The Tragicomedy of COVID
If the world is a stage and we are all simply players, these past nine months have left us with a collective sense of vulnerability. Our perception of free will and strength of mind has been challenged by COVID-19 and social and political unrest close to home and around the world.
Conversely, we have witnessed communities in combined determination to support essential workers, keep family and neighbours safe, and to ensure life’s necessities for those more vulnerable than ourselves.
Heartwarmingly the collective conscience now attests to the essential need of arts and culture activities, leaning on music, art and creativity to help relieve our anxieties. During these challenging times, artists and cultural organizations readily offer adaptations of their regular programming to the masses at low or NO charge. The arts is a profession familiar with uncertainty, short contracts and rejection, only to be offset by resiliency and problem-solving skills, as we continue to operate within the boundaries of social distancing. These ‘pivots’ have provided moments of love, connectedness, strength, warmth, and discovery – with simple reminders to smile, relax, dance and laugh along the way.
The Importance of Theatre
Beholding and imagining an event that is beautiful, funny, moving and provocative, theatre has always been known to move audiences to tears, induce uncontrollable laughter and to transport us into an alternate universe. A performance traditionally has gathered hundreds and sometimes thousands of folks in one place for long spells. Since the beginning of recorded human history, art and expression have played a central role in psychosocial health. Theatre provides a stress relief and diversion from personal struggles, allowing for freedom from the pressures of life.
In March and April 2020, as spring and summer festivals and events announced their cancellations, The Foster Festival heard the collective dismay from patrons across Niagara. Our plans to pivot to online performances and activities began early. We wanted to offer the community comedy while also letting our actors know we were going to find a way to support them.
Despite the successful delivery of online sessions we did not intend this new normal to last forever. Even so, we are hearing global whispers of a digital future for theatre. The Foster Festival is working to maintain traditional theatre in Niagara for years to come.
In a time when an overwhelming mass of our communications are happening in front of a screen, the Foster Festival remains cautious to maintain that intimate exchange between actors and its audience.
“I’m hopeful we come back stronger than ever. I think audiences are waiting to come back to the theatre. I know the actors are…and not just to make a living”, said Norm Foster. “We Love what we do and can’t wait to return to the stage and know OUR Foster Festival audiences feel the same way.”
Did you know that 1 in every 116 Canadian workers is an artist? This number includes all the actors who graced The Foster Festival stage these past four years. Administrators, playwrights, set designers, and everyone behind the scenes are feeling the uncertainty.
Arts and culture in Canada is a major industry that has $59 billion in direct economic impact and creates 715,000 jobs overall. The Live Performing Arts industry in Ontario generates over $2.5 Billion in direct annual income and leverages more than $12 Billion in additional economic impact. Over 60,000 Ontarians work in our industry – the equivalent of a mid-sized town.
On October 1, 2020 in her address to the Senate The Hon. Patricia Bovey warned that “the devastation COVID-19 has wreaked on the arts sector has been horrific and I fear this sector will be one of the last to recover and parts of it may not recover at all.”
Comedy makes a come back
Not many professionals are able to work for free, but many in the arts and culture sector have been doing just that, throughout COVID 19.
“We’ve been streaming for free… Artists have been helping other artists and each other. NOW, we need to be reminded of our value to be able to open our doors again, when this pandemic is finally behind us, and look to our communities to support us.” – Norm Foster
During these uncertain times, we refuse to be merely a player on an unmoving stage. With the support from the City of St. Catharines Cultural Investment Program (SCCIP), Norm Foster’s ‘The Christmas Tree’ is supporting 22 actors and 9 local restaurants.
“We were searching for a way to bring back light and laughter, and support our actors within COVID parameters.” Emily Oriold, Artistic Producer of The Foster Festival. There was a desire to get as many artists working as possible, to re-engage our audiences and to feel lighter again. Norm Foster’s ‘The Christmas Tree’ is a small play and is a perfect intimate holiday story.