theatre canada

This is what's happening to live theatre in Canada and when shows might begin again

The Citadel Theatre, the heart of Edmonton's live performance community, cancelled productions suddenly in March due to the pandemic, not unlike the rest of the theatre industry nationwide. 

“We had a show built and ready to start performances – it’s literally still set up on stage waiting for audiences to return,” said Mac Brock, media specialist at Citadel. 

And now that looks like it won’t be until at least 2021

The impact has certainly been significant. But Citadel has been pivoting to an online stage to keep audiences engaged until they can get back to regular performances with their Stuck-in-the-House Series.

The program that has now come to an end provided 80 Edmonton artists with a paycheck. 

“Our priorities have really remained the same: making sure our artists have a platform to do their work and our audiences have access to inventive and entertaining theatre,” said Brock. 

Nightwood Theatre in Toronto is another that has been making some adjustments over the last three months. 

The actors in the production of All The Little Animals I Have Eaten did a reading over Zoom after the show was cancelled due to the pandemic.

BAM-POW! Join us for a live, one-time-only reading of Karen Hines' All the Little Animals I Have Eaten this Friday at 7:30 pm! . This live-streamed reading is made possible at no cost to all by our donors, subscribers and those who purchased a ticket and requested a tax receipt - though we welcome donations from those who tune in at: https://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/support/donate . Visit our YouTube page to join the live-stream this Friday evening at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuHxQsXjb5lRLErFBH5ihnA . Photo of Ken James Stewart, Zorana Sadiq, Lucy Hill, Amanda Cordner, Belinda Rona, Karen Hines and Amy Rutherford by Zorana Sadiq. . #AloneTogether #COVID19 #ArtIsSurvival

A post shared by Nightwood Theatre (@nightwoodtheat) on

The theatre’s fundraising event, The Lawyer Show Cabaret, which Nightwood’s artistic director, Andrea Donaldson says usually raises the equivalent of a full production each season, will also stream online June 18. 

Donaldson says switching to a digital platform has presented a learning curve for everyone involved, but it will be a while before they can do anything more. 

“The baby steps of micro gathering will eventually feel good and theatre can be deeply healing, but we’re so shut down right now that it'll take many tiny steps to open up.” 

Donaldson says she’s confident Nightwood, being a non-venue company with a large group of support, will survive this. But notes there are many artists who are already in precarious work who are feeling the economic impact. 

David Hope, executive director at AFC, a charity that supports Canada’s entertainment industry, says the program offered nearly $800,000 in urgent assistance to vulnerable members of the industry over the last couple of months, greatly exceeding all previous years. 

They raised $44,000 of that in March during a 24-hour virtual telethon, Places, Please

“It would be hard to overestimate the profound impact that COVID-19 has had on the theatre community,” says Hope. “When the pandemic hit and theatres were forced to close, performers, technicians, craftspeople, creative team members, and theatre staff at all levels were suddenly out of work.” 

Hope acknowledges that it may be months before the industry can pick up again, with many theatres not being able to pull through for that long. 

“Because their jobs involve performers being in close proximity to each other on stage and on large numbers of people being able to gather as audiences at shows, theatre-makers won’t be back to work anytime soon,” he said. 

“In many cases, entire theatre seasons representing months of steady employment have been cancelled with no prospect of returning to work before 2021.” 

At Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-On-The-Lake performances have been postponed until at least August 1. 

“Not only is The Shaw the Niagara Region's largest cultural charity, but one of its 20 largest employers,” said Tim Jennings, executive director.

“We’re responsible for the generation of over $220 million in economic impact, making us among Canada's largest arts and culture engines for the economy and the largest in rural Ontario.” 

Though 450 of their employees remain on the theatre’s payroll, a full summer of cancelled productions would result in the loss of millions in tourism dollars and “thousands of restaurant, hospitality, entertainment, retail and associated services jobs in peril,” according to Jennings.  

Six to 18 months is his best guess for when things in the theatre community might return to a new normal.

A new normal, which in the case of Shaw Festival, will include smaller shows, physical distancing, contactless ticketing, extreme sanitizing efforts and electrostatic cleaning, and possible temperature checks on staff and guests. 

“Theatre has survived war, plague, pestilence and famine before and will so again,” said Jennings. “Art and gathering are basic human needs and we will find a way." 

Lead photo by

The Shaw Festival Theatre


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