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The show might go on? Some Island theatres determined to salvage summer seasons

While larger festivals and concerts are being cancelled all around them, some smaller theatres on P.E.I. say they’re not ready to give up on their own summer seasons. 

“Right now, there’s so many uncertainties,” said Alanna Jankov, the CEO of The Guild in downtown Charlottetown. “The only thing I do know is that somebody is going to be entertained in this building.”

Island theatres have been closed to the public since mid-March. As it stands, it’s not clear when they’ll be allowed to reopen, or what restrictions will be in place when they do. 

According to the province’s reopening plan unveiled this week, Islanders won’t be able have “large gatherings” or “enjoy festivals and events” until the fourth phase, which has no set date. 

But Jankov said with the third phase potentially beginning on June 12, she’s planning for the potential to launch the summer season and start filling at least some of the theatre’s 150 seats in late July. 

A scene from the 2018 production of Anne and Gilbert at The Guild. This year’s production was supposed to take the stage this week. The hope is now to open the season in late July. (Louise Vessey)

The cast members of Anne and Gilbert, which was originally scheduled be on stage six days a week starting this week, have now been told to be ready to begin rehearsing July 7, and to open on July 28. 

“I have ideas for entertaining people, whether it’s small groups of 50, whether it’s small groups of 30, whether we have to take out half the chairs,” said Jankov.

“As people in the cultural sector, we just have to reinvent it, be creative, and make sure we can continue to be viable. But the number one thing is making sure everyone’s safe first.”

Planning ‘for the worst’

Haley Zavo, the executive director of the 290-seat Kings Playhouse in Georgetown, said she’s taking the same approach. 

Zavo said as it stands, all shows and events the theatre had booked through to August have been cancelled or postponed. 

With a large green space outside the Kings Playhouse, the executive director says there may be the potential for more outdoor concerts and events this summer. (kingsplayhouse.com)

“What we tend to do is plan for the worst, and plan that people will not be able to gather in a space like ours for a considerable amount of time,” she said.

“So what it means is we have to take all that we are accustomed to doing, to stop doing that, and to find new things to do.”

I’m constantly re-looking at the numbers.— Alanna Jankov, The Guild

Zavo said that may mean filling her theatre’s summer schedule with more outdoor concerts and events. 

According to the province’s reopening plans, there’s the “potential” for up to 20 people to gather outside, as long as they can physical distance, as part of phase three in June. 

“We’re really fortunate to have an outdoor space directly behind us,” said Zavo. “So it does make us start sort of thinking about — OK, how can we create something that would serve people from that aspect?”

Will there be tourists? 

Even if theatres can start holding concerts and events some time this summer, there’s still the question of whether they’ll be able to sell enough tickets to make it worth it. 

Like many Island theatres, The Guild and The Kings Playhouse rely heavily on tourists to fill seats in the summer months. 

Haley Zavo, executive director of the Kings Playhouse, says she’s planning as if ‘people will not be able to gather in a space like ours for a considerable amount of time.’ (Angela Walker/CBC)

The province hasn’t made it clear when it will loosen its border restrictions and allow tourists to visit the Island. 

“I’m constantly re-looking at the numbers,” said Jankov. “And obviously if we don’t have any tourists, looking at some of our bigger productions, we might have to go to smaller things where the numbers will work.”

Both theatres said regardless of what the summer brings, they’re hopeful they will get through it financially. They say it may just take some government assistance to get them there. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

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