VPP getting ‘back on its feet’ as capacity limits lifted

Victoria Playhouse Petrolia .

Officials with Victoria Playhouse say the removal of pandemic capacity limits is how the theatre can “get back on our feet.”

That from Petrolia’s Director of Marketing, Arts and Communications, Laurissa Ellsworth. Late Friday, the province lifted all capacity limits in many venues which hold larger events including theatres, arenas, event spaces, horse racing tracks and movie theatres. The limits remain on restaurants and outdoor events where the maximum capacity is 20,000 people or more.

To date there has been a limited number of outbreaks in these settings, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said in a news release.

Other public health and workplace safety measures continue to remain in effect for these settings. This can include wearing face coverings, screening and the collecting of patron information to support contact tracing.

In settings where capacity limits have been lifted, the requirement for individuals to maintain two metres of physical distancing are being removed, with limited exceptions.

VPP staged one show with capacity limits of 150 people per show but Ellsworth says the announcement was a relief, as the Petrolia theatre is selling tickets for its two winter shows.

“This is how we can start to really get back on our feet and continue to show people that it is safe to be here,” she tells The Independent.

But she says the VPP is still planning some distancing measures for the time being.

Ellsworth says there will be one seat between each group of patrons, at least during the winter shows. To accommodate that, the VPP will only be taking ticket orders by phone for the two winter shows.

The self-imposed distancing measures will mean there won’t be any full houses this year.
“It’s anywhere from the loss of probably as little as about 30 seats up to about 100 seats per show,” she says.

Ellsworth doesn’t expect that to be a problem. Theater goers were excited about the possibility of returning, however even the scaled back show “Songs We Love” in September, didn’t draw 150 people to every show.

People seemed to be wary about gathering in larger groups – at least until Sept. 22.

“As soon as the provincial mandate for vaccination was announced, we noticed that people that maybe we hadn’t heard from at that point or that were a little bit more trepidatious about rebooking, they were calling us to say, ‘Well, now that you’re asking for two vaccines, I’m feeling more comfortable to meet with people.’”

And while people in the theatre industry are glad to see patrons in the seats, this year’s bottom line is going to be difficult.

Ellsworth says the VPP did everything it could to keep costs down, but the September show may not have broken even.

“We reduced the cast size, we didn’t bring back staff, we operated with our amazing volunteers; we basically trimmed down to what we did in the early days,” she says.

“We’re aiming for at least revenue neutral. And then if we could get you know, a little bit in our pocket, at the end of the day, we could say, ‘you know, hurray, we’ve done it,’understanding, unfortunately that it was a real challenge with just 150 seats per show.”

Ellsworth hopes to have the financial details of this year’s season to council in the near future.

The removal of the pandemic capacity limits also has the potential to increase the number of fans in the stands at hockey games this winter.

Town staff is still working through the details, trying to see if full capacity will be possible and still allow the safe flow of people in and out of the building.

Ellsworth expects a decision on the arena’s capacity in the next few days.