Saturday, May 23, 2020

As retailers start to reopen after COVID-19, do this...

We've seen some baby steps towards what will become the New Normal in society in the last week; namely, some stores and businesses starting to reopen again after the Covid Curve has started to flatten if not decline to any great extent.

Here in Ontario, stores with street entrances will be allowed to open now provided they follow strict guidelines to protect both the public and their employees.  That means any store within a mall will have to wait for now.

What this means to you and me is we can access more locally and hopefully rely on the internet a little less.  But will we?

I have fears that will not necessarily be the case as people are either A.) still afraid to shop in traditional bricks & mortar shops or B.) simply have gotten used to the convenience of ordering online and having it ready for pickup or delivered right to your door.

The former concern may be reduced over time, although for the time being I understand completely people who feel that way.  Especially those with compromised immune systems or otherwise cannot easily access a traditional store for some reason.  This has become an increasingly scary time and fears are not necessarily unfounded when it comes to community transmission of the virus.

The latter point, that people are now accustomed to ordering online, presents us with a far greater problem.  And it is one I am afraid time will not erase.  If anything it could grow exponentially over the coming years.

Working as I do sorting parcels and such for mail delivery at the Canada Post depot here in St. Catharines early in the morning, I see first hand the effects of rampant online shopping.  Everything from golf clubs to gaming chairs to backup generators have come through the depot for delivery in recent months.

Most popular items to order online regularly still appear to be toilet paper, cat litter and oddly, wine.

I can understand perhaps the attraction of ordering wine online, as just yesterday afternoon while out on my weekly errands I passed the LCBO store in the plaza I was at in the north end and the liquor store had by far the longest lineup to enter.  But I'm not convinced this is the best course of action to take.

With the avalanche of orders for inane things coming in from China, I wonder what people are thinking when say, I see a single sponge being ordered online from China.  Don't laugh.  It happens with great regularity.

Yes it is convenient and yes, the selection is usually great.  But consider this:  if we continue to order online at our present pace we could very well face the realization it is the only way to acquire things, as most stores will have closed up shop.

I know, it is perhaps a little far-fetched at the moment, but look at the bankruptcies we're seeing at an alarming rate these days:  Neiman-Marcus, J.C. Penny and others in the States and Pier One Imports and many others in North America as a whole.

Shopping on Amazon can be a very rewarding experience if you're careful, but Amazon being the only retailer of choice for many people is simply not healthy, for a lot of reasons.  Eventually that will be all we have and I can't see that being for the better in the long run.

There is a fairly recent phenomenon called "show-rooming", where people will go into a traditional store to actually see an item and then go home and order it at a cheaper price online.  Sometimes from the online portal of the same retailer but not always.  You can only take advantage of that luxury for so long before the local store simply doesn't exist anymore.

Working in a CD store many years ago shortly after the dawn of the internet, I used to have people regularly come into the store trying to find a piece of music they heard on the radio.  We would do the legwork usually calling the radio station that played the piece (if indeed they knew the station) and get the details for the customer.  Often they were grateful and would then order the CD from us, but in later years we were increasingly frustrated by people who would use us as a library of sorts to search out the information and then take it and go home and order the CD online from somewhere else.

Eventually we wisely decided to take a different course of action and simply say we knew what they heard and say yes, we can get it for you, without actually telling them the details.  Not the best thing to do but it did cut down on the number of so-called "show-roomers".

The point I'm trying to make here is simple.  Local retailers count on us - you and me - to stay in business.  Today especially as they slowly start to reopen after being closed for the better part of two months or longer, they need our business more than ever.

I realize not everyone has been working steadily during this pandemic and for many of them shopping now is simply not in the cards when they still have monthly bills they have to somehow pay.  But for those of us who can, who do plan to shop in the near future, I can't stress enough just how important it is to shop local.

Your local shopkeepers depend on your - and my - business in order to survive.  If you are not comfortable entering the shop yet, that's fine.  Arrange for someone else to pick it up or even take advantage of curbside pickup or delivery options if at all possible.

Please consider this as we start to reopen.  Amazon may always be there but your local retailer may not always be, unless we make it worth their while to stay open.

Thanks for your time and have a great weekend!

