Montreal festival organizers grapple with evolving pandemic rules
To the delight of organizers and festival-goers, Quebec has increased the number of people authorized for outdoor live events this summer. But some city organizers say there are several challenges that come with pivotal shots so close to the curtain.
For Suzanne Rousseau, general manager of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique (FINA) in Montreal, the decision of the Ministry of Health to authorize 5,000 participants to shows and outdoor events is not very practical.
“We cannot receive 5,000 people at the same time, it takes a much larger place to do that. Because we have to respect the distance,” she said. Its outdoor events were booked in the Parterre du Quartier Spectacle when capacity limits were lower.
On Friday, outdoor events where crowds remain relatively still, seated or standing, but without assigned seats, were told their audience can be divided into independent sections that can seat up to 500 people, instead of 250. Although Rousseau says this makes things easier, it is still a challenge.
“We’re going to go through it on day one and adapt as we go,” she said.
FINA, which showcases African, Caribbean and Latin American artists, is celebrating its 35th edition this year and will take place from July 6 to 18 with indoor performances in concert halls in downtown Montreal, as well as outdoor sound and light shows, intimate concerts, workshops, street exhibitions and virtual shows.
“We are preparing for bigger and better things. This is what keeps us going,” Rousseau said.
Glad to be back
Nicolas Cournoyer, co-organizer of the Montreal bi-weekly summer electronic music festival Piknic Électronik, says he is happy to be back in person this summer, even if he has to review the festival layout. The Piknic started yesterday and continues until October.
“We learned [Friday] that these measures have been relaxed, so we will be able to double attendance for next week. So we are going to change the configuration. ”
Although the increase in attendance at Parc Jean-Drapeau is good news for Cournoyer, he says it has been difficult to plan.
“The situation at the moment is really better than we expected,” he said.
“When they announced that we could have 2,500 people [earlier this year], Everyone was happy. But then when you put a sketch, a map to define these distances between people, it takes a lot of space to be able to have these people. “
Cournoyer says if the pandemic worsens over the summer, he will make weekly changes to have the shows he helps put on every Saturday and Sunday run.
“We adapt, it’s our way of working,” he said.
Restrictions change “every 10 days”
For its part, Zoofest – a comedy festival featuring emerging comedians from the province and beyond – will take place from July 15 to 24. There will be 20 shows inside the Quartier des spectacles, with capacity limits and a completely different approach to outdoor shows.
Director of operations Isabelle Desmarais said trying to plan the 12th edition of the festival has been both rewarding and a “constant headache”.
It has been difficult to get a feel for costs, plan programs and start production, as public health measures change, she said.
“The real challenge was to see that these rules, these restrictions changed almost every 10 days,” said Desmarais.
But she says being allowed to perform live this summer after minimal activity last year makes the struggles worthwhile.
“We took [the changes] with a smile because at least it made us believe we were coming back to something better, ”she said.
“We just kept the faith because Montreal without festivals is just not the same.”