Kelowna Fan Experience was cancelled this spring, an event that served as a fundraiser for the New Vintage Theatre. (File photo)

Kelowna arts groups hammered by COVID-19

Financial losses due to pandemic coupled with uncertainty for future

The traditional entertainment business adage ‘The show must go on’ is being severely challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Central Okanagan.

Since the B.C. economy shutdown first took hold in mid-March, live theatre music, dance and stage production have been sidelined, with much uncertainty even as the provincial government begins to reopen the economy.

It has placed the arts community in a precarious financial position, raising questions about what the immediate future of live theatre will be as it is likely not coming back on stream until the fall of 2021 at the earliest.

Last week, Kelowna Actor Studio artistic managing director Randy Leslie issued a news release announcing the cancellation of his theatre group’s final three planned shows of the 2019-20 season – Deathtrap, Gypsy and Grease.

“Cancellations and closures due to COVID-19 have had a catastrophic impact on the Canadian arts sector….Dance companies have been forced to cancel their full seasons along with so many others,” Leslie said.

“We, like many, have been forced to make some heartbreaking decisions in order to survive.”

Among those decisions was the closure of the WorkRoom, where Kelowna Tickets/production offices/workshops and the KAS black box theatre resided.

“We have downsized, we will not disappear. We have been part of Kelowna’s cultural scene for 18 years and we want to be around for the next 18.”

Nathal Flavel, the co-owner of Kelowna Actors Studio, said two recent events hit home for him regarding the financial implications of the COVID-19 slowdown – the famed Broadway theatre row in New York City shutting down and the bankruptcy proceedings against the Cirque du Soleil.

“Broadway has never shut down since the Second World War, and now it won’t be back likely until next year,” Flavel said.

“Cirque du Soleil has always been a bit iffy on finances, but that organization like most arts groups is run on emotion and art, not necessarily strong business acumen, but rather about cultural impact. But it was terrifying to see that happen.”

Flavel said the numbers don’t work to produce stage productions at Kelowna Community Theatre, which can seat 853 people, and only be allowed a 50-person audience limit.

“Unfortunately, we also have to pay in advance for rights to shows like Peter Pan, Gypsy and Grease, and we don’t get that money back. So we are talking six figures that just sits there like a paid deposit, a lease agreement that we may or may not be able to use for staging a production in the future,” he said.

Flavel noted even extending credits for tickets already paid for the now-cancelled performances will create another problem when those tickets absorb potential future revenue.

“We are very fortunate that people who have already bought tickets have been very supportive. They have not asked for their money back, or in some cases told us to treat it like a donation,” he said.

Bonnie Gratz, artistic director of the New Vintage Theatre, says there is some frustration across the theatre community about allowing restaurants and pubs to open, but for stage theatres to remain closed.

“When we talk about determining what is safe to reopen, the arts are not figuring prominently in that conversation at this point, ” Gratz said.

“The inconsistencies are frustrating but at the same time, we want to make sure our community stays safe and not do anything to jeopardize that. We take our leadership from Dr. Henry and listen to everything she says.”

Gratz said her theatre company dabbled in the potential reality of filming and streaming play productions in the absence of stage theatres being reopened.

Vintage had the production of Pink Unicorn filmed by the Okanagan Society of Independent Filmmakers and saw widespread feedback to online viewing.

“It was exciting to see the reaction from around the world. People in China, Taiwan, New Zealand responded to it. We even got written up in the Globe and Mail newspaper,” she said.

But filming plays watched at home doesn’t offer the same experience of seeing live theatre with a theatre audience, admits Gratz.

“Digital is not ideal. I prefer that our productions would be live in the theatre but I guess at this point we have to try new ideas to adapt and learn new skills,” she said.

Vintage will also present the play Leaps And Bounds July 22 to 26 at the smaller Black Box Theatre, audiences limited to 20 people in a 125-seat capacity theatre, and stage street theatre presentations of the play at various outside venues, pending approval of a grant to help cover the cost.

Christine McWillis, City if Kelowna cultural services manager, acknowledges those sentiments of seeking live theatre presentations.

She recalls an Okanagan Symphony concert performance last spring of the Queen classic song Bohemian Rhapsody which included an accompanying rock band and choir.

“It gave me goosebumps sitting in the audience and seeing that performance. I don’t know if I saw it online that I would have that same emotional reaction,” McWillis said.

She said the Kelowna Community Theatre is also a victim of the COVID-19 shut down, as its normal booking run of 250 shows a year ended back in March.

The theatre remains closed with no reopening date in sight, the theatre employees either redeployed to other city jobs or laid off.

“Those 250 bookings suddenly went to zero. We are not likely to see the start of those numbers return before sometime around the fall of 2021,” she said.

She said a capital project to install a new sound system was included in the 2020 budget and will proceed this summer despite the closure.

“Like all public facilities, we are all trying to work together to figure out what reopening is going to look like, what health precautions will be needed, how restricted seating will be for audiences,” she said.

McWillis sympathizes with the financial implications facing groups like Actors Studio, Kelowna Ballet and the Okanagan Symphony, saying Kelowna has always been a great supporter of the arts and “I hope to see us come together and continue to find a way to support the arts going forward.”


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An artist’s rendering of the proposed development that would replace the Hiawatha RV Park in Kelowna. (Contributed)
Eviction notice leaves Kelowna trailer park resident fearing homelessness

44 mobile home units at Hiawatha RV Park were served an eviction notice yesterday, making room for new development

Leighton Allen Labute faces charges of animal abuse and allegedly has a string of social media accounts depicting disturbing content.
Accused Kelowna hamster killer facing new charge for publishing video online

Leighton Allen Labute, 21, is also charged with killing and causing unnecessary suffering to one or more hamsters

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

RCMP searching for missing Kelowna man

Nathan David Copp was last seen this morning, Oct. 28

(Kerkhoff Construction)
Large Glenmore rental development given greenlight by Kelowna council

The development will contain 238 rental apartment units across four five-storey buildings

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

In May 2019, Brennan Joel Metlewsky and Jordan Robert Kupser were charged with attempted murder, robbery and aggravated assault stemming from an incident that took place in Vernon in 2017. (Facebook photo)
Attempted murder charges dropped for pair accused in Vernon stabbing

Brennan Metlewsky and Jordan Kupser will appear in Supreme Court to set a new trial date

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Eric Termuende and the Emily Dahl Foundation are presenting a virtual ‘fireside conversation’ on modern happiness from the stage of the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon Nov. 3, 2020, at 7 p.m. (YouTube)
Mental health advocate joins happiness chat in North Okanagan

Versed public speaker teams up with Emily Dahl Foundation to equip virtual guests with tools to live a happier life

A boat moored at Turtle Bay Marina was reported stolen Oct. 1 and remains under investigation. (Contributed)
North Okanagan crimes remain unsolved

Boat stolen from marina, theft of siding and vehicle break and enter

Most Read