May 23rd, 2020.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Some virtual music offerings during COVID-19

As I wrote last week, there are signs of optimism and creativity amongst the local music and arts scene in Niagara as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.  More indications of such creativity and resilience on the part of local artists manifested itself in many of the press releases I received this week, so let's take a look at what's new.

First up, Bravo Niagara! for the Arts actually held an online event this past Thursday I didn't receive word on prior to my blog post last week, but it is still relevant now.  They've introduced Bravo Niagara! AMPLIFIED, a new virtual video recording series designed to bring their family of artists together with local audiences.  The artists involved go beyond the Bravo Niagara! roster that have or will be performing in their inventive concert series locally.

The first project in the series was "We are the World", featuring over 150 artists and students recording remotely from their respective homes.  The concept of course harkens back 35 years to the original iconic We are the World recording written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones.

As Bravo Niagara! notes on their website, the words still ring true today:  "Now more than ever, music has the power to uplift our spirits and give hope for a better day."  How true.

Headlining the performance is superstar Measha Brueggergosman along with Quincy Jones protege Emily Bear and Bakithi Kumalo, who of course performed on the iconic Paul Simon album "Graceland" years ago.  Also appearing are the Laura Secord Secondary School concert choir and the Chorus Niagara Children's Choir.

Now the premiere of this new version took place this past week but you can still watch it on their website, at www.bravoniagara.org.

As mentioned in an earlier post here, Suitcase in Point Theatre is partnering with a wide array of regional and national artists to deliver part one of the reimagined In the Soil (p)Arts Festival, ITS Online!

Of course the original three-day celebration was to take place throughout downtown St. Catharines between June 5th and 7th, but that annual arts and culture festival had to be scrubbed due to COVID-19, so the new online version will be presented throughout the rest of the year online, with Part One premiering this coming Friday May 22nd at 6 pm.

Part One of the reimagined online series will continue until Sunday, June 7th, and will literally feature something for everyone, including music, comedy, dance, aerial, theatre and comedy performances, dance parties, panel discussions, family-friendly arts making workshops, a collage party and more.  And it's all online.  Amazing.

For more details of events coming up in Part One, go to their website, www.inthesoil.on.ca.

If you plan to catch any or all of the events online, In The Soil suggests ordering in from one of your favourite local restaurants to complete the experience and help out our great restauranteurs that make St. Catharines a destination for foodies of all kinds.  Nice touch.

Just yesterday the 2020 TD Niagara Jazz Festival announced their hugely popular local jazz festival has not been cancelled either.  Rather it has also been reimagined into what they term a "Virtually Possible" version of the event, culminating in the ever-popular Summer Mardi Gras event on Saturday, July 18th.

Between now and then, there will be nine virtual "Big Easy-centric Sessions" as they put it, curated and hosted by musician and New Orleans resident Christopher Butcher of Heavy Weights Brass Band fame.  The nine virtual sessions will explore the art, history, food, famous locations and especially the music of New Orleans.  Think of it as a sort of "Mardi Gras 101" that culminates in the big event itself on July 18th.

The first of the nine New Orleans sessions will premiere this coming Tuesday, May 19th from 6 to 7 pm, featuring New Orleans' own "Windex Pete".  You can catch it on the TD Niagara Jazz Festival Facebook and YouTube channels.

In addition to the Mardi Gras event, the Festival will also be live-streaming their weekly "LIVEStream.LOVE.JAZZ series hosted by Juliet Dunn every Friday and Saturday night during this period of self-quarantine, social distancing and beyond.

For more details on all events go to www.niagarajazzfestival.com.

Finally, the #NiagaraPerforms free online concert series launched last month by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines has announced some new dates.

Tomorrow afternoon at 4 pm local favourites Vox Violins, made up of Beth Bartley and Mark Clifford will perform their lively brand of music drawing from Celtic fiddle tunes, Canadian folk ballads, blues and much more.

The Garden City Comedy Festival kicks off next Thursday, May 21st at 7 pm featuring director David Green performing a live stand-up comedy performance with special guests Thomas Calnan and Fiona O'Brien.

Local musician, songwriter and producer Joe Lapinsky will guide the audience through a wide range of music spanning his varied career, including some new, never-before-heard songs.  That performance takes place next Sunday afternoon, May 24th at 4pm.

