COVID-19: Puzzle in performance halls

The day after the government announcement canceling the gatherings of more than 250 people, the managers of Québec’s concert halls tore their hair out in order to solve the puzzle resulting from this decision. Calendar redesign, discussions with artists, producers and agents, contract negotiations, calculation of financial impacts … The tasks are as numerous as they are complex.
At the Grand Théâtre, which announced the cancellation of all of its shows until April 12, “we never had to manage this kind of situation,” says Sophie Vaillancourt-Léonard, communications coordinator at Trident. The cancellation of the play Romeo and Juliet , after a week of performances, caused a shock wave. Seventeen actors, without counting the technical team, find themselves overnight on forced leave.

“We have to sit down together to see how we’re going to settle this.” We have to find a way so that the actors are not harmed ”, explains the artistic director of the Trident, Anne-Marie Olivier. “There must not be losers, everyone must find something to gain,” adds Sophie Vaillancourt-Léonard.

The Grand Théâtre said in a press release to do “everything in [its] power” to try to postpone the events scheduled on the calendar, in collaboration with its producers and resident organizations: Le Trident, the Orchester symphonique de Québec and the Opéra de Quebec.

General manager and artistic delegate of the youth theater Les Gros Becs, Jean-Philippe Joubert understands the need to “flatten the spreading curve of the virus” by eliminating gatherings. But the cancellations will hurt the artists, he adds. “No one makes money in youth theater. At best, we arrive kif-kif or a little below ”, describes the one who also signs the staging of the play Romeo and Juliet , also targeted by a cancellation at the Trident.

Mr. Joubert also mentions employees, sometimes occasional, who do not necessarily have access to employment insurance and whose wages are directly linked to the ticket office. “I trust that there will be listening on the part of the ministries to face the consequences of all this,” he said.

The Union of Artists said Friday “assess the situation hour by hour”, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Communications. To its members, the organization reminds in a press release “that you have rights and that the UDA will ensure that they are respected […] All stakeholders must do their homework and take their share of responsibilities in this extraordinary situation. ”

Crisis management

At Capitole, the time is also for crisis management. “The goal is to replace all the shows on the schedule,” says director of communications and marketing, Dominique Thomas. The management has already managed to find new dates for the show by the Révolution troupe which was to present five performances these days.

“Everything will depend on how long (the government decree) will last. For a show scheduled for a night or two, this is not a dramatic situation, but for another with ten dates on the schedule, it would be more complicated. If it were to extend beyond a month, a month and a half, until summer for example, we would have a serious problem. ”

On the other side of Place d’Youville, at the Palais Montcalm, where activities are suspended until the end of March, the same brainstorming session.

“We don’t cancel the shows, we do everything to move them to another date,” says Claudie Lapointe, director of communications and marketing. In total, around twenty performances are the subject of discussions with artists, agents and producers.

“Everyone wants to come play, nobody wants to cancel. For artists, it’s still their livelihood, “said the director of programming, Nicolas Houle, charged with his colleague Simon Gagnon to review the calendar in order to find dates that accommodate everyone.

Impossible for the moment to say if all the shows affected by the health crisis will succeed in finding a new time slot. “We don’t know yet. For a Quebec artist, it is simpler, but when it is an international artist, it becomes more complicated, ”specifies Nicolas Houle.

In Salle Albert-Rousseau, closed until April 12, management is also hard at work for a reorganization of the program. About twenty shows are being studied. As of Friday afternoon, five performances scheduled for March had been moved to the fall. “People are invited to our site where the dates are updated regularly,” said Sabrina Ing, director of communications and marketing.

Even if its capacity does not reach the limit allowed by the government decree (250 seats), the Petit Champlain Theater also puts its operations on the ice, she adds. “We weren’t required to, but with the volunteers and the technicians, we approached 250 people. Public health remains paramount. ”

Employment Insurance

At Imperial, everything is frozen for the next month. “With regard to the floor staff, we are at the end of the holidays. Then, employment insurance will get on board, ”explains Samantha McKinley, director of communications for the Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ) and 3E, which operates the hall on rue Saint-Joseph. “As for the regular staff [of the FEQ and 3E], everyone remains on the job to manage the situation and reschedule the dates for the shows,” she adds.

In the event of cancellation, the majority of contracts with artists include a “force majeure” clause, specifies Ms. McKinley. “When a situation happens beyond the control of one or the other, we are relieved of our commitment”, says the one who is far from underestimating the consequences of the pandemic in an industry “which is not making a fortune ”

Financial losses

With a capacity less than the 250 people targeted by government directives, L’Anti hoped to continue its activities in the crisis. But coming from the artists themselves, cancellations accumulate for the performance hall on Dorchester Street, which also receives requests for reimbursement from concerned spectators. For the co-owner Karl-Emmanuel Picard, the financial consequences promise to be great.

“It’s major. I hope to get out of this safe and sound, “slices the promoter, who also pilots District 7 productions, whose business is also held back by COVID-19. Unemployed employees, uncertainties about a programming schedule that changes from hour to hour, Picard says he is advancing in the fog.

“We come to wonder if we are doing well to try to keep the shows going,” he notes. To do it in front of empty rooms? The cultural life of Quebec has stopped. ”


At the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, the exhibition rooms remain open, apart from the family gallery and the family mediation space inside the exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican modernism . Access is however limited in order to comply with the limit of 250 people set by the government. The cultural activities planned at the Sandra and Alain Bouchard auditorium are also canceled. The Musée de la civilization is also adjusting its programming in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibitions remain open to a maximum of 250 people at a time, but the costume workshop Once upon a time and the MLab Creaform will be closed. Other events held on the sidelines of regular programming are also canceled.Geneviève Bouchard

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