Alberta film industry and performing arts community hard hit by COVID-19 pandemic
CALGARY -- Alberta's performing arts community is completely shut down as a result of the ongoing pandemic and no one knows how long recovery will take.
This month, all movies and television programs being shot in Alberta have shut down production, leaving thousands of film workers without income.
This was supposed to be a banner year for Alberta's film and TV industry. Two movies were already in production and several high-budget series were either in production of pre-production in the province.
"Here in Calgary, we had Wynonna Earp, we had a Netflix project called Black Summer 2, we had a very large Amazon project called Outer Range," said Damian Petti president of IATSE Local 212.
“These projects were all shut down, and our members are dealing with the aftermath of that.”
Petti says right now, 99 per cent of Alberta’s film and television workers are unemployed.
"There's a few groups that are able to work safely doing drafting and things like that, but the bulk of the jobs, the theaters, the motion pictures, they are shut down entirely," he said
"We're still months away from resumption. But I imagine it's going to be a gradual resumption.
"It requires Americans to travel across the border, and so, some of the considerations will be about when borders open and others will be about what restrictions are on. But large gatherings can't happen. So the bulk of our work won't resume for quite a long time."
Unsure when productions might restart
Stage productions are also suffering and theatre spaces are shuttered. That leaves everyone from stagehands to actors scrambling to find employment.
"They've really been hit hard. Some of these theatre companies live on the margins as it is. So this is crushing to them," said Petti.
"Companies like the Calgary Opera and the Alberta Ballet have essentially had to cancel their seasons. So this is devastating not just to the film community but to the theatre community."
Calgary actor Joel David Taylor was supposed to be audition for parts for the upcoming summer season. He says a few casting calls have moved online but points out all rehearsal spaces are shut.
David Taylor says the closures couldn’t have come at a worse time for stage productions.
"All the theaters in Calgary are not for-profit theaters, and even one missed production can mean the world of difference. They could be relying on that production to fund the rest of their next season, or a good chunk of their next season," he said.
"I know a lot of theaters rely on their show-ender as kind of the big bang to bring in the crowds and help raise some money for the next year. So it's going to be really tough, this unplanned break."
Musicians feeling effects of cancelled gigs
Bassist Kyle Tenove plays with six bands in Calgary, as well as picking up studio gigs. He’s worried that even after the pandemic passes, a return to large audience performances will be slow in coming.
"People are going to be a little bit more nervous about, you know, larger gatherings. That's my bread and butter is 250-plus audiences," said Tenove.
"We need to find different approaches right now because we don't know what's going to happen and, you know, buyer confidence right now is going to be lower for live music."
Tenove is teaching online music classes to keep some cash flowing but admits it’s a tough gig right now for any performers.
"For all of us, it's very difficult because we rely on that money for the majority of our income," he said.
"I'm very fortunate that I have a teaching practice, which has moved online. If I didn't have that I would have zero income coming in right now."
Petti says most people underestimate the impact a shutdown of the arts will have on other industries.
"The entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. In Canada, we have a robust service industry," he said.
"It's a main driver of our economy. People often don't think of the people behind the scenes, but it's gonna be a long haul for us."