Finally, Niagara's premiere choral group Chorus Niagara with Artistic Director Robert Cooper will host a watch party of the recent premiere by Chorus Niagara of "Who We Are" by local composer Glen Rhodes along with "Earth and Fire" from the Elements Suite by Katerina Gimon.  Both were performed and filmed previously in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario PAC and will be presented Thursday May 28th at 7 pm.

You can check out all the performances on the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre's Facebook and YouTube channels.

That's it for this week.  Keep well and wash your hands, be careful and remain optimistic.  We will get through this together.

Have a great weekend!

May 16th, 2020.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Some musical hope amongst the ruins of COVID-19

There is music available online during this current pandemic, and that is going a long way to help some of us through a very difficult time without a lot of the Arts we typically rely on to sustain us.  So this week, a little bit of good news to share that hopefully will lift your spirits as much as they did mine.

I received an email last month from Margaret Gay, Artistic Director of The Gallery Players of Niagara, reminding me and by extension all of you about the new CD release by the Eybler Quartet and the planned launch party that was to take place in St. Catharines tomorrow afternoon.  I say planned, of course, because that had to be scrubbed due to the Coronavirus lockdown we're still currently enduring, but it will be going ahead nevertheless with the new recording now available through Gallery Players' website at www.galleryplayers.ca.

The Toronto-based quartet, internationally-renowned for their varied performances and pioneering efforts in presenting music by hitherto obscure composers of the past such as Vanhal, Backofen and of course their namesake Eybler, have done it again with their latest recording.  The new release features the music of Viennese composer Franz Asplmayer, who lived from 1728 to 1786.

Never heard of Franz Asplmayr?  Not to worry; most people including myself hadn't.

But the Eyblers had, and they are presenting the first-known recording of the entirety of his Six Quartets, Op. 2, published in 1769.  It was group violist Patrick Jordan who stumbled upon a copy of the modern edition of these quartets by American musicologist Dennis C. Monk in a used bookstore in Toronto back in 2006.  They sat on a shelf collecting dust in Jordan's home for awhile, before he found the first edition parts in the Bibliotheque National de France five years ago.  From then to now the Eyblers have been studying and ultimately perfecting their performances of the works and have now released the premiere recordings of the Quartets.

In his day Asplmayr was a busy musician and prolific composer in several genres, producing at least 41 symphonies, 43 string quartets and 70 trios, but during his lifetime he was best known for his works for the theatre, including at least 25 complete ballets, of which 11 survive, and the first German-language melodrama.

The Eybler Quartet is made up of violinist Julia Wedman and violist Patrick Jordan, both members of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; violinist Aisslinn Nosky is concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society, and cellist Margaret Gay is Artistic Director of the Gallery Players of Niagara as well as being much in demand as both a modern and period instrument players.

The new recording is also available for download from the iTunes and Google Play stores.

Meantime concert pianist Daniel Vnukowski has been keeping busy during the pandemic with live streamed performances throughout the month of April, reaching over a million hits on Facebook and over half-a-million video views.  He is not letting up in the month of May, either, and his next live stream concert comes up at 3pm today.  If you miss it you can check out the archive of past broadcasts and catch it there.

Vnukowski is based now in southern California but his roots are here in Canada, and in fact he founded the Collingwood Summer Music Festival last year to bring live concert music to a beautiful part of Ontario situated on the south shore of Lake Huron.  He performs regularly around the world but of course now, due to COVID-19 he is performing digitally through his website and Facebook.

The New Classical FM radio station in Toronto is currently re-broadcasting the virtual concerts on their station as well.

The live streams are sponsored by Fazioli, who have provided Vnukowski with their largest grand piano, the celebrated F308, which in fact is the largest grand piano in the world.  It has several features not found on other concert grands and is the choice of many classical pianists the world over.

The general public cannot access the live streams, but you can if you become a member.  It's free if you register for the full HD broadcasts on his official website, or in lower resolution they can be accessed on his Facebook page.

Again, the next performance is today at 3 pm.

Speaking of concert pianists who favour the Fazioli, I have become a regular viewer of Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt's daily performances on Twitter and Facebook the past month or so.  On Twitter you'll find Angela at @HewittJSB, by the way.

