Returning to the stage after a two-year hiatus is no easy feat. Everyone, from dancers and directors to audiences, are flexing forgotten muscles.
“Performing artists, like athletes, need to practice on a daily basis,” says Ian Rye, CEO of Pacific Opera Victoria (POV). “Two years, without working with a conductor or an orchestra, a singer is absolutely going from zero to 100 in a very short period of time. From a business point of view, you’ve got to rebuild all of your business.”
Despite the challenges, POV is more than prepared for the upcoming season, having used downtime to invest in advanced productions. The company took advantage of federal wage subsidies and generous donations to employ artists like set decorators, seamstresses and carpenters, producing up to two year’s worth of materials for productions.
Meanwhile, POV has spent more than half a million dollars in cancellations for performers, who come from all over Canada and beyond. The cost of Carmen, the season’s debut opera this year, is close to $150,000 more than it would have been two years ago, taking into account COVID testing, safety and reduced capacity. Remarkably, Carmen will see almost every one of its original performers return to the stage in Victoria.
But they are not the only ones who need to acclimatize.
“We have to help our community get back in the habit of attending the performing arts,” says Rye. “Like many of our colleagues in hospitality, we’ve invested more in marketing than ever before.”
Through that outreach, Rye and the team are bringing sensitivity and humour to the conversion of audiences returning to in-person performances. Rye estimates that demand is at about 65 to 70 per cent, compared to pre-pandemic levels, resulting in 25 per cent less revenue, and explains that they are encouraging people to subscribe to the upcoming season.
“It’s really important to the business model because it allows us to generate that revenue upfront, before the big expenses come down the pipe,” says Rye who feels good about going into this next phase with a strong balance sheet.