes revisions, “it’s probably too late,” he said.

Restaurants and bars may remain open during the same time frame, according to the province, which puts arts organizations at a distinct disadvantage, Richmond said. Movie theatres and several other gathering spots are also affected.

“The health crisis is real, and it’s serious, and I’m not questioning that,” he said. “But it is perplexing to us why restaurants and bars should remain open and live theatre spaces — which are far safer, in my opinion — are being asked to close.”

Richmond is one of several arts leaders who have written letters in recent days. Organizations ranging from the B.C. Touring Council and the Canadian Live Music Association to Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company, one of the largest not-for-profit theatre companies in Canada, have all gone public with criticisms.

Some companies can survive the switch to online-only programming, but the majority cannot, Richmond said.

“In Blue Bridge’s circumstance, given that we have such a heavy reliance on ticket sales, that was just not viable,” he said. “Now, we have no choice. If we are going to deliver our work, then we have to deliver it online, and that’s what we are preparing to do.”

Blue Bridge Theatre’s last live performance, the second instalment in The Great Debate Series, took place Nov. 19 — the day the new restrictions were announced. Nearly half of the patrons who pre-purchased tickets did not attend the in-person performance, which had its attendance capped at 50, Richmond said. “That’s a real strong indication of the impact that order had right away.”

Last week’s changes will negatively affect Blue Bridge’s bottom line by between $20,000 and $25,000. Blue Bridge has also been selling tickets over the past several months to its annual seasonal show, A Christmas Carol, money which will have to be refunded now that seats can no longer be sold.

“We’re in the process of either shifting those tickets to online or giving refunds. For a company that struggles, like Blue Bridge, that’s a lot of revenue. The number, $20,000 to $25,000, that’s a pretty accurate estimate of what it will cost us. And $20,000 to $25,000, for us, is a lot of money.”

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