This Week In Art/Culture/Entertainment

By John Swartz

Do you know what most in-between-gigs actors do? It’s sounds stereotypical, but wait tables and bar tend – and any other high employee turnover job that’s available. It really doesn’t look good for them if the fallback position is in an industry that won’t need as many employees for some time as they did three months ago in the slowest month of the year – February.

Realistically, some, a few, may go back to work over the summer (which is prime working time). Maybe they will go back to work in the fall. It’s more likely it will be when there is a vaccine and that may be in 2021 if we’re lucky.

So, while many other people are fearful their employer won’t survive this economic hiatus, there will be others eventually filling the voids created and there will be other businesses were jobs can be had. There isn’t an entire industry out on the curb like entertainment is with no prospect of an open door to resume on the horizon.

It’s not just actors who are screwed.  There are dozens of backstage occupations idle. Those who work for the brick and mortar entities won’t be coming back for some time either. Supply house employees for theater, film and television are going to boned back to skeleton crew size. Some of those are real trades and maybe they will find work in construction, maybe they’ll find work in clothing manufacturing, and so on, but probably not. In reality there are only so many restaurant and bar jobs.

Television and film production shutdowns put 120,000 people out of work in the United States according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) which has 150,000 members.

Because production companies are many, even though they hire union members, there is a lot of difference benefits like severance pay are being offered – from full to none. The big one in the U.S. is health care benefits, many will lose theirs if they are not participating in the union’s health and retirement plans.

The Actors’ Fund of Canada is now known simply as the AFC. They are offering some financial assistance to their members, which include musicians and dancers, as last resort after other avenues are exhausted.

The big players in Toronto are optimistic for a fall restart, but are more realistically preparing for January – and wondering what a plan looks like if theaters are not allowed to open until 2022. Mirvish Productions has just launched their 2021 subscription, after cancelling entire runs of plays scheduled for this year.

Canadian entertainment workers are lucky, so far, the feds stepped in with a monthly stipend, but how long will that last? Until sometime next year? Who knows?

We have people living in the area who work in the big player entertainment industry. If you know someone who works in the entertainment industry and have a job to fill, or know someone who does, make the connections. Most of these people are good, hard workers who typically make far less than they would with the same skills in another industry.

Amateur Hour

Not really. The Opera House has cancelled the summer theater season, which is professional and hires professionals, so those people are out of work. Same place different company, the Mariposa Arts Theater, which is technically amateur but produces on a professional level (no one gets paid) has cancelled everything left on their season.

The folks at MAT are planning in the absence of information, which means there is more than one plan, and there is one thing worrying them.

“We’ve already heard, through ACTCO (Association of Community Theatres – Central Ontario), which is the theater organization in this area we belong to, they did a survey and they said of all the people who responded 30% of them said they won’t come back. That’s almost a third of your clientele that won’t come back,’ said MAT president Mike Beresford.

“I think if a vaccine came along they would probably change that percentage. People would feel safer, but I don’t think they feel safe going to a theater.”

I don’t know if people have PTSD from watching school plays, but I’ve never understood why there are some people who have never seen a live action play, especially when we have two companies in town doing great work. Last fall’s main stage Opera House production was simply outstanding.

Unrinetown (photo by Deb Halbot)

Urinetown was a really good show in the big theater and that was last November and it won all kinds of awards as the ACTCO gala this year. We did really well with it.” The play was nominated in 8 categories and won 3.

“We’re keeping our options open for our November show. This season starting in September is MAT’s 50th. We were planning a whole bunch of stuff. That’s all gone down the tubes because of this COVID thing. Now we’re just looking forward to perhaps January we’re going to be on stage again, but we don’t know,” Mike said.

So this season is a write off.  We might still see those plays.

“There are a couple of shows in the can right now ready to go. We have one show that was supposed to happen right now and the people who are involved in that are still looking forward to doing it, but obviously not right now.”

“Of course the show we were going to stage in the Opera House (April’s
Rabbit Hole), that one is still in the can and ready to go as well and the director and the actors want to put it on.”

