Jennie Stevens MPP, St. Catharines

Government of Ontario

Unable to rehearse, Niagara theatres want fairness for Ontario reopening

Published on June 3, 2021

‘It feels like the arts were unfairly forgotten, again’

When Ontario reopens, will theatres be left behind?

The frustration is mounting among companies who say they face a grim summer unless changes to Ontario’s “Roadmap to Reopening” are made, allowing theatres to properly prepare for live performances again.

As it stands, Step 1 of the Ontario government’s plan — tentatively set to begin June 14 — does not allow for in-person rehearsals.


Without that, said Shaw Festival executive director Tim Jennings, it will be difficult for the company to perform shows outdoors this summer with still undefined “capacity limits.”

“We are working very hard to try to get them to reconsider rehearsals and to give us an understanding of what the capacity levels of outdoor and indoor spaces will be for our industry,” he said.

“They’ve done that for everybody else and they haven’t done it for performing arts.”

For its 2021 season, the Shaw Festival has planned outdoor performances of “Charley’s Aunt” and “The Devil’s Disciple” starting July 6. Other shows including “Flush” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse” are still scheduled for indoor performances.


Under Ontario’s reopening plan, indoor performances will not be allowed until Step 3, again with unspecified capacity limits.

There are no confirmed dates when steps 2 or 3 begin, only that each step will last 21 days and rely on vaccination thresholds to be met (70 per cent of adults with one dose for Step 2; 70 to 80 per cent of adults with one dose for Step 3).

The confusion has led performing arts groups in Ontario to start a #FairnessForArtsON movement, demanding the allow rehearsals for Step 1, allow filming inside spaces during Step 1 for digital content and set capacity limits for indoor and outdoor space based on square footage.

Jennings said these accommodations have been granted to industries including sport, film and events, but not the performing arts. He pointed to a film production using one of the Shaw theatres next week for a film shoot, allowed to bring in up to 50 actors and crew. Some of them, ironically, Shaw Festival actors.

“And yet, somehow or other, we’re not allowed to do the same thing in our own space. It’s ridiculous at this point.”

Niagara theatre groups Carousel Players and Essential Theatre Collective are also pushing for regulatory fairness.

St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens is urging Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott to allow rehearsals during Step 1, or some Niagara companies “are at risk of cancelling their summer season.”

“The reopen plan makes allowances for film and television and high performing athletes to prepare but leaves out protocols for live performers to rehearse. It feels like the arts were unfairly forgotten, again.”

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates also wrote to Elliott about a “lack of clarity” for reopening the performing arts.


“Live arts must be given a clear runway to reopening that allows for advanced booking, rehearsal and event marketing,” he said, adding the current plan “puts performers in a stay-at-home limbo until July.”

“It seems as if their line of work has been forgotten in the reopening plan or that members from their community were not fully consulted, or listened to.”

Jennings said even in a shortened season, the Shaw Festival plays a crucial role in Niagara’s economy.

Without adequate rehearsal time, the season is in jeopardy, he said.

“We lose our summer, that has massive economic consequences for the entire Niagara region.”