COVID-19 case counts are down, vaccination rates are up, and B.C. is seemingly gliding towards Step 4 of its four-step reopening plan, which would see large concerts drawing big crowds again throughout the region.
Some venues are already dipping their toes into hosting 50% capacity shows during Step 3 of the plan this July and August.
But patrons will be in for some changes as they return to their favourite theatres for the first time since the start of the pandemic put the kibosh on large gatherings.
“We’re happy to have people come back, and we hope people come out and have a good time,” said Rick Comeau, general manager of the Abbotsford Centre, which hosts everything from concerts to sporting events. “Come with a little bit of patience because there will be things that will be a little bit different.”
Rather than staff manually checking tickets at the door, patrons walking into the 7,046-seat arena for the first time since before the pandemic were greeted by new ticket-scanning “pedestals” for the July 14 Fraser Valley Bandits basketball game. Workers were stationed at the ticket pedestals in case patrons had any issues.
While Abbotsford Centre can operate at 50% capacity (about 3,500 seats), Comeau said the arena is starting off with a 2,000-person maximum capacity.
“We wanted to make sure that we kind of eased into this,” he said. “And being one of the first buildings to be opening back up after the pandemic and bringing large crowds in, we didn’t want to run before we walked back into this.”
All employees at the arena are wearing masks when interacting with the public – even those fully vaccinated – to ensure patrons feel safe, according to Comeau.
“If we find that by the end of July nobody coming into the venue is wearing a face covering because everybody is feeling safe and they’re all vaccinated, then we’ll probably reevaluate our venue policy,” he said.
Those who enter the bowl can find clusters of seats they’re permitted to sit in with large gaps in between to ensure social distancing.
The first musical performance since the pandemic is set for September 20: a rescheduled 1990s Nostalgia Electric Circus Edition show featuring Europop group Aqua, singer Haddaway of What is Love fame and Jenny Berggren from Ace of Base, among others.
Tickets were sold prior to the pandemic, and Comeau said he’s hopeful Step 4 restrictions will ease to the point that seating at the venue will not be affected.
Shows from comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and the Sinners and Saints tour featuring rock bands Headstones, Moist, Sloan and the Tea Party face the same challenge.
The new American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Abbotsford Canucks are still firming up how ticketing will work for the fall season.
But Comeau also hopes seating for the AHL games will eventually unfold in a similar way to the venue’s plans for concerts: that is, restrictions will be loosened enough to permit regular ticketing and seating arrangements.
Live Nation Worldwide Inc. operates the storied Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street.
The company did not respond to multiple requests from BIV for information on its reopening plans, and its website does not feature any details on how the venue is responding to the ongoing pandemic when doors open again next month.
The Commodore’s calendar features concerts beginning August 29 – a two-night stand featuring Finnish metal band Apocalyptica – through to July 2022 with a show from English classic rock band the Zombies.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Orpheum
Vancouver Civic Theatres (VCT) operates both venues, as well as smaller theatres such as the Vancouver Playhouse and Annex.
Theatres can currently operate at 50% capacity, meaning the Queen Elizabeth Theatre can accommodate 1,382 patrons for performances, and the Orpheum can accommodate 1,336 patrons.
“The patron experience is at the forefront, and we have witnessed how magical returning to the theatre is after VSO’s [Vancouver Symphony Orchestra] first performances in 16 months at the Orpheum in late June,” Krista Edwardson, VCT’s senior manager of marketing, told BIV in an email.
Staff are required to wear masks on performance days, while the VCT is encouraging audience members to wear masks as they move through the venues.
Edwardson said she hopes VCT locations will be operating at full capacity once the province enters Step 4 of the reopening plan.
“This fall we will see a gradual return of the traditional performing arts season and several of our top commercial clients bringing back live entertainment to our stages,” she said.
Comedian Iliza Shlesinger performs a rescheduled show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre October 1, while comedian Ricky Gervais performs rescheduled shows October 17 and 18. The theatre has a few other musical concerts on the calendar through to April 2022.
Concerts kick off at the Orpheum November 22 with a rescheduled Milky Chance date, while a half-dozen other concerts are booked through to October 2022.
River Rock Show Theatre and Show Theatre at Hard Rock Casino Vancouver (formerly the Red Robinson Show Theatre)
The Great Canadian Gaming Corp. (TSX:GC) operates both venues. Vancouver Coastal Health has been using the River Rock as a vaccination clinic, and the gambling company has granted the health authority access to its theatre space through to November.
“In other words, we won’t be reactivating that space for anything until VCH wraps up the vaccination clinic there,” Chuck Keeling, executive director of stakeholder relations, told BIV.
The theatre at the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver has been shuttered throughout the pandemic, and no new events are on the calendar. But Keeling said group events such as banquets, galas and conferences may be feasible for late fall or early winter.
He added that such events will be based on health and safety restrictions as well as market demand.
MRG Group, which owns and operates the Vogue as well as smaller Vancouver venues such as the Biltmore Cabaret and the Imperial, did not respond to multiple requests from BIV about its reopening plans.
Drag performer Violet Chachki is scheduled for a show at The Vogue on August 6, and Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain performs there September 6.
After that, the first concert is scheduled for September – the day after the first possible date the province could transition to Step 4 – with U.S. singer and rapper Bryce Vine performing.
Other shows are scheduled through to April 2022.
The Vogue’s website does not include any details on how it is responding to the ongoing pandemic during Step 3 of the reopening plan, when at least two events are scheduled.