Ottawa-born Hewitt is without a doubt the finest exponent of the music of J.S. Bach alive today, with her many recordings for Hyperion records as well as earlier recordings from CBC Records regularly receiving rave reviews.

I met Angela at the Windsor Arms Hotel in downtown Toronto I believe it was 1985 after she won the International Bach Piano Competition earlier that year and secured a debut recording contract with DGG.  Members of the press including your humble scribe had lunch with a very young Angela and for myself, I was very much taken by her poise and demeaner even back then.

The first time I saw Angela perform live was at the River Run Centre in Guelph several years ago as she performed to a typically packed house and was as always tremendously gracious both on stage and off.

Now living in a comfortable flat in London, Angela is feeding her - and our - love of great classical music with daily pieces recorded on her phone and uploaded to both Facebook and Twitter.  They are short, as Twitter has a limit of 2:20 for audio recordings.  Just last week Angela compiled all the performances together, all 40 of them, and they are available for viewing now as well.

I sat in on a video conference and virtual performance from her flat just this past week as Angela talked to Canadian broadcaster Eric Friesen about the current situation and highlights of her career thus far.  It was a most enjoyable hour in the afternoon remembering such a storied career that shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.  The conference was coordinated with Ottawa's Chamberfest, where Angela regularly comes back to perform and in fact was scheduled again for this year.

Incidentally, her CDs are available through her online shop on the Angela Hewitt website and she'll even autograph it for you.  I have my dibs on a 2-disc set on the site and plan to order it for myself shortly.

That should give you some musical food for thought during these difficult times...

Have a great weekend and stay strong.  We are all in this together!

May 9th, 2020.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic claims another Arts victim

There was some troubling news in the Canadian arts community this week with the announcement the Stratford Festival has decided to put the entire 2020 season on hold.

The word came Monday morning from Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, Executive Director Anita Gaffney and Board Chair Carol Stephenson.  In a press release the three expressed obvious regret for the decision, and acknowledged it is devastating news for both the Festival and the City of Stratford.

Not only does it put on hold the entire season for the time being, but also the planned opening this season of the new Tom Patterson Theatre.  That being said, I think most would agree they would rather wait for a more auspicious time to celebrate the opening of a new venue rather than right after the pandemic has ended.  That might not be a view shared by others but for me, leave it until next year to unveil the new venue and make the whole season a real celebration.

There are obvious repercussions from the announcement, of course.  Earlier in the season about 500 Festival workers both on stage and off were laid off indefinitely due to the pandemic, and they will now likely lose their entire season's work as well.  Beyond that, the Festival is an economic engine for the entire region, driving about $135-million in economic activity each and every year.  It is no exaggeration to say that, like in Niagara-on-the-Lake with the Shaw Festival, thousands of people and literally hundreds of business owners rely on both Festivals for their livelihood.

For Stratford, they note in their release this week they have not ruled out the possibility of mounting specially-scheduled fall or holiday programming if and when public health conditions allow.  Still and all, it will never make up for the shortfall in revenue the season would otherwise generate for both the Festival and the City of Stratford.

It is a bitter pill, to be sure, and there will be more to come.  But at the end, whenever that may be, the Arts will help us all to heel and recover from the current situation.

Meantime over at the Shaw Festival, it was also reported this week by esteemed arts reporter John Law in the Niagara Falls Review layoff notices have finally been sent out by the Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Not the entire company, mind you, as some are currently working from home or other remote locations while taking a 25-per-cent wage cut.

The Festival has continued to pay its 400 members through the pandemic but as of now, about 20 part-time and seasonal workers have received layoff notices.  While acting ensemble members are still rehearsing at home and still receiving 100 per-cent of their pay, there is an escape clause for the Festival if they need it.

Executive Director Tim Jennings told John Law the company has now instituted a two-week notice to terminate their contracts for this season, although he hopes to extend it each week as the season progresses.  Not great news for the acting company but really, it appears to be the only option available at the moment short of terminating all their contracts outright.

Unlike Stratford, Shaw has not cancelled their entire season yet.  They are still going with a shortened season planned to start up again at the beginning of July, pending public health announcements that will allow such gatherings at that point as well.

There could be another delay in the season beyond that but no-one is saying anything yet, and cancelling the season outright as was done this week in Stratford is not in the cards at the present time, it seems.

