How the Alberta arts community is adapting to the pandemic

Mar 21 2020, 9:49 am

In the wake of closures and cancellations, the Alberta arts community is trying to find ways to support themselves and each other in this difficult time.

Edmonton-based burlesque troop House of Hush Burlesque was among the many troupes to face the cancellation of a sold-out show.

“We were concerned when the government said you can’t have a gathering of 250 people, but then when they cautioned that no seniors should be present, we made the decision to cancel the show,” said performer Delia Barnett in a phone interview with Daily Hive.

“It was sold out for weeks […] We made the decision to cancel before it was mandated since most of our audience is a bit older.”

Barnett, who goes by LeTabby Lexington onstage, is the co-founder of House of Hush Burlesque and performs with the previously-live Die Nasty, a long-running improvised soap opera that dates back to 1991.

Both shows pivoted to an online format not long after the new social distancing guidelines were announced.

“There’s definitely been a learning curve with using the teleconferencing,” said Barnett in regards to Die Nasty.

“We haven’t quite figured out how to have multiple people singing or talking over the software, along with having the live music play too.”

Barnett said that recording the Die Nasty show online gives some unique opportunities for connection and improvising.

“It’s a neat opportunity to connect with people you’d normally never see or only see during fringe festival season.”

“One day we were recording and someone’s dog ran into the room and it wove straight into the plot of what we were doing,” laughed Barnett.

The House of Hush show was livestreamed for free on March 20, and the whole troupe is taking online donations to offset the costs associated with cancelling a sold-out show.

 

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One of the ways they’re encouraging donations is offering tier rewards for different donation amounts. $5 gets you a personal thank you, while $20 gets you a personal video of your favourite performer sanitizing their hands. The tiers vary, and offer different rewards.

The tier-based donation awards are already the basis for online subscription platform Patreon, which Calgary-based entertainment company Cabaret Calgary has joined in the wake of the pandemic measures. Tiers range from $5 to $40 USD a month, and come with a variety of rewards.

“(It) came together after a few conversations with the five women who make up our board, as we discussed what it meant moving ahead,” explained Cabaret Calgary founding member Bitch Sassidy over email.

The switch came as the company saw almost three months of scheduled performances disappear from their calendar in the span of two days.

“All of us rely on income from gigs to make ends meet to various degrees. I had my own Patreon that was doing alright, but one of the directives of Cabaret Calgary is to support community, and another is to offer unique experiences to the audience.”

The company features five performers, including Sassidy, with drag icon Karla Marx and seasoned burlesque professionals Miss Randi Lee, Bea Lissima, and Ivy La Fleur making up the rest of the roster.

“They’re are all incredible artists who devote piles of their personal time and talent to making shows come together so we can ultimately hire more artists and reach more audiences,” said Sassidy

“We knew we would be stronger together, in every capacity.”

The company has a few things lined up for the next while, including a donation-friendly Twitch stream with Karla Marx on March 23, and the launch of Marx’s comedy news show Top Marx on the Patreon.

“Ultimately, we want to stay connected and reach out to our community to help with feelings of isolation and the mental struggle of that,” said Sassidy.

“We are sharing the workload and our knowledge so the funds are split evenly, and we are planning on continuing this effort even after we get through this period.”

For now, the company is glad to have the opportunity to keep producing content during the pandemic and to reach new audiences.

“Hopefully we can reach an audience in locations we haven’t been able to before. Our Patreon is more expressive than our social media allows and more personable than our website. It’s a really direct way to become familiar with Cabaret Calgary’s heart and soul and we are all so humbled by the support we are receiving.”

The story is much the same with traveling theatre company Malachite Theatre, which is holding a Facebook livestream reading the classic Shakespeare play Richard II Sunday, March 23.


“I’m really excited because if we can get people from all over the world to participate in the same event, that would be thrilling…I’m excited to see how people interact with the material with the teleconferencing,” said artistic director Ben Blyth in a phone interview with Daily Hive.

“It’ll be different times all over the world but it would be exciting to have that contribution from people.”

For Blyth, who also teaches Shakespeare at the University of Calgary, the pandemic measures have left the next few months uncertain for the company.

“Our London production of Romeo and Juliet in April was cancelled […] there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Blyth is hoping to hold more live readings while the borders are closed, and hopes that these kind of online gatherings will become more common.

“I kind of hope that we do more online sharing. When you make friends and communities all over the world, it’s hard to keep in touch so with the online stuff, it’s about sharing and reconnecting,” said Blyth.

“That’s partly what sharing stories and art is all about.”

Keep up with COVID-19 news here.