Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Reimagining Stanfest: the show must go on

  • June 16 2021
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

CANSO – For the second year in a row, Stanfest organizers have had to make the difficult decision to put the festival held in Canso on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But they are not throwing in the towel; just modifying the event to adhere to safety rules, while continuing to celebrate and share songs.

Last week, Stanfest organizers announced on the event webpage that a musical program would be offered this year under the Stanfest banner, virtually, with limited in-person tickets at the deCoste Performing Arts Centre in Pictou. Four concerts are scheduled throughout July and August, each livestreamed, with 100 tickets available to attend the event live at the theatre.

Stanfest producer Troy Greencorn spoke to The Journal June 10 about the decision to move ahead with this hybrid model, the steps involved and the stakeholders who supported the decision.

Since November 2020, the event organizers have been making plans for Stanfest 2021. With so much uncertainty in the face of COVID-19, four potential scenarios were mapped out: no festival, a smaller festival of up to 750 people, livestreamed-only event and a hybrid event – with livestreamed and in-person concerts.

Organizers polled the Stanfest audience – using the festival’s mailing list – and got a great response. Greencorn said the general consensus was that the fans would wait, they’d come back to Stanfest when it was safe and they did not want to endanger anyone – not the residents of Canso, the musicians or the organizers and volunteers – by bringing a large group of outsiders into the area.

When the third wave of the pandemic hit Nova Scotia at the end of April, the decision on how to move forward with Stanfest this year – after months of work – was made, said Greencorn.

This year’s iteration of Stanfest at the deCoste came about due to Greencorn’s relationship with the theatre. He serves as executive director of the centre, which has had a good track record of safely holding performances with small audiences during the pandemic.

“It’s a partnership. The theatre was able to do shows [during the pandemic] with a perfect safety record. It is super possible and doable,” said Greencorn, to put 100 people in the theatre and stream to hundreds or thousands more.

But is it practical, financially speaking? The answer to that, said Greencorn, involves federal and provincial government support.

Last year, as COVID-19 tightened its grip around Nova Scotia, arts organizations including Stanfest wondered if they would survive the fiscal impact. But, Greencorn said, governments continued to support them even though they could not move ahead with normal operations.

“Our funding was needed just to keep the heat and lights on. Government just wants us all to be still standing when this is all done,” Greencorn said, adding that funding arrived quickly, once it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t a blip on the radar screen of a normal year.

Though Greencorn is understandably troubled by the pandemic, he has found a few silver linings.

“There’s a lot of things that have been learned and a lot of benefits that can be carried forward. When we look back to last March, within days the whole world turned to music for comfort… I think the whole world learned how important music is to our health and well-being.

“We all learned there are digital tools that are really accessible to us that we weren’t using before. I spent seven hours on Zoom today … We’ve seen how accessible this technology is and how comfortable people are to watch a show that way,” he said.

With new technological tools, arts organizations have come out of their silos, as distances have been eliminated through the Internet. There’s more sharing of ideas between organizations and with government when everyone can join a meeting from home instead of expending the time and money to travel.

As for audiences, Greencorn believes there will be a pent-up demand for live performances when it is safe to attend events in-person.

“For the next couple of years there will be a real surge. My phone is already starting to ring off the hook for the theatre,” he said, adding, “A digital show will never be as good as being in the room with the people.”

When Stanfest does return to normal programming next year, Greencorn said he knows they’ll have some work to do to build their audience after the two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, but he’s optimistic that fans will come back in good numbers.

“That is what we heard in our survey,” said Greencorn, “‘Don’t fear that you’ll lose us;’ that was pretty amazing.”

Tickets to attend the live Stanfest events go on sale June 15.

Visit www.decostecentre.ca or call the theatre at 1-800-353-5338 for details.