The new health instructions requiring owners of cinemas and theaters a distance of 2 meters, instead of 1.5 meters, created quite a puzzle on Wednesday. In addition to reviewing the configuration of their hall in record time, many have had the difficult task of having to warn ticket holders that they will not be able to attend the show they were eagerly awaiting.
“Do we call Mr. Godbout to tell him that the lottery of chance chose him not to go to the show?” Or do we contact those who bought their ticket last? And those who have to be changed row, will they want to be reimbursed? »Asked David Laferrière, general and artistic director of the Gilles-Vigneault theater in Saint-Jérôme, when contacted on Wednesday.
The theater reopened less than a week ago, after a five-month government-imposed hiatus due to the pandemic. In a few days, around forty shows were put on sale and several are already sold out. But now the rules of the game have already changed.
Little time to react
The main cultural players were warned Tuesday afternoon – barely 15 minutes before the Prime Minister’s press conference Francois Legault – that they will now have to ensure that spectators are seated at a distance of two meters from each other, instead of 1.5 meters. The measure went into effect Thursday, leaving broadcasters and movie theater owners less than 48 hours to adjust.
“I understand that we are now used to scheduling, moving or canceling a show. But there is really little time to react, ”deplores Mr. Laferrière. The new health instructions require broadcasters to completely review their seating plan to remove seats, move spectators, and contact one by one those who will not be able to attend the chosen performance in order to reimburse them.
This situation weakens the confidence of the public, who may wait for more stability before returning, fears the one who is also president of the Professional Association of Show Presenters (RIDEAU). “It’s been barely three weeks since theaters in the red zone had the green light. Why didn’t we plan this in advance? “
The programming director of the Lion d’Or cabaret in Montreal agrees. “There are those for whom it’s already been three times in a year that the date of their performance has been changed. People are understanding, but I’m afraid they won’t be after a while, ”worries Sara Castonguay.
Depending on the artists’ availability, she hopes to be able to add new dates to her programming to compensate for this inconvenience and avoid cancellation fees for the production.
It’s barely three weeks since theaters in the red zone had the green light. Why didn’t we plan this in advance?
A solution also considered by the Théâtre La Chapelle, which must for the moment call nearly half of the spectators of the next performances to reimburse them. The room, which normally has a hundred seats, only contained 35 when it reopened at the end of March with the distance of 1.5 meters. Its director, Olivier Bertrand, assessed Wednesday that only about fifteen people can now be accepted.
“We have to manage the situation on a day-to-day basis and on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the dates, the shows, the tickets sold, the availability of the artists, the new health measures. It has been a constant work of adjustment for a year and it is not over, ”he says without being discouraged.
On the side of M AI (Montreal, intercultural arts), despite the “discouraging” situation, we are at least happy to have resumed smoothly since the reopening on March 26. “We don’t have any shows this week or next. It gives us more time than others to organize ourselves ”, indicates the technical director, Philip Richard-Authier.
With the distance of two meters, the capacity of reception goes from 22 to 11 people for a room which can normally accommodate 84. The new reorganization requires however to encroach on the zone of performance of the artists to gain seats.
According to stakeholders contacted by The duty, this reconfiguration of the rooms is not without impact on their finances. Because even if they benefit for the most part from the government assistance through the program of support to the diffusion amounting to 70 million dollars, the budget balance is likely to be difficult to achieve this year.
We are on the verge of driving at a loss. […] We are waiting to see the next budgets, but the question really arises. Especially with the looming threat of returning to an 8 p.m. curfew soon, or even a complete shutdown.
“Either we reimburse the tickets, or we add performances and therefore additional fees to the artists. However, government assistance only allows us to compensate for the loss of part of the revenue, ”argues Olivier Bertrand, from the Théâtre La Chapelle.
As for the Lion d’Or cabaret, we wonder squarely about the profitability of remaining open with so few places. “We are on the verge of driving at a loss. […] We are waiting to see the next budgets, but the question really arises. Especially with the threat which looms of returning soon to a curfew at 8 pm, or even to a complete closure, as in Quebec or Gatineau ”, laments Sara Castonguay.
Éric Bouchard, co-president of the Association of owners of Quebec cinemas, is worried about seeing the smallest cinemas close their doors under such conditions. “We are asked for a distance of 2 meters at 360 degrees. That means we have to block 12 benches just for one person. For rooms with 40 seats, it’s not worth it. “