So far only one show has been cancelled outright, "Mahabharata", a collaboration between Shaw and Toronto's Why Not Theatre.

Finally this week, the #NiagaraPerforms livestream series developed by the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines continues with another two weeks of performances announced on Thursday.

The series launch earlier this month has been quite successful, all things considered, with more than 8,000 livestream patrons viewing the series to date.  It is a modest start but an important one, as those staying at home are exploring other options for entertainment at this time.  FirstOntario PAC has stepped up to the plate with some innovative programming to keep people connected and entertained during the pandemic.

Tomorrow afternoon at 4, multi-award-winning roots and blues singer Suzie Vinnick will perform in the Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series, at the sponsor B4 Networks' Fonthill boardroom.  Next Thursday at 7 pm, local jazz artists Juliet Dunn and Peter Shea of the TD Niagara Jazz Festival will share music from their home studio in the north end of St. Catharines.  Next Sunday, May 10th, Spencer Burton will perform from his home in Fenwick, and on Thursday, May 14th Carousel Players' Artistic Director Monica Dufault will share a reading of Peg and the Yeti by Kenneth Oppell.  The 7 pm reading will be followed by a demonstration of how to make your own Yeti craft at home.

All of the Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series performances are available for viewing through the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre's website and YouTube channels.

Things may not be perfect right now, but the arts community is showing their collective resilience and creativity in so many ways at the moment.  And when this is all over, to quote William Shakespeare himself, we'll look forward to a time when we can "live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh."

That time for many of us can't come soon enough.

Have a great weekend and keep well!

May 2nd, 2020.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Latest updates this week...

It has been another tough week in the Arts and elsewhere due to COVID-19, so we'll update a few things here this week along with a few collected thoughts on what we're going through at the moment.

The only arts-related announcement to cross my desk this week was from the Niagara Symphony, which announced, not surprisingly, their annual Summer Camp is cancelled for this year due to COVID-19.  That will be tough for all the musically-inclined kids who look forward to the musical education they receive in the summer months, but really, the NSO really had no other choice.  As with most arts organizations this year, planning for the future is very difficult right now.

The Niagara Symphony also announced this week the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre will be in touch with subscribers about refunds and/or possible donations in light of the now-cancelled season, and will put on hold the new season announcement for the time being.  So stay tuned and I'll pass whatever information I get when it becomes available.

In other matters, life continues along in some way or another for most people, although it is much different now and likely will be for some time to come.  I have enjoyed a week off from work this week and other than my daily walks I rarely leave the house.  I have been cleaning out the basement and the garage and both are almost done now, so that gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

Yes, it is tough to do without so much of our daily routines right now but we simply have to for the greater good.  We will all benefit in the near future if we simply follow the directives from public health and the government and get this over with in relatively short order.

But the toll in the meantime is mounting here in our country and indeed in our community, further magnifying the importance of practicing social distancing and using good common sense.  Just yesterday we heard of the passing of Wilma Morrison in Niagara Falls, who was still sharp and active at the age of 91 when she passed away due to Covid.  It struck me as so sad as I had long known and respected this local giant of the Black community in Niagara, as I had often spoken to her on the phone to book her for interviews on the CKTB radio programme I used to produce.

Wilma was a leader in so many ways and I know the Niagara community will greatly mourn her loss. Even at 91 I feel she still had much to contribute to the betterment of our society as a whole.  Hopefully in the future we can come together as one and honour her and her great work in Niagara and beyond.

Her passing is just one of many, of course, and we should be careful not to put more importance on one at the expense of others.  We all have a roll to play in this world and all our contributions are important.  So every life lost is a great loss not only to the family involved but to the community as a whole.  Let's never forget that.

So, that's it for this week.  Perhaps a bit of fatigue is setting in at this point for me, so I will leave it at that and wish you a good week, good health and best wishes to you and yours.  Take care and be good.

Have a good weekend!

April 25th, 2020.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Creative souls are getting creative during COVID-19

There appears to be no end in sight to the cancellations, postponements and such in the arts community, hit hard by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  We will get through this and rebuild our lives to some extent, but one can't help but wonder what life will be like "on the other side" as it were, especially regarding the Arts.

