Live performance venues could soon reopen across Quebec, but curfew concerns remain


MONTREAL — Live theatre and music could soon return to Montreal for the first time since the fall but promoters say they are worried that the nighttime curfew in the city will dampen their plans.

Still, representatives of Quebec’s cultural industries say they’re optimistic after meeting earlier this week with the province’s culture minister, Nathalie Roy. The government is looking to reopen theatres and concert halls even in regions under the highest pandemic-alert level, such as Montreal, where residents are forbidden to be outside after 8 p.m.

“We’re thrilled that there is real concrete conversation between the cultural industries and the government about reopening; it’s really collaborative and positive,” said Amy Blackmore, a member of the board of directors of the Conseil Quebecois du Theatre, an industry group.

While theatres and concert halls in much of Quebec are allowed to be open — or will be by March 8 — live performance venues remain closed in “red” zones, where around 60 per cent of Quebecers live.

Blackmore, who attended the meeting with Roy, described it as a “positive step.” She said she’s particularly pleased with the province’s proposal that would allow theatres to collect government aid for another month after they are permitted to reopen.

That time will help venues adapt, said Blackmore, who is also the executive and artistic director of the MainLine Theatre and the Montreal Fringe Festival. “Venues have to hire staff,” she said. “Selling tickets takes time, putting marketing campaigns together.”

Blackmore said she was also pleased to hear that school field trips to theatres outside red zones will be allowed starting March 15. “It is nice to see that there already is a plan to bring students back into theatres.”

Luc Fortin, president of the Quebec Musicians’ Guild, said he thinks the government’s plan is “interesting” but he said he has concerns about the 8 p.m. curfew, which the government appears to have no intention of soon changing.

“It’s very limited,” he said, adding that he thinks venues will be able to put on daytime performances on weekends and performances aimed at children and retirees during the week.

Fortin said he’d like the government to push the curfew back and come up with a concrete reopening plan.

He said, however, his members will be happy to perform again, adding that 40 per cent have thought about leaving the industry over the past year. “The essence of music is to play in front of an audience. So it’s fine to record at home and put it on Facebook, but that’s not the real thing.”

But strict capacity restrictions may lead some venues to stay closed even if they are allowed to reopen.

Meyer Billurcu, concert promoter and co-owner of Le Ritz PDB, a music venue in Montreal’s Mile-Ex neighbourhood, said it doesn’t make sense to put on performances with a limited audience.

“I can’t imagine us doing anything unless it was outside,” he said. “If you’re going to cover all your expenses, paying the artists, paying the sound techs and stuff, it doesn’t make sense to open unless, either the tickets are very expensive or we can open up at full capacity.”

The curfew is also a limiting factor, Billurcu said, adding that most shows he promotes start after 8 p.m.

He’s putting his hopes on the province’s vaccination plan and he’s somewhat optimistic — he’s booking performances for November.

Other cultural producers are planning to hold shows outside.

Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic and executive director of Montreal’s Tableau D’Hote Theatre, said his company is planning to put on a play outdoors in June. He said from what he’s heard, the rules for the reopening will be strict.

“You’re talking about incredibly reduced capacity, you’re talking about audience members needing to wear masks the entire time,” he said. “You’re even talking about the limitations that casts have at interacting with one another — you have to keep the cast at a certain distance; they can touch for no more than 15 minutes a day.”

That will shape what kind of performances can be presented, he said. “But at least it allows us to present something.”

Quebec reported 798 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by nine, to 617, and that 111 people were in intensive care, a drop of four.

Quebec’s government-mandated health institute said Friday it had confirmed 194 cases involving coronavirus variants, the first reported rise since Feb. 28, when the number was 137. The institute said there were 1,462 presumed cases involving mutations, up from 1,353 on Thursday.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press