“Relieved, excited, anxious, all those things, but mostly I’m excited and thrilled that theatre is coming back.”
That from artistic director of Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, David Rogers as the theatre announced it will raise the curtain on the 2022 season in May.
Theatres around the world shuttered in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Rogers says the VPP was looking forward to one of its best years ever for advanced ticket sales in March just as the province of Ontario locked down the province to try to take the virus out at the knees.
As the pandemic dragged on, it became clear there would be no 2020 season, save a couple of performances at half capacity. Rogers and Artistic Director David Hogan decided to postpone the shows for a year hoping 2021 would see a return to live theatre. But, 2021 was just as difficult, with the season being delayed again.
But with the Ontario government lifting all capacity limits as of March 1, the theatre is confident the show can go on and announced its season opener – The Roaring Twenties – will hit the stage May 10.
“I think this is one of the only summer theatres, that I know of , that was able to keep the exact same season,” he says adding the theme of The Roaring Twenties actually reflects the feelings many people in Ontario have after two years of pandemic living.
“The show is actually New Year’s Eve 1929 and all the performers are celebrating the decade of great music,” he says.
“The 20s came after the Spanish Flu (pandemic) and people had a need to be together and to be entertained. And that’s what we want. That’s what we’re hoping to offer.”
The new season will also offer work to a lot of artists who have struggled financially through the pandemic. Rogers says many older actors have simply retired.
Rogers says he feels for a lot of younger actors just getting their start who wouldn’t have had a steady career or savings when the pandemic hit.
“Usually, a young actor has waiting tables to fall back on when they’re not working for those two months, because it’s not a steady industry.” With the restaurant industry closed on an off through the pandemic, that wasn’t an outlet available to them either. Some, Rogers says, have left the industry.
“A lot of younger artists have shifted, have pivoted their careers, some of them have gone into real estate or have used their creativity and other outlets to become photographers, artists in different forms.”
Rogers says many of the artist familiar to VPP patrons will be returning to Petrolia this year. And he expects to see many familiar patrons as well.
“2020 was going to be our most successful season ever in terms pre-ticket sales, and we were so excited about that,” he says.
When the doors closed, Rogers says a lot of the patrons “were generously and held on to their tickets thinking we might reopen in a couple of months, right. That’s what we all thought.”
That wasn’t to be and Rogers said they contacted the patrons a number of times over the two year pandemic to let them know, they were still waiting for the right time to open.
Eventually, “a very few” patrons asked for refunds, but the majority just held onto their tickets, waiting for the curtain to rise.
“We’re so fortunate that we were able to keep the same season and many people held on to their tickets,” he says.
As they plan for the 2022 season admits they are a bit anxious knowing anything can happen, but Rogers says they are confident they can pivot with any capacity limits or rules that might come their way.
“We will adapt, if all of a sudden they slap some 50 per cent capacity on, we will adapt, which we had to do for the last few shows.
“We’re prepared for that. Hopefully, that’s not going to happen, but we’re certainly prepared for that.”
Rogers adds there “will be folks that are not comfortable coming back” to a large crowd of people at a theater, the VPP will work with them, he says, to find a show that fits their needs.
The 2022 season opens May 10 and runs until Oct. 9.
One casualty of all the pandemic changes is the cast of On Golden Pond. Two years ago, Hal Linden was scheduled to star with Michael Learned. This year, Walter Borden will take the role of Norman in the classic play by Ernest Thompson.