Innovation, confusion as venues interpret rules
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
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.