Under B.C.'s latest public health orders, live theatre companies across the province have been forced to cancel their shows, but movie theatres can still entertain customers on the silver screen.
“It’s really, really disheartening that our health authorities have decided to include theatre as a social gathering event as opposed to putting us in the sector of movie theatres, which remain open,” said Aaron Craven, of Mitch and Murray Productions.
He was supposed to finish a run of shows this weekend, but those are on hold as theatre companies seek a rule change from the province.
Since phased re-opening began, theatre companies have been putting on shows for small groups, sitting physically distanced from other patrons, with everyone in the audience wearing masks.
“Dr. Henry’s statement yesterday said businesses that abide by COVID safety plans will remain open,” said Craven. “And the problem is we’re not being considered as a business. We’re being considered as an event and I think there has to be a redefinition and quickly.”
Actor and comedian Sara Bynoe makes her living on stage in front of large groups, but she hasn’t performed in a live venue since March.
“There’s a lot of talk on my social media, people are trying to figure out what to do, but it seems like no one is allowed to do anything even though they’ve tried their absolute best to take all precautions,” Bynoe said in a Zoom interview with CTV News.
Although she hasn’t worked on stage in months, she says she has been quite busy in the film industry since productions started shooting again in B.C.
She still finds the latest news about live shows disheartening, especially for those in the performing arts industry who have now had their livelihoods shut down again.
“There are people who are struggling to pay their bills. The rent subsidy is gone,” Bynoe said. “It was great while it lasted. But we live in Vancouver and it’s a very expensive place to be as an artist.”
Craven says he has been lobbying the province to consider changing the definition of performing arts from events to businesses since new public health orders were issued Thursday.
“The arts are dying a slow death at the moment,” he said. “And we have, some of us, pioneered ways to do this, we think in a safe way that fits the model of what can be done right now.”
The Arts Club Theatre Company has also launched a campaign to try to keep performing arts going safely during the pandemic.
“We understand the necessity of increasing restrictions given the rising case counts. Live theatre businesses appear to have been singled out arbitrarily for closure, while movie theatres, restaurants, and bars may remain open. We are struggling to understand this apparent inconsistency,” the ACTC’s Sarah McNeil said in a statement.
CTV News reached out to the Ministry of Health with questions about the possibility of rule changes to allow performing arts venues to put on live shows but did not receive a response. For now, at least, the show must not go on.