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Arts in a pandemic

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The arts community has been one of the worst-hit during this current upheaval. As everything began to shut down, arts venues and artists alike quickly realized that things might not be the same again for a very long time. However, since then, things have begun to open and get back to some measure of what is now the new normal. This isn’t the case for the art community, especially those that depend on large venues and audiences to perform.

The Alberta Ballet company was forced to postpone all of their performances, leaving those with tickets unsure of when they may get a chance to enjoy a show. Recently, Alberta Ballet updated their website at www.albertaballet.com, informing their audiences that they are hopeful that they will be able to perform Swan Lake in May 2021, Peter Pan in July 2021, and All of Us in August 2021. However, under the provincial plans for reopening businesses, theatres are part of Stage 3 and will be the last to reopen. With numbers of positive COVID-19 cases increasing yet again, there is no real, sure-fire way to know when those reopenings might be happening.

As per a statement on their website, the Citadel Theatre says, “Under careful consideration of all Alberta Health measures and in partnership with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra & Winspear Centre, Alberta Ballet, and Edmonton Opera, we are disappointed to announce that we will be suspending all regular programming until 2021.” As well, theatres such as the Walterdale Playhouse have also opted to cancel their shows for the remainder of the year, and Theatre Alberta put out resources on their site at www.theatrealberta.com to help artists find answers and support during these challenging times.

Some like Mayfield Theatre are lucky enough to be reopening due to their ability to follow health measures. They have had to limit cast numbers and change from buffets to plated meals and ensure all other measures such as cleaning and social distancing are adhered to. They will open Sept. 8, 2020, beginning with their performance of Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story. Even so, a great majority of artists have been left with no work or community to perform with, and no real indication of when that might change.

Artists, though, are nothing if not resourceful, diligent, and determined. Over the last five months, incredible stories have surfaced of those that have chosen to find new and unique ways to share their craft. Many groups and individual actors increased their online presence, performing what they could through varied social media platforms. After all, the arts community is well versed in making something out of nothing, and being creative is the name of the game.

Alberta Ballet, which usually engages in over 50 performances between September and May at the Jubilee, will look very different this year, says artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre. “Artists need to create, and so we’ve imagined new ways of sharing our love of dance. Our plans in the coming months include ballet films commissioned during the pandemic and a series of exceptional chamber performances in smaller venues and surprise locations,” he says — a sentiment echoed by many artists pushing to find new ways to their audiences.

All this could be a blessing as online platforms could make ballet and theatre shared online more accessible to new audiences. Challenges like this pandemic wreak havoc, but they also push everyone out of comfort zones and towards innovation. Grand-Maitre says, “Without our traditional stage, we see this as a time to explore. We’re taking ballet out of the theatre and into communities around the province, and we hope to reach more Albertans than ever before.”

As individual artists think outside the box, new and incredible material shows up as well. This was the case for award-winning local filmmakers Marliss Weber and Randy Brososky, who teamed up with other filmmakers from Germany, the Czech Republic, the United States, Hong Kong, and Italy. Together they worked within their own isolated parts of the world, some never even leaving the quarantined bubble of their own homes, to film a series titled DAY NINE.

“Like so many creative people, we felt a lot of fear and frustration at the beginning of the lockdown. All of our plans were cancelled in a heartbeat — travelling to film festivals, building relationships, and actually doing the work. So we decided to look at what we could do, and decided to make a short film, just with the gear, crew, and cast we had available to us — which was just the two of us (my partner, Randy Brososky), our phones, some lighting gear, and our cats,” says Weber.

DAY NINE is a seven-part web series that launched on Aug. 20, and can be viewed at www.daynineseries.com. All of the films take place during quarantine, but due to an alien invasion instead of a pandemic. “As creative people, it also brought with it a sense of being stuck. A fear of losing momentum,” says Brososky. “We decided to challenge ourselves.”

Projects like this series really show the incredible level of flexibility artists have when given the toughest of situations.

The series, which has picked up a lot of media attention, along with all the efforts of artists and groups like Alberta Ballet, emits a sense of hope for the arts community and those of us watching. It reflects that even in times that seem bleak, there is a great sense of hope in the arts, especially when artists come together to find ways through difficulties.

Often the arts can be a slight afterthought because things like health and the economy are far more urgent. It is easy to put an entire community aside that may not provide what can be seen as an essential service, but in a world where lockdowns and quarantines are lengthy, and worries are high, the arts offer an escape and so much more. Just look around, and almost everything we interact with on a daily basis has been affected in some way by the arts. Everything from websites to advertisements to what we watch on TV and online has had the hand of someone who, in this time, has really had to push themselves to find ways to get their craft out to you. Just as those in the art community have worked hard to continue to deliver, it is equally important that we as their vast audience continue to show up for them in any way we can. Even if those ways are viewing content online in the comfort and safety of our homes.

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