Leadership / 11.03.21
O Canada, Our Home and Reopened Land
Canada’s reopening has been a slow one, but ticketing and live event professionals are rejoicing at the recent steps the country has taken to ease restrictions and get life back closer to “normal.” On Aug. 9, Canada started permitting fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country again. Nearly a month later on Sept. 7, Canada expanded that reopening to include fully vaccinated visitors from other nations. And soon, it’ll be working both ways. On Nov. 8, the United States will begin allowing fully vaccinated foreign nationals to cross the land border from Canada for nonessential purposes. That means concerts, sporting events and so forth.
Alan Forsyth, Phone Operations Manager at Mirvish Productions, a theater management and production company in Toronto, says, “We hope that will mean more tourists coming to Ontario/Toronto to attend our attractions, our theatre and sports. You do need to have a negative COVID-19 test to travel to Canada and be fully vaccinated.”
Showpass CEO Lucas McCarthy says, “Tourism is really going to see the biggest impact. Activities and attractions will see an astronomical bump in attendance, specifically in areas like Calgary because of places like Banff and the ski hills.”
Melissa O’Shea, Box Office Manager for the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society, says, “The border being opened certainly helps with ensuring artists and patrons can come to the theatre. There is a large draw for international and U.S. artists and, from where we are situated, we have many U.S. customers who come to events at the Royal and McPherson Theatres. So, it is very nice to know that we don’t have to worry about them not being able to make it. It also ensures that touring acts can hit all of the stops on their tours.”
Tod Wilson, Artsman’s (Arts Management System) Director of Sales and Marketing, says, “Based on feedback from our client base, many artists have been hesitant to travel across the border due to the restrictions and uncertainty of being admitted. The requirement for entry will be proof of full vaccination. Reopening the border seems to be causing an uptick in event bookings and rescheduling of previously canceled events for our roadhouse clients.”
He continues, “Across Canada, the effort to get the population vaccinated has been very successful. As of the third week of October, 82% of Canadians have received both shots of a vaccine. Several provinces are now issuing third shots for that portion of the population considered immunocompromised. While there are some distinct pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment across the country, the overall mood is one of cautious optimism.”
Internally, event and ticketing pros have had to closely monitor guidance and policies on a province-by-province basis. Each province has now implemented a “vaccine passport,” and restrictions on gathering have been greatly reduced in the four most populous provinces: Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. A big turning point happened on Oct. 9 when the government of Ontario announced that capacity restrictions were lifted, allowing 100% capacity in indoor settings like concert venues, theaters and cinemas.
Mirvish Productions General Manager James Aldridge says, “This most recent October government information was a complete surprise to all. So many of us who have needed 100% capacity finally got the magic words. There’s never a dull moment when you are at the mercy of a worldwide pandemic and politicians interpreting medical advice.”
As a result, Mirvish Productions’ shows are going on sale at 100% capacity this week with major musicals starting in December. Aldridge and his team expect only local and regional patrons will be the initial ticket buyers. “We expect the buying patterns to change with many fewer customers booking well in advance and a lot more booking tighter into their performance dates,” he says.
Alan Moffat is Ticket Operations and Customer Relations Manager for The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. “In Ontario, we have indeed recently been allowed to return to full capacity for live events,” he says. “Vaccines are required, and we have a provincial QR code system that people can download to prove they are vaccinated. We also continue to have a mask mandate, so masks must be worn unless you are eating or drinking. The government has outlined a timeline to loosen the vaccine and mask requirements in the new year, dependent on meeting certain public health metrics.”
O’Shea excitedly says, “We have just entered Stage 4 of British Columbia’s restart plan, which means we can host live events at 100% capacity for the first time in 19 months!”
Kyle Russell, interim Executive Director at Alberta Theatre Projects, says, “Restrictions have ended for capacity so long as all members of the audience are vaccinated. But confidence from the audience is still growing. Major sports events and concerts have returned to Calgary to great acclaim, but there are concerns from audience members about their fellow audience members. The performing arts are slightly slower in terms of audience comfort. At Alberta Theatre Projects, we’ve seen about 25% of audiences return. But once they arrive, they feel safe.”
He continues, “It is really down to personal comfort as some of our ‘superfans’ say they are still cautious and won’t be returning to the theater, while other casual fans are just eager to experience live entertainment again and are coming to see our shows for the first time.”
The downtime of the pandemic era has challenged each of those interviewed for this article, some in ways not totally expected. One such example is Hayley Chapman, Senior Director of Ticket Operations, Administration and Reporting for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. She says, “I think my biggest test was leading a team through not only a pandemic but also an important and much-needed conversations around diversity and equity. As a team, we explored areas of development, worked on authenticity and meeting each other with empathy. We had difficult conversations and, as an organization, we grew and developed.”
For others, the challenge was more personal. “I had my first child six weeks before the pandemic,” McCarthy says. “Nothing can compete with isolation as a first-time parent. Maintaining my mental health, supporting the other members of our team as much as possible, and staying ahead of the macro and micro changes in our industry and business have all helped put the company in a healthy spot to prepare for a return to normal.”
Linda Poulton, Box Office Manager at Ticket Atlantic in Nova Scotia, found it most difficult trying to maneuver through the sheer number of unknowns. “First saying goodbye to the part-time staff was very difficult, and [we] truly didn’t understand for how long,” she says. “We were then lucky to have a hockey season last year but had to sell in bubbles with social distancing and online purchasing only with mobile tickets. These regulations offered challenges both with learning new functions to work around, plus assisting fans who were new to the digital world. We were a small but mighty team making it work, and the INTIX Wednesday Wisdom calls giving me the support to know that we were not alone helped so much! Nineteen months later, I am happy to say that we are slowly welcoming back part-time box office staff and putting the team back together.”
And this writer got the sense that he was interviewing several of these professionals at just the right time to get expressions of optimism for the future. Moffat was especially enthusiastic. “Thankfully, we are now seeing the return of live events,” he says. “The challenge is now navigating the frequently changing requirements imposed upon us due to the public health measures.”
Chapman adds, “We are excited to have the Toronto Maple Leafs participating in the 2022 Heritage Classic at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton when they take on the Buffalo Sabres. I think this will be a unique event to see how tourism and the border reopening supports sports and entertainment in Canada.”
Wilson acknowledges that he has had it easier than many of his colleagues. “Artsman has clients all across North America,” he says. “We are an internet-based organization, and we have always worked from a home office. Our internal joke is that we have been successfully socially distanced for the last 25 years. Subsequently, I spend a good portion of my day interacting with client organizations either on the telephone or by Zoom.”
O’Shea’s optimism surprised even her. “I feel as though I am busier than ever without any of the satisfaction that comes from being involved in putting on a live performance,” she says. “We haven’t been able to get that patron feedback about shows they like, shows they didn’t. The constant rescheduling, cancelling and postponing that has been taking place has been an immense drain on my emotional reserves. I am so looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’ show business. And, as we all know in the ticketing industry, ‘normal’ keeps us on our toes enough!”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus , Reopening