Theater and concert halls in Edmonton postpone shows as Omicron rages

The cast and crew rehearse for February’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium. (Edmonton Opera – image credit)

Many theaters and concert hall operators in Alberta are making difficult decisions to postpone or cancel shows due to COVID-19.

But for a few, the show will go on – for now.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra announced this week that it is postponing two shows from January to March due to heavy airplay of the Omicron variant.

“Everyone’s health and well-being must come first, while doing our part to ease the burden on our healthcare workers with this current surge,” said Annemarie Petrov, president and CEO of the Winspear Center, in an email.

The Arden Theater in St. Albert is rescheduling several shows. Some that were scheduled for the end of January or February have been postponed to April or June.

The Northern Light Theater has canceled its two-person play, The Hunchback Variations, which was due to be performed at the ATB Financial Arts Barns from January 13-29.

Large venues like Rogers Place in downtown Edmonton are also postponing concerts and events.

Varying restrictions across Canada create an uncertain climate for touring artists, especially those from the United States, said Stuart Ballantyne, president and chief operating officer of Rogers Place and Ice District.

“It’s hard to create a tour where someone is going to come to Canada and cross the country,” Ballantyne said. “It creates a lot of uncertainty with the artists, with the promoters and even with the fans.”

Celine Dion has canceled her entire tour this year, while bands Rage Against the Machine and the Arkells have postponed.

The show goes on cautiously

Edmonton Opera is moving forward with its production of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, which will take the Jubilee Auditorium stage in early February.

If it goes ahead, it will be the company’s first indoor production in nearly two years.

“It’s been incredibly difficult, obviously, for everyone for the last two years,” artistic director Joel Ivany said, adding that the company was doing everything it could to get back on stage.

The Edmonton Opera has hired a full-time COVID Mitigation Officer. Cast and crew undergo rapid tests at each gathering, and singers even wear masks during rehearsals.

Still, managers and directors question next steps on an almost daily basis, Ivany said.

“Should we postpone? Should we cancel? Should we put this at another time, or should we proceed with caution? said Ivany.

“It’s difficult. It has a mental impact, on the morale of the team. It’s really difficult to know what the right way is.”

The Edmonton Opera will also distribute KN95 masks to patrons at the door before shows on February 5, 8 and 11.

The shadow theater had its first performance — Mountain Top — in nearly two years, at the Varscona Theater in Old Strathcona.

The company tested the cast and crew every three days for COVID-19. They’ve also been careful to stay in small social bubbles, art director John Hudson said.

“The main success is this: we’ve done it. The show is up and the show is on,” Hudson said. “That’s why we really crossed our fingers.”

Everyone must be fully vaccinated to enter the show and wear a mask, he added.

Performance planning a roll of the dice

Planning shows has become a gamble for organizations, said Sanjay Shahani, chief executive of the Edmonton Arts Council.

“It’s almost like an everyday thing,” he said. “Things can just happen and all of your effort and energy that you put into building something to present to the public is gone.”

The arts council is doing what it can to support the organizations and believes most will pull through, Shahani said.

“The role of the arts has become even more important, because it’s a form of connection, it’s how we connect with each other.”

Corina C. Butler