Even when we do get to go to events, it’s going to be vastly different sitting 6 feet away from your theater-going partner. Putting on any kind of show in the 100 seat Shilling Theatre, which MAT uses for most of their productions, is not going to be financially viable

“I think what Wendy (Fairbairn, Opera House GM) suggested was using the big theater and then setting the seating so everybody is socially distanced; keep it to the same number of people that can go to see the show, but have them sit in a 400 seat theater.”

The company owns its rehearsal/workshop hall, so they have ongoing costs to consider as well.

“For the immediate time being, yes, we are in good shape. We do have some reserved cash we haven’t touched,” Mike said. “We’re good for a little while. We did get a couple donations, but we haven’t run a major fundraiser.”

One of the reasons MAT is in good financial shape, other than having 5 or more seasons of great and very well attended productions, is their Film Night revenue.

“That MAT Film Night has helped MAT get through some times when we’ve had a lot of losses on the theater side of it. That was years ago, but we haven’t been in that position for a long time.” They also use some of the money raised to fund a scholarship. As you can guess, Film Night hasn’t happened for a couple months.

“That’s been cancelled as well because TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is cancelled for the summer, so TIFF isn’t even happening this year and of course our film circuit is related to TIFF. That’s an important part of MAT as well in my books because otherwise we wouldn’t get these decent films to come to Orillia. If the Galaxy theater doesn’t open, we’re not going to be running our film circuit.”

Mike hasn’t heard about the condition of other community theater companies, but is expecting to get a report from a video conference ACTCO is holding this week which may contain some news in that regard. The good news is it appears MAT will be here at the other end of this ordeal.

The Survey Says

The Orillia Museum of Art and History has an online survey taking place right now. They too are trying to plan for a future with no map.

They are trying to gauge the expectations of gallery visitors when a reopening happens. Things like, are you likely to go? How soon? What would you like to see? Will you participate in their programs like exhibition openings and art classes?

What do you want to see them do in terms of protecting you while you are there? Don’t worry about having to come up with anything, they have check lists for this and most of the other questions they ask. I love a multiple guess exam.

It doesn’t take long to do the survey and you will be helping them out very much.

Speaking of OMAH programs, Speaker’s Night has obviously been cancelled and the one I was looking forward to was this month’s with Sue and Jim Waddington who wrote In the Footsteps of the Group of Seven. Well, there’s not a lot of writing in the book, but there are tons of photos of the places the Group of Seven artists painted; they travelled to all of them, which took some time. How much time? Watch the video of the presentation they were going to make.

The Shorts

*  Ayden Miller, who landed a gig playing keyboards with Bleeker, is also a member of a band called New Friends and they just put out a video, The Way. Looks Good, sounds good.

*  If you missed Portage Creative’s (Cole and Lydia Bennett) Mini Film Festival, the good news is you can watch the films submitted here. It’s a series of shorts which lasts about an hour.

*  Creative Nomad Studios is initiating a show, 2020 Unlimited, and you can find details here. Anitta Hamming is using the windows in her under renovation community hub across the street from the Orillia Public Library to display the art. It’s a juried show.

 *  The Orillia Museum of Art and History has been doing a number of things on their Facebook page to stay public. They also are looking for submissions for an online exhibit they are planning. You can also find last month’s history night speaker giving what was supposed to be Fred Kallin’s public presentation on Raoul Wallenbuerg and other stuff on their Youtube page.

*  The Orillia Public Library has a number of things you can do online through their website. They have games and programs to participate in as individuals or in groups. You can download music, movies and audiobooks. You can also take online courses.

*  Shawn William Clarke has a new album, Spectral Acoustics Vol 1, and you can listen to it on Bandcamp – you can buy it there too.

*   VK and the Legends of the Deep have a new video out Friday. It’s Smelling Like Roses from the Charm album.

Here is a list of musicians (in no particular order) who have been doing concerts online.

Essential Concert Series  Thursdays, 8 p.m. VK is playing tonight.

Steven Henry, Saturday’s, 8 p.m.

Bleeker, Facebook, Sundays, 6 p.m.

Bleeker, Instagram, Thursdays, 8 p.m.

Charlotte Unplugged, Thursday May 21, 7 p.m.

(Photos by Deb Halbot – Urinetown – and Swartz)

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