MORRISBURG – There’s another bright glimmer on the arts horizon.
The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, one of the most exciting showcases for established, and up-and-coming musicians in this region, will be returning to Morrisburg, to the stage of Upper Canada Playhouse in 2022.
President of the all volunteer SLAS board, Sandra Whitworth, talked about the effect the COVID-19 Pandemic has had on the Stage over the last year, and its developing plans to safely re-open.
“We were very much on track in 2020, building an enthusiastic audience, with our sales for concerts going steadily up when, like all the arts communities, we were hit with pandemic shut downs,” Whitworth said. “In fact our final two concerts of the season, Hawksley Workman and the Good Lovelies, were almost sold out when the shut downs were ordered.”
The uncertainty that has accompanied national lock downs since March 2020, has been very hard on all the performing arts. However, as Whitworth explained, the Stage has still been luckier than many. “We are all volunteers at the SLAS. Consequently, we weren’t forced to lay off staff as so many of the larger venues had to. Certainly, we were stressed and had to go back and forth with musicians and their representatives, but at least we did not have to let people go from their jobs.”
The major decision board members Tony McCadden, Derek Hunter, Eric Pietersma, Amanda Spink-Pietersma and Sandra Whitworth had to make was when to plan for the return of a full new concert season. In making this decision, they worked closely with Donnie Bowes, artistic director of Upper Canada Playhouse, whose theatre is the long-time home of the SLAS.
“Donnie has been incredibly supportive,” Whitworth said. With COVID restrictions and health rules firmly in place, the Playhouse has been hard at work ensuring that the theatre will be a completely safe place for audiences this spring. But those efforts have necessitated major changes in audience sizes and the length of runs for Playhouse shows. “If Donnie has any gaps in his 2021 season schedule, or the situation changes, we may be able to put on one or two SLAS concerts before Christmas. But these will be one-off shows, and we will probably only be able to let our audiences know three or four weeks in advance of the dates. As a board, we ultimately made the decision that we would not attempt to run a full series of eight concerts until January of 2022.”
“We looked at the logistics of trying to stage shows with limited seating, perhaps spread over two or three days, but there just seemed to be too many issues for both our performers and our audiences. We decided that when we return, it’ll be in our normal format, with one show for an audience.”
The Stage remains very grateful for the on-going support it has received from audience members, its dedicated sponsors and the musicians themselves.
“We have received a new four year grant from the federal government,” Whitworth said, “which will carry us into 2024. We have also received Ontario government funding, and the municipality of South Dundas has also supported us. The 5B Family has also continued their great support.”
While these grants are essentially “on hold” until the concert season starts up again, “the funds will be there when we come back. We won’t be stretched. In the meantime, we can continue to cover insurance and additional costs. Our funders have all been extraordinarily kind. We really look forward to welcoming our artists and audiences back, even if things may be altered a little for a time.”
The St. Lawrence Stage has long been a force for community spirit in this region. The board has always maintained that the arts draw people together.
“Due to COVID, we’ve lost some of our community feeling,” Sandra Whitworth said. “Participation in cultural activities helps to create a strong sense of community. We come together to enjoy theatre, to enjoy music. Even the hubbub in the lobby when people share their experiences and chat about them is part of that community. And really, there is just nothing more ‘in the moment’ than a live performance. There is something utterly unique and special about that connection between the artist and the audience. Every show has its own feeling, its own atmosphere, its own joy. And these need to be shared experiences.”
The spectacular line-up for the 2022 concert series at the St. Lawrence Acoustic stage is already in the works, although the artists won’t be named until later on in the summer. The box office will open when the Stage receives the official nod from health and government authorities.
However, there is no question about one thing. The sound of wonderful music is soon coming back to this community.