Breaking the COVID silence
Online concerts are filling the gap left
by performances that have been cancelled
By Shanghhetaa Alfred
AS OF APRIL 3, there were 1,063,933 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, and the numbers continue to rise. The people affected have experienced various types of losses: physical, emotional and financial. The virus is not only affecting lives but also the economy.
Since November, Stats Canada reported that Edmonton unemployment rates rose to 7.7 per cent. With the continuing pandemic taking the world by storm, there is the possibility that could jump to 9.5 per cent. Some 1,600 workers in various industries have been temporarily laid off, as businesses try to navigate the pandemic.
Particularly hard hit have been working musicians, who need an audience to ply their trade, and earn their wages. COVID-19 has kept artists at home and instruments in cases. To put it precisely, music, and the entertainment industry as a whole, has been suffering in silence.
Places and gatherings of 50 or more people have been asked to close at this time, shutting down theatres and concerts, to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“I never thought I’d live during times such as these,” says Alyson Dicey, a member of the Edmonton sketch comedy trio, Girl Brain, made up of Ellie Heath, Alyson Dicey and Caley Suliak.
The trio found themselves without shows after receiving emails from organizers cancelling events.
“Being a performer is such an intimate job, requiring one to be around people in close contact,” Heath says. “It was especially hard to be away from the stage this past weekend. It was World Theatre Day, as well as the dates that we were supposed to perform our second birthday Shows.
“Instead, I found myself celebrating alone at home, looking through old pictures on stage and aching for that feeling of connecting with an audience and my Girl Brain partners.”
Cancelling the shows was particularly heartbreaking, she adds, because of the hours of writing and rehearsing that went into the shows..
“I completely understand why, and would not trade health and safety for it,” Suliak says. “But part of what I love about theatre is the sense of togetherness.
The closure has also affected Conor Whatford, better known as R&B and hip-hop artist Conch. He was supposed to perform live on-stage in early May, but also had to cancel.
“I feel for all the artists who had shows, tours or showcase and festival slots that had to be postponed or cancelled,” he says. “It is an important revenue stream for artists.”
Suliak, who was juggling two jobs, is now finding it difficult, financially, because of the stay-at-home order.
“I have lost my job as a waitress and my job as a performer,” she says sadly.
Dicey adds: “I got two to three emails a day announcing a gig being cancelled. It got to a point where I’d open my email and just laugh.”
Conch says he thought that a layoff would be beneficial: “Everybody’s going to be online now!”
But the situation has had the opposite effect. With everyone constantly on their screen he says it is “difficult to make noise and generate excitement around a release.”
However, he adds, he has taken this as a challenge to find creative ways to engage with people and promote his content online and through social media, and he has more time to write and be creative in general.
Staying at home has not been easy for many, and at times like these, social media and online platforms take centre stage. So, artists are going where the audience is, trying to utilize the platforms to share content, and maybe generate a new source of income.
He says that watching Coldplay’s Chris Martin live on Instagram was a revelation, something he describes as a symphony for fans, who got to interact with him and create a personalized playlist for him to sing.
“If you go to a live concert and shout out to a performer, they probably won’t hear you over the music and crowd,” Conch says “But if you drop a comment in a live stream, they definitely could see it and respond. The live streaming has made the whole process more collaborative.”
Heath says she is keeping a positive attitude about the situation, enjoying the time she has to access content, and using social media to connect with fans.
“I think it is a great response to the times; creativity cannot be silenced.”
Just like comedy performers and musicians, the drag community has been affected.
“It has forced us to find new ways to present ourselves and find ways to talk to our community,” says Agata Gogh, an Edmonton artist, performer, designer and producer. Gogh says many queens have been going live on Instagram so they can still feel the sense of community that they do when they host shows.
Party Queens YEG, a site for drag queens, has been organizing weekly online streaming shows on the Zoom app to help sustain queens.
“They are trying to keep the money flowing,” Gogh says. “As for some queens, performing is their only source of income.”
She says the drag community has been finding various ways to adapt, not letting the situation dampen their enthusiasm, but a bit of government assistance would be helpful.
“It would be nice to have some sort of income assistance involved, as not everyone has a second job they can fall back on.”
The following updates have been announced by the Government of Canada regarding small businesses and self-employed individuals, only the second measure applies to the self-employed: businesses, including self-employed individuals, can defer all GST and HST payments until June, as well as customs duties owed for imports. This measure is the equivalent of providing up to $30 billion in interest-free loans to Canadian businesses, to help them pay their employees and their bills.
The Citadel Theatre is producing a Stuck in the House series to raise compensation for the losses incurred by cancelled shows. Edmonton artists who have lost income due to cancelled shows will present performances on the Citadel Facebook page.
“It would be great for the government to bolster and provide more financial backing to these efforts,” Heath says.
The entertainment industry has taken a big hit in the city. But artists are not losing hope as they learn to use different platforms to connect with their fans. Here’s a list of live streams in Edmonton.