I know some businesses and indeed some arts organizations might not survive this current shutdown, but every one of us can and should show our support any way we can both now and afterwards by patronizing the businesses and organizations we have relied on beforehand once things are returning to some semblance of normalcy.  It could be awhile before we get there, but we will get there...

Three updates to pass along today that crossed my desk this past week.

First off, Suitcase in Point Theatre, the artistic force behind our celebrated In The Soil Arts Festival, announced this week they have "reimagined" their plans for the 12th annual In the Soil Arts Festival.

The original three day celebration was set to take place in downtown St. Catharines June 5 to 7, with a programme to include a large roster of artists presenting innovative work in genres including live theatre, music, comedy, film, interactive workshops, site-specific installations and much more.  It is always a popular draw in the downtown core every spring.

The originally planned three-day Festival has now been cancelled, but the release from In the Soil this week emphasizes they have reimagined the Festival as what they refer to as "In the Soil: A Multi (p)Arts Festival over the next several months.  There will be an online series through the spring and summer as well as a variety of public events to be scheduled once it is safe to do so.  There is no firm time line on when that will be, of course, but the best guess at this point is perhaps between September of this year and March of next year.

Artists originally booked for the three day Festival will be incorporated into the new reimagined series as much as possible, which is good news for all of them, as so-called "gig" work is at a total standstill at the moment during the pandemic which means, of course, they have little or no income at all.

Suitcase in Point hopes to announce the new list of artists and schedule in the coming weeks.

Just yesterday the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines announced a new online performance series to shine a spotlight on Niagara artists.  #NiagaraPerforms will provide a platform and professional artists fees for local artists to share performances with online audiences as sort of a home-grown take on Ottawa's National Arts Centre's #CanadaPerforms series.

The first batch of local artists were selected by the programming team at the PAC from previous editions of the popular Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series as well as existing partnerships with local arts organizations.  The new online series will be announced two weeks at a time as the current pandemic continues.

The first online performance of #NiagaraPerforms kicks off this Sunday, April 19th at 4 pm with a performance from the home studio of local musician and producer Mark Lalama, to commemorate what would have been the final Hear! Here! Niagara Music Series performance of the current Hot Ticket season.

Right now the lineup continues with a performance at 7 pm on Thursday, April 23rd by Gordon Cleland, principal cellist with the Niagara Symphony and Music Department instructor at Brock University's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.  Next Sunday the 26th at 4 pm  Laurel Minnes and Taylor Hulley will bring their vocal harmonies to the online series, and on Thursday April 30th at 7 pm, Suitcase in Point Theatre will bring some quarantine comic relief to the series with more of their familiar sketch comedy cabarets.

It was also announced this week the PAC Film House will provide virtual cinema experiences with simple screening options every Wednesday.  That series kicked off this past week with CatVideoFest 2020, which I am personally hoping to check out this weekend!

For more details on how to view any and all of these online events go to the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre website.

Finally, the Stratford Festival announced this week they are launching a film festival during this period, offering free streaming of 12 Shakespearean productions captured as part of its Stratford Festival On Film series.  This will be the first time the full-length versions of these productions have been available for free.

The online series launches on April 23rd, Shakespeare's birthday of course,, with King Lear directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and featuring Colm Feore in the title role.

The choice of this production of King Lear is not just because of the undeniable draw of actor Colm Feore, either.  Cimolino noted in the press release from the Festival this week the Bard was himself in quarantine in 1606 while writing King Lear, due of course to the plague.

The roll-out of the the films has been scheduled around four themes that seem pertinent during this difficult time:  Social Order, Isolation, Minds Pushed to the Edge, and Relationships.  Each film will debut with a 7 pm viewing party and remain available for free for a three week period on the Stratford Festival website.

The list is as follows:

Social Order and Leadership:
King Lear - April 23 to May 14; Coriolanus - April 30 to May 21; Macbeth - May 7 to 28.

Isolation:
The Tempest - May 14 to June 4; Timon of Athens - May 21 to June 11; Love's Labour's Lost - May 28 to June 18.

Minds Pushed to the Edge:
Hamlet - June 4 to 25; King John - June 11 to July 2; Pericles - June 18 to July 9

Relationships:
Antony and Cleopatra - June 25 to July 16; Romeo and Juliet - July 2 to 23; The Taming of the Shrew - July 9 to 30.

