VPP won’t open in May

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Michael Learned, seen here with Neville Edwards in Driving Miss Daisy at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, was scheduled to on the stage in On Golden Pond in the 2020 season before the pandemic. Artistic Director David Hogan says border restrictions means the American actor won't be able to do the show this year.

Petrolia’s VPP waits for the green light

Heather Wright/The Independent

David Hogan believes in miracles, but even so, he’s grounded in the reality the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia won’t be welcoming visitors in May.

But the artistic director of the playhouse says they are prepared to open the doors as soon as public health officials give the green light.

Theaters around the world went dark in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world. Hogan and David Rogers hoped against hope there would be a way to present the 2020 season, but by May 1, it had become obvious the season wouldn’t happen.

As the pandemic drags on, the artistic directors find themselves in the same spot for another year. And it may be September before they could open the theatre.

“I believe in miracles. And I’m so optimistic as you know, I’m a Pollyanna – positive, positive, positive – and even though all this stuff is saying no, I am on my knees praying yes. And so the pragmatic side of me is you’re absolutely correct (it could be September.) The optimistic side is tomorrow we’re open!

“I believe the minute the VPP opens, then they’ll come, they’ll come.”

Originally the hope was to simply move the shows slated for 2020 into the 2021 season. Hogan says if and when theatres get the green light to open, some of the shows simply can’t happen. “We won’t be doing On Golden Pond, unfortunately, for obvious reasons. Michael (Learned) and Hal (Linden, who were to star in the play) live in the United States of America.”

Currently, the border between Canada and the US is closed to non-essential business.

“If that one happened, we need full houses for that to be viable, but like something like Dynamic Duo’s comedy act …we can definitely do that for a smaller house and make it viable.”

“I would love to say yes, the 2020 season, that will be the 2021 season; it’s not. What’s going to happen is when we get the green light we’re gonna go and what that looks like we don’t know,” says Hogan.

While other theaters across the nation are trying to come up with ways to get actors on the stage even in uncertain times, Hogan says Petrolia’s theatre has a distinct advantage since there are three core people who do the planning for the show.

“We don’t need to bring in an army of people to set us up, that’s where we’re fortunate enough. We could put a two person show up,” he says. “And we have so much music and comedy …David (Rogers) and Mark (Payne) have been writing like crazy.

“We have shows ready to present when we get the green light.”

And Hogan says the mainstays on the VPP stage will also be ready to go. “That core of people will just say what do you need? Tomorrow? Okay, see you there.”

Like so many other things during the pandemic, there isn’t a timeline for when they could get started. Many public health experts have said by September, most Canadians will have had the opportunity to get a vaccine, making it more likely gatherings like theatre would reopen again, even if it is with limited audiences.

Hogan is hopeful that will happen, saying it has become obvious that the theatre and the local business community need each other to thrive.

“Even if we had 200 people here, you know, that’s 200 people that are walking up and down the streets, right. That’s good for us. We need it,” Hogan says.

“It’s a little bit of a blessing that we’re all realizing that all of us as a community here in Petrolia, we need each other. I need the coffee shop to be open. I need the grocery store to be open so I can eat.’

“Now I’m appreciating the value of living in such a gorgeous small community that I can walk to there, to get my mail go there. So I want to support, and I will support, the community.”

That concern for the finances of the businesses in the community is real.

Mayor Brad Loosley says 2020 has been tough enough for local merchants and he’s hopeful the season will only be delayed.

“The impact on the businesses has been tremendous,” he says, noting without a season in 2020, there were 40,000 fewer potential customers.

“When you get that kind of people normally…there is a huge impact to our downtown. It will be really unfortunate if we are delayed too long.” A study put the economic spinoff of the theater at $2 million.

Whenever that light turns to green, Hogan says the VPP will be ready to go. “We’ll just have a great time at the theatre.”