With Osheaga canceled for 2021 and the jazz festival postponed to September, Montrealers may feel like this summer will only prolong the drought of live cultural events in the city.
Despite the uncertainty about future pandemic restrictions, there are several festivals that plan to adopt hybrid models and reduce the size of their events to meet guidelines.
One such event is the Montreal Fringe Festival, which runs June 1-20, which kicks off the festival season with a mix of online and in-person appearances.
Amy Blackmore, executive director and artistic director of the MainLine Theater and the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, told CBC’s Daybreak the Fringe that there are typically between 100 and 115 shows in 20 locations.
This year it will be scaled back and put on 30 to 35 shows in four or five locations.
“We’re going to be really transparent with all of our artists and all of our viewers about what the experience is going to be like,” said Blackmore.
“For example, there will be less capacity at our venues, loads of COVID-19 security precautions and on-site staff so everyone can have a good experience, stay safe and enjoy the art.”
Amy Blackmore is the executive director and artistic director of the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. This year’s edition will be very different from previous years, but the team is keen to put on a show despite the pandemic restrictions. (Cindy Lopez / Montreal Fringe Festival)
Because Montreal is a red zone, movie theaters and auditoriums cannot accommodate more than 250 people, depending on capacity, and food and drink sales are not permitted. It is unclear whether these rules will be relaxed or stricter in summer.
Blackmore said that given the ever-changing situation, her team is “ready to change in the blink of an eye”.
“We have plans A to Z.”
Having put last year’s event online, Blackmore wants to celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary and has started a fundraiser to keep the event alive.
“At 30, I feel really responsible,” she said. “I want the edge to exist for years to come. It’s such an integral part of the Montreal independent art community and it really is the start of summer in Montreal.”
Fantasia also hopes to host personal demonstrations
Another festival with ambitions to welcome a personal audience is the Fantasia Film Festival.
Scheduled for August 5th to 25th, founder and managing director Pierre Corbeil told Daybreak he also plans to follow a hybrid model that offers films that can be shown both at home and in theaters.
“We are known around the world for having the wildest shows and the audience being very excited, excited and responsive,” said Corbeil. “”[At home] it’s not the same, but it’s still much better than doing nothing and just stopping. “
Corbeil also celebrated an anniversary, the 20th Festival, and said the event would open with the world premiere of the Quebec film Brain Freeze, which he calls a zombie comedy.
He said with the festival a few months away, there was still time to adjust the schedule based on the rules.
“We hope the possibilities are much greater than what we can currently imagine,” he said.
The Just For Laughs Festival is expected to take place again from July 15 to 31, 2021. However, the organizers have not yet announced how the festival will play out and whether it will include in-person events.
Mutek will return in August
For its part, the Mutek electronic music and art festival is planning for the end of August.
Artistic Director Alain Mongeau told Daybreak that “it has been so difficult to predict exactly what will be possible” but that his team is ready to organize an event anyway.
Last year, Mutek prepared to run the entire festival online and even created a custom virtual platform. In the end, they were able to host some in-person social distancing events.
Mutek, pictured here in 2019, is another festival that the live audience wants to welcome again. (Mutek press photo / Bruno Destombes)
Mongeau said that unlike some other challenging festivals, he’s fortunate that his event doesn’t rely heavily on international artists.
“We are very dependent on local talent so that we can restructure a festival,” he said. “We can redesign the festival and it still makes sense.”
Above all, Mongeau strives to welcome people back. He believes that the feeling for the audience is mutual.
“We feel like after a year and a half everyone will be very anxious to step away from their screen and be exposed to the live culture.”
Expect a busy September
Dan Seligman, Creative Director of POP Montreal confirms that sentiment, saying that even if September is an unusually busy month with events like Jazz Fest and Franco’s Montreal, the fans’ appetites will be there.
“I think because the public wants to attend cultural events and support artists, I think there should be enough space for everyone,” he told Daybreak.
The 2020 edition of the POP Montreal Festival included detached outdoor appearances. (POP Montreal Press Photo / Coralie Daigneault)
Seligman called it an “unprecedented time” for promoters, adding that “the festival ecosystem has been in crisis mode for a year”.
He said that for “events like Jazz or Osheaga, which are such massive endeavors, it’s really difficult to pan around in the short term”.
After POP Montreal was out for a few months, Seligman said his team was waiting to see how things turn out and hoping for the best – a return to normal.
“We’ll be ready to take in an audience,” he said.