How three Fredericton arts organizations are working to salvage their spring programming in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.
An arts and music festival, a professional theatre production and two significant touring art exhibitions are just a few of the many Fredericton events that have been postponed, cancelled or modified in some way as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While each new day seems to bring with it a new degree of uncertainty and speculation, the show must go on, even if that means taking place months later than originally planned or in a completely different format. Art can adapt.
On March 15, Fredericton’s Flourish Festival joined the growing list of postponed events. Originally planned to take place in downtown Fredericton April 23-26, the festival’s initial lineup included more than 70 individual artists, musicians and bands.
“We are obviously devastated to postpone the festival, not just because it’s our passion project, but because the postponement of it will have a direct impact on so many artists,” said Flourish Festival co-founder Jane Blanchard.
Founded in 2015, Flourish Festival has grown from an experimental weekend merger of visual arts and music to become a major event on Fredericton’s spring calendar. Flourish has been recognized nationally as leaders in diversity and gender equality and regularly attracts visual artists and musicians from all over Central and Eastern Canada as well as the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
“This is just another event to add on the long list of cancellations for all of our artists, no matter where they are coming from,” said Blanchard. “Looking for a new date is promising, but there are so many uncertainties and things to consider. We are looking at the autumn, and although things might have calmed down in New Brunswick by then, that might not be the case for other areas. For example, our lineup this year had a lot of people coming from Maine as we secured a great partnership with Maine Arts Council. COVID-19 aside, how is this going to impact travel and cross border relations over the next year? It’s hard to reschedule and start looking ahead when there are so many uncertainties.”
Theatre New Brunswick are also looking to the fall as a possible time to stage what was supposed to be the last show in the company’s 2020 season. Rehearsals for TNB’s production of Heroine were nearing completion when a March 16 provincial announcement recommended closing all public spaces just days before opening night.
“When the health authorities said the maximum gathered group allowable was 100 people, we thought we could still finish our rehearsal process,” said TNB Artistic Director Natasha MacLellan. “We went through the tech part of the rehearsal, which means that we completed all of the designs and cues that would be in the show. Before we could finish that plan, public groups were restricted further, and so we ended things off with one full run of the show with tech and costume.”
After a six show run in Fredericton, TNB planned to take the show on the road with dates in Bathurst, Miramichi, Moncton, Saint John, St. Andrews and Florenceville-Bristol. MacLellan says she now hopes they can put this show on stage in the fall.
“We had to postpone the production, hopefully doing the run and tour in the fall. Luckily, when we come back to it, the show is pretty much ready. We’ll rehearse for a week, then do it with all of the tech again, make a few adjustments and perform it. We were lucky that we got to finish it. I know a lot of theatre companies were not so lucky,” she said.
As director of the show, MacLellan was in the rehearsal hall each day with the cast, the design team and members of the production crew as news and updates brought new changes and worries each day.
“It was, weirdly, an incredibly bonding experience, to be going through such a scary experience, isolated with a group of lovely people in our little theatre,” she said. “I feel like we bonded for life.”
In February, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery opened two extensive exhibitions featuring a selection of work by Canadian painter Emily Carr and English wartime painter Sir Alfred Munnings. After only a few weeks of public display, the gallery was forced to close its doors, cutting these and all other works off from the public.
“While we enjoyed two of the gallery’s most successful weeks during the initial days of the Emily Carr exhibition, we had to close down for obvious reasons,” said John Leroux, manager of collections and exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. “The Carr paintings are all safe and sound, but as they can’t be visited, we’re going to do a number of virtual tours and videos of them over the coming month. We are hoping that an extension of the exhibition can be arranged, but it’s just too early to tell at this time.”
Leroux has already begun sharing video content through the gallery’s Facebook page. His first video (below) looks at a piece by Mary Pratt.
“I’m working on doing a series of online videos highlighting individual works from our permanent collection as well as the temporary exhibitions, and they’ll be available on our Facebook site and possibly Youtube,” he said. “We know they’re not the same as visiting us in person, but as that’s off the table for a while, we’re pleased to do what we can to bring a bit of art and beauty to your homes.”
These are just three examples of a towering list of events, artists and organizations forced to make a number of quick decisions over the past few weeks. While the arts were among the first to suffer as a result of all the mandatory precautions now in place, the effects are now being felt by us all.
If and when events are able to be rescheduled for the fall, Blanchard predicts an incredibly congested few months will await performing arts lovers as companies compete for limited audiences in an attempt to avoid further losses.
“If this whole thing is blown over by the autumn, I think we will see a huge influx of festivals moving to September and October dates to try and make up for what was lost in the spring,” she said. “This will provide a load of events to go to in a short amount of time, which there are positives and negatives to. One positive is that hopefully it will make touring easier for artists, but a negative is the possibility of over saturation in the market, meaning we might not see the same great turn out as usual. All that matters right now however, is that everyone is safe.”