February 17, 2022

‘Ontario is closed for business’: Concert, theatre organizers face new COVID-19 hurdles

Upcoming concerts headlined by Billie Eilish and Elton John are hanging in the balance as Ontario’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions hands a tougher set of rules to live shows than other entertainment events.

Advocates for the province’s live music and theatre industries say they’re being treated unfairly as new rules go into effect on Jan. 31 that hold their venues at 50-per cent capacity until at least mid-March.

Meanwhile, other entertainment venues including cinemas, casinos and restaurants have been told to expect the ability to host a full house by Feb. 21.

Erin Benjamin, head of the Canadian Live Music Association, says it’s the latest setback for live venues and their owners who are once again confused by policies that deem it safe to eat maskless in a restaurant but unsafe to gather masked for a concert.

She worries the ever-changing rules could squelch a raft of upcoming concerts, from big-ticket shows led by international superstars to smaller club events by U.S. artists, all of them who may decide it’s not worth the cost of entering Canada to play a half-full arena.

Eilish is slated to play Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 16 while John has two dates on March 12 and 13. All of the shows are on the calendar before full capacity is permitted on March 14.

Neither artist had postponed nor cancelled their shows as of Tuesday morning.

Benjamin says the province’s constantly changing rules seem to have no clear science behind them and she fears it sends the message that “Ontario is closed for business.”

“The idea of doing business in Ontario is so uncertain that folks are just not interested in constantly trying to navigate the rules,” she says.

“We’re hearing things like outright cancellations and conversations (on future tour dates) being paused until 2023 in some cases.”

Some big names have already moved upcoming Canadian tour dates away from the first half of the year, including Dua Lipa who was slated to play Montreal and Toronto in February. Those dates have been rescheduled to July 25 and 27.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

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