In­no­va­tion, con­fu­sion as venues in­ter­pret rules

Calgary Herald - - REOPENING CANADA - ERIC VOLMERS evolmers@post­media.com

Pa­trick Mcin­tyre fig­ures he spent thou­sands of dol­lars and count­less hours turn­ing the Iron­wood Stage and Grill into a per­for­mance space like no other in Calgary.

The owner of the city’s long-stand­ing live venue was look­ing for a way to fol­low Al­berta Health pro­to­cols while pre­sent­ing acts that in­clude singers.

Singing is not of­fi­cially al­lowed in live venues, due to fear of spread­ing the COVID-19 virus.

So, on stage left, Mcin­tyre re­moved a wall and built an aquar­ium-like sep­a­rate room en­closed with Plex­i­glas. It’s big enough to nicely ac­com­mo­date a singer and the au­di­ence can clearly see the vo­cal­ist dur­ing a per­for­mance. Tech­ni­cally, the per­former is in a sep­a­rate room, so Mcin­tyre says he is not break­ing health reg­u­la­tions out­lined in Stage 2 of Al­berta’s eco­nomic re­launch.

Mcin­tyre hopes he has found a way to slowly bring live mu­sic back to his venue, which in pre-pan­demic days would host up­wards of 400 live per­for­mances a year.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” says Mcin­tyre, whose short­term plan is to present live mu­sic Fri­day, Satur­day and Sun­day nights. “The mu­si­cians have the will, so I’ll find a way.”

Mike Clark, who owns Mikey’s on 12th, was among the first out of the gate to of­fer live mu­sic, but it wasn’t with­out a few hic­cups.

When venues were al­lowed to open with re­stric­tions in late May, Clark planned to of­fer solo shows by a slate of Mikey’s favourite per­form­ers. Af­ter all, while the pro­to­cols set out by Al­berta Health for Stage 1 were clear on sev­eral ac­tiv­i­ties — specif­i­cally ban­ning VLT play, karaoke, danc­ing and even wa­ter pipes and hookah — there was noth­ing about live mu­sic.

But days be­fore he was set to present a happy-hour show, he was in­formed that no per­for­mances of any kind would be al­lowed. That changed in Phase 2, which was im­ple­mented June 12.

Clark re­turned to the stage to lead his blues en­sem­ble for a vo­cal-free per­for­mance. But they were forced to do so with­out their main in­stru­ment when Clark dis­cov­ered that wind in­stru­ments were also not al­lowed due to sim­i­lar con­cerns about air­borne droplets. He had to keep his sax­o­phone in its case.

“It seems like it’s a non-un­der­stand­ing of how wind in­stru­ments work,” said Clark, adding there has been no con­sul­ta­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and venue own­ers about live per­for­mance rules.

As Al­berta re­opens its econ­omy, many in the arts and per­form­ing sec­tor have been forced to re­think how they op­er­ate, lead­ing to a pe­riod of in­no­va­tion, false starts, com­pro­mises and more than a lit­tle con­fu­sion. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from art gal­leries and mu­se­ums, for in­stance, were sur­prised to learn their fa­cil­i­ties were among the first ap­proved for re­open­ing on May 14.

Few, if any, took ad­van­tage of the rul­ing in Calgary. As of late last week, there were no firm re­open­ing dates for the Glen­bow Mu­seum, Na­tional Mu­sic Cen­tre, Telus Spark or Con­tem­po­rary Calgary.

“I think it showed a lack of un­der­stand­ing about what mu­se­ums do — how en­gage­ment with the pub­lic hap­pens and how in­ter­ac­tive our spa­ces are,” said Naomi Pot­ter, di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor with the Esker Foun­da­tion, a con­tem­po­rary art gallery in In­gle­wood.

Esker will nev­er­the­less re­open July 8 in a lim­ited ca­pac­ity. The In­gle­wood build­ing that is home to the gallery will be closed un­til Septem­ber.

So the gallery, which has al­ways of­fered free ad­mis­sion and en­cour­aged walk-ins, will now re­quire vis­i­tors to pre-book a time and free ticket on its web­site. Only 15 vis­i­tors will be al­lowed in the gallery at a time.

As with other or­ga­ni­za­tions, the pan­demic has led Esker to of­fer pro­grams on­line. Even arts groups and fes­ti­vals that are tra­di­tion­ally fo­cused on live per­for­mances and pub­lic gath­er­ings — in­clud­ing Arts Com­mons and the Calgary Folk Mu­sic Fes­ti­val — have im­ple­mented am­bi­tious on­line pro­gram­ming or are in the process of do­ing so. Some or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Word­fest, have in­di­cated that on­line pro­gram­ming de­vel­oped now will con­tinue even af­ter all re­stric­tions are lifted.

The sec­ond phase of Al­berta’s re­launch al­lows for TV and film pro­duc­tion to re­sume, an in­dus­try that gen­er­ates $255 mil­lion a year in busi­ness. As with gal­leries and venues, the gov­ern­ment has is­sued gen­eral safety guide­lines about how the in­dus­try should op­er­ate dur­ing the pan­demic and pro­to­cols are be­ing de­vel­oped through­out the world with in­put from pro­duc­ers, guilds, unions and epi­demi­ol­o­gists.

But more gov­ern­ment help is needed in Canada, said lo­cal pro­ducer Tom Cox. Specif­i­cally, the Cana­dian Me­dia Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tion has pro­posed the fed­eral gov­ern­ment serve as a back­stop when it comes to in­surance.

As it stands, in­surance com­pa­nies are ex­clud­ing cov­er­age for COVID-19. Cox’s Seven24 Films pro­duces Wynonna Earp, Jann and Heart­land, among other se­ries.

Pro­duc­tion of Sea­son 4 of Wynonna was shut down in mid-march, but since in­surance was al­ready in place, Cox hopes to restart pro­duc­tion in early to mid-july. Heart­land, on the other hand, did not yet have in­surance in place for its 14th sea­son, so pro­duc­tion is in limbo un­less the gov­ern­ment part­ners with the in­dus­try and sup­plies a short-term back­stop in­surance pro­gram.

“It’s re­ally the only way that the Cana­dian in­de­pen­dent sec­tor can get go­ing again,” Cox says. “Some of the U.S. stu­dios and stream­ers may be in a po­si­tion to self-in­sure. No in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion com­pany in Canada has the re­sources to do that.”

I think it showed a lack of un­der­stand­ing about what mu­se­ums do — how en­gage­ment with the pub­lic hap­pens and how in­ter­ac­tive our spa­ces are. Naomi Pot­ter, di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor, Esker Foun­da­tion, about prov­ince’s ap­proval to re­open art gal­leries and mu­se­ums

DARREN MAKOWICHUK

The Black Belts, Aaron Young and Jory Kinjo, try out the aquar­ium-like struc­ture de­signed by Pa­trick Mcin­tyre to get live mu­sic back in his Iron­wood Stage and Grill.

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