The Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre first closed its doors March 15, 2020, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the centre is looking to reopen for small-scale performances and to provide opportunities for local area talents. (VDPAC - Contributed)

Vernon Performing Arts Centre rolls forward amid COVID-19

VDPAC looks to reopen for small-scale performance and added online opportunities

Performances will soon return to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre, at least on a small scale.

The performing arts centre (VDPAC) had to cut its season short March 15 as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and provincial health orders banned gatherings of more than 50 people.

VDPAC had just hosted more than 2,800 children for daytime school shows and was primed for major shows including Dr. Jane Goodall and Colin James, annual dance festivals, spring concerts by Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and North Okanagan Community Concert Association, and several first-time tribute concerts covering tunes from Carole King to Elton John.

“There was no playbook,” executive director Jim Harding said. “We had to react quickly. Our Ticket Seller box office was managing close to 10,000 ticket-holders with a very busy spring schedule, promoters began rescheduling for the fall and at one point, we only had 13 open dates between Labour Day and Christmas.”

But the challenge for the centre remains, how long until the provincial health orders will be lifted and shows can resume at full capacity?

“Not knowing how long the 50-person limit on gatherings will last, we have taken a ‘rolling forward’ approach at rescheduling at the request of promoters,” Harding said. “But they all want to play here, which is promising, but it is their livelihood so they need large audiences.”

While the lights have been off at the performance centre, the work hasn’t stopped.

“We have been able to retain 13 full-time staff since March 15, with a huge ‘thank you’ the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program, and to the Regional District of North Okanagan, for our annual operating subsidy,” Harding said. “But we miss our front-of-house and food-and-beverage staff, backstage crew and of course all of our volunteers.”

Staff in house moved the August maintenance shutdown to April, ahead of a possible summer reopening, Harding said, and new capital improvement projects have been bumped up.

One major planned development is the upgrade of the Marie Fleming Hall rehearsal space (MFH) and the addition of state-of-the-art live-streaming and recording production capabilities which could lead to the introduction of online performances and content from the performing arts centre.

The break in shows has also allowed for staff to repair and repaint the main stage, deep clean the auditorium and main foyer and “finally” label the foyer artwork.

It’s also allowed the time to create and finalize a comprehensive WorkSafe/Public Health-compliant Safety and Reopening Plan to host small-scale events this fall.

The goal now, is to create an affordable, more versatile, multi-use, performance-ready studio for local and area groups and emerging artists.

“The interruption in typical programming will allow VDPAC to explore, better engage and showcase artists and organizations from the North Okanagan with the hopes of building ongoing collaborations that will continue long after full public performances can resume,” a statement from the centre reads.

While provincial health orders remain in place, VDPAC is planning to return with small-scale performances, events and activities – both programmed by the society and as a host to local and area talents — with added opportunities for live-streamed or recorded-and-broadcasted performances online with far-reaching exposure.

VDPAC said while the theatre is “dark” artists and groups interested in using any of the spaces for performances or presentations are encouraged to contact artistic director Erin Kennedy by email at erin@ticketseller.ca.

Community groups, businesses and organizations interested in hosting at VDPAC should contact rentals manager Dave Unrau at 250-542-9355 or by email at dave@ticketseller.ca.

READ MORE: Fundraiser launched for Vernon man who lost foot in Lumby motorcycle crash

READ MORE: COVID-19 cancels Vernon Comic Con


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