Live performances return to island venues

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By MARCIA JANSEN

DRIFTWOOD CONTRIBUTOR

It has been quiet in the theatres and music halls for a while, but things are opening up again.

Last week the ArtSpring Presents season kicked off with a dance performance by Wen Wei Dance, while Salt Spring musician Harry Manx performed with musical friends at Beaver Point Hall.

As British Columbia reopens safely and responsibly, audiences are welcomed to come and enjoy performances as they are meant to be seen — live and in person.

Although things are still a little bit different than they were before COVID-19, Cicela Månsson, ArtSpring executive and artistic director, is excited about the new season.

“Slowly but surely life is creeping back into the theatre,” she said on the day of the opening show in ArtSpring. “We had to close mid-March last year, opened up again in the fall of 2020 for six weeks when we had four shows before we were shut down again. Although there are some limitations, we are delighted that people can enjoy live performances again.”

ArtSpring has a slightly lower number of planned performances than usual.

“But we have a solid season ahead of us,” Månsson continued. “We are allowed to open with half of our normal capacity. That means that we can have about 129 visitors per show. We want art to be accessible for as many people as possible, so we booked performers two days in a row and effectively we have the same amount of seats.”

As required by law, everyone who wants to attend an ArtSpring event needs to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.

“There won’t be intermissions for now, and when you book a seat, special software allows a free seat between every party. In the fall we had to do this manually, so this is much easier. The season has just started, but people have been good about those rules. They know that we don’t make the rules, and they can be assured that our theatre is a safe, comfortable place that they will hopefully want to come back to.”

Salt Spring musician Harry Manx, in conjunction with PitchFork Social, played Beaver Point Hall for four sold-out shows in September and October.

“We were so excited to have Harry play here,” said Elizabeth Zook, who is the booker for Beaver Point Hall. “He’s bringing back live music to the hall. We haven’t had that in a long time, even before COVID-19. Harry brought his PA system because we don’t have one, but we are planning to fundraise money so we can buy our own.”

Zook is also happy to see the hall coming back to life.

“Luckily, we were able to host some small weddings and birthdays past summer, but it has been quiet for a long time.”

Zook pointed out something positive that came from the COVID shutdown, though.

“After 84 years, the hall needed a new floor. Except for funding, the main problem was that we had to close the hall for a month or more to get the job done. The pandemic handed us the unoccupied time, and we managed to fundraise enough money. With the new floor, the hall is ready to host events so local community members can have a nice night out.”

Harry Manx will return to Beaver Point Hall in February and March. On Feb. 18 and 19 he plays with John Reischman, and on March 19 and 20 he will be accompanied by The Yaletown String Quartet. All shows are operating at 50 per cent capacity with social distancing rules in place. Go to www.pitchforksocial.com for more information.

The 2021-2022 ArtSpring season brochure can be perused at artspring.ca.

The Bach on the Rock (BOTR) chamber orchestra and choir is another group happy to be returning to in-person practice and performance, even if masks must be worn by the musicians and singers.

“It is what we have to do, to be able to do what we love, and to keep everybody safe,” said Joi Freed-Garrod, president of the board, and a member of the choir herself.

Since September, after a one-a-half-year hiatus, the orchestra and choir are back to rehearsing together again. “Everybody is double vaccinated, is wearing masks, we have the doors and windows open, and we are so thrilled to be able to sing together again. I know some choirs were rehearsing on Zoom, but that took all the fun out of it. You can only hear one other person and yourself sing, and it was difficult for the conductor to help. It is a real struggle, so we decided to not do that.”

This year’s BOTR season begins with a Nov. 6 concert at Fulford Hall, led by Marco Vitale, the first of three guest artistic directors.

“After the sudden passing of our director Michael Jarvis at the end of 2020, which was really devastating for us, we had to look for a new director. As it is hard to find the right person, we are welcoming three artistic directors this season who will be each responsible for one concert. At the end of the season, our members can vote and we will know who is the best fit for us, and hopefully, that person wants to stay as well.”

As well, Salt Spring Island resident Don Conley will lead the 10th-anniversary edition of the annual Sing-along Messiah on Nov. 28 at Fulford Hall.

“This community gathering, when everybody is welcome to sing along with us, is one of the highlights of our season,” said Freed-Garrod. “Unless the regulations change, everybody who wants to come and sing with us needs to wear a mask so it will be safe for everyone.”

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