Each film is captured live with a full audience at the Festival during a single performance, with additional "pick-up" shots of key performance elements captured on stage immediately following the performance, again with the audience present.

In all the films, produced by Barry Avrich through Melbar Entertainment Group, have received four Canadian Screen Awards and 16 nominations, including Best Performing Arts Program for King Lear, which kicks off the series on April 23rd.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the Arts online during this period of self-isolation!

April 18th, 2020.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

More updates on cancellations due to COVID-19

On this Easter weekend just a quick update on some cancellations in the arts world to tell you about.  Sadly, these seem to be a weekly occurrence now.  But better to be safe than sorry during a pandemic...

First off, the Shaw Festival is now cancelling all public events and performances through to June 30th.  This is in response to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake's declaration of a state of emergency through to June 30th, which requires the cancellation of all in-person events, meetings and programming until then.

Ticket holders to the affected performances will have the full value of their tickets held on their account as the administrative and box offices are both closed until April 20th by provincial order.  There is a small team of box office representatives working from home that are contacting ticket holders about the changes and to offer exchanges or refunds, so be patient.  They will get to you.

In addition, the Shaw Festival and Why Not Theatre have decided to cancel the 2020 Mahabharata production, a modern retelling of the Sanskrit epic.  They have jointly decided the production will not go ahead as planned this season due to the uncertainty over scheduling, so it will appear in a future Festival season, apparently.

Although the production was not set to begin rehearsals until June with performances starting in August, the work on constructing sets, props and costumes was set to get underway shortly, so that just couldn't be realized in the present environment.

Again, box office staff will be contacting ticket holders at some point in the near future about their cancelled tickets.

Meantime the Gallery Players of Niagara have joined many other local musical organizations in cancelling the remainder of their current season.  There are two performances still scheduled before the season ends late spring so those will now not go ahead as planned.

Admittedly, this is not how Gallery Players wanted to celebrate their 25th anniversary season, but public safety and the safety of the artists involved is the greatest concern at this point, so the decision had to be made.

The organization will be in touch with ticket holders later this month about either converting the remaining tickets into a donation, or issuing a refund for the cancelled performances.  If at all possible, opt for the former rather than the latter, as musicians everywhere are feeling the pinch at the moment.

There is also news about two new recordings coming later this month, too.  One is music by Franz Asplmayr performed by the Eybler Quartet; the other is a Gallery Players/Capella Intima/Nota Bene Baroque Players co-production of the music of Scarlatti.  Both these new recordings will be available from the shop available through the Gallery Players website at www.galleryplayers.ca/shop/music.

Up in Elora, the Elora Festival's summer 2020 season is now postponed.  It was set to run from July 10th to the 26th.  They do hope to hold the summer season later than originally planned, but a lot of that will depend on scheduling issues, so we'll have to see how doable that actually is.

Still, some performances will be better than none and by the time this pandemic is over we'll all need something to uplift our spirits!

Once again, staff will be in touch with ticket holders about either donating the cost of tickets to the Festival for a charitable tax receipt, issue a partial or full refund, or issue a gift certificate for the value of the tickets to be used towards a future concert.

You can contact the Festival for further enquiries at info@elorafestival.ca or call the office at 1-519-846-0331.

In light of all this, I was interested to read a release from Brock University's Department of Dramatic Arts at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts this week.  In it, Professor Karen Fricker, who also reviews theatre for the Toronto Star, says there is a resiliency amongst artists in the midst of all these cancellations, so although it will be a tough go for most in the short term, hopefully most will be able to bounce back over time.

Fricker notes the Stratford Festival, which so far has cancelled performances through to late May, has temporarily laid off 470 employees, including actors, technicians and box office workers.  At Shaw, no workers have been laid off at the present time and they are conducting rehearsals online whenever possible.

Fricker notes some Toronto-based companies are even putting on telephone plays:  one on one shows in which an audience member gets a hand-made personal story delivered to them over the phone.  Now that, although not ideal, is at least a glimmer of hope for the survival of the arts in this pandemic.

So, be patient, keep well and practise social distancing and proper hand washing techniques.  We'll get through this, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow might just be a great performance just waiting for an audience to join them.  Let's hope it's sooner rather than later!

Happy Easter and have a great weekend.

April 11th, 2020.