Live theatre directors are scratching their heads, if not pulling out their hair, after the province declared their venues to be social gatherings, but not cinemas showing films.
Social gatherings have been banned in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s latest COVID-19 curbs, announced on Nov. 19. But cinemas showing films are exempt, as are bars and restaurants.
“Along with other local theatre companies, including The Arts Club and The Firehall Arts Centre, we have worked endlessly for months to develop seamless COVID safety plans and to put up plays that provide a vital mental health service and community outlet for small, socially distanced, masked audiences,” Aaron Craven, artistic director at Mitch and Murray Productions, said in an open letter to the premier, health minister and Vancouver Coastal Health.
The latest restrictions were ordered on Nov. 19, barring social gatherings and events, and
gatherings of any size with anyone other than your household or core bubble. For example: No friends or extended family over to your house, no backyard or park gatherings, no playdates for kids.
A partial list of banned events named directly by Dr. Bonnie Henry includes “musical, theatrical or dance entertainment or performance.”
Mitch and Murray, 1555 West 7th Ave. in Vancouver, was finishing a run of a play by Duncan MacMillan called LUNGS. Friday night’s performance had to be cancelled and the final performances on the weekend are in limbo.
“We’re in a holding pattern with our audience,” Craven said on Friday. “If we don’t hear anything by (Saturday) we’ll have to cancel the weekend’s shows. We’re a small outfit with a very tiny budget, it’s quite a blow for us.
“Why have we been lumped in as a social gathering while other businesses with COVID-19 safety plans are still open?” Craven asked. “It makes zero sense.”
The few professional theatre companies operating have thought of every last detail, he added, including staging one- or two-person performances with minimal to no technical detail. LUNGS, for example, involved just Craven and his wife Kate, with no stage hands. Audience members were socially separated and masked.
How is it safer for people to sit for an hour unmasked in a restaurant or cinema than an hour masked in a socially distanced live-theatre setting? Craven asked.
“It’s crazy. The inconsistency is baffling.
“Settings like ours are not where the outbreaks are happening, yet we’re being either targeted or forgotten. It is devastating to our sector and is the worst kind of oversight during such a challenging time.”
Vancouver Coastal Health referred Postmedia to the Ministry of Health. The ministry did not respond for a request by deadline to explain why live theatre is a social gathering but going to a movie in a cinema is not.
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