The E.A. Rawlinson Centre is getting ready to host its first in-house audience since shutting down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activity at the centre has been slowly ramping up over the last few weeks. The first in-building program was the modified Broadway North Youth Company summer intensive. Then came the community concerts, where curbside shows were brought to various locations in the city.
Then, last week, the centre hosted its first live show, a drive-in event featuring local band One Bridge Town.
But on Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m., the centre will have a live audience in its seats for the first time since March.
It won’t be the same Rawlinson Centre setup patrons are used to. Changes have been made to ensure physical distancing.
Every other row has been closed and had some seats removed to allow for safe entry and exit for seats in the centre of usable rows.
Three seats to each size of each cluster of tickets sold are automatically blocked off as well, so each bubble can practice distancing from each other.
Additionally, masks are strongly encouraged in places where physical distancing is more difficult, such as washrooms.
Changes to ticket sales are also being made. Tickets must be picked up or emailed to the patron in advance. There will be no pickup window to avoid the possibility of crowding. Tickets will not be available as of 4 p.m. on the show day.
The name of the game, E.A. Rawlinson Centre marketing and events coordinator Cara Stelmaschuk said, is safety. Planning has been ongoing throughout the summer, taking into account guidelines put out by the provincial government.
“We knew that at some point our doors would be open, but what was it going to look like? We started with assuming we were going to have to be very, very careful and that’s where we’ve landed,” she said.
Stelmaschuk credited the occupational health and safety team at the city for helping them develop reopening guidelines.
The process included looking at the building and what needs to be open when the show is going on, as well as examining how to limit the number of people standing in one space.
“You go through a bit of a rigamarole to get in here, but if we keep being careful, we can keep doing these shows,” Stelmaschuk said.
That only happens, though, if people are cooperative and respect physical distancing requirements, she emphasized.
“If we practice caution and everyone goes along with it and has consideration with everybody else, we can keep doing these shows. If we can’t ensure that, we can’t do any more shows.”
That’s also why tickets are only available in advance. The pickup window was “too much of a touchpoint,” Stelmaschuk said.
As for the show itself, audiences who make the return trip on Sept. 25 will get to see Saskatchewan-based singer-songwriter Belle Plaine.
In a press release, the Rawlinson Centre described her as “ part charming folk-singer, part honky tonk front-woman and part grizzled bandmom.”
Belle Plaine is the stage name of Melanie Berglund. While she’s based out of Regina now, she was raised near the hamlet of Fosston, about 200 km east of Saskatoon. She hasn’t played on the Rawlinson stage since 2013, but she made the trip up to Prince Albert and Christopher Lake in January 2019 to promote her album Malice, Mercy, Grief + Wrath. That album has since become a 2020 JUNO nominee and earned her awards at the 2018 Saskatchewan and 2019 Western Canadian Music Awards.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Stelmaschuk said.
“She’s fantastic. She’s an original songwriter, a very, very talented songwriter and performer. She puts on such a great show and she’s really engaging.”
That sort of low-key, small show is what the centre can put on given current restrictions, Stelmaschuk said. It’s just the first of a few shows the centre hopes to host this fall.
“(Manager Roxanne Dicke) has been working on a little fall season we should be announcing quite soon,” Stelmaschuk said.
“When word got out that the Rawlinson Centre would be doing a few limited-capacity shows, Roxanne got some interest from booking agents (asking) how many people we are allowed to have so they can scale back the shows they can pitch.”
The shows will be spaced out, about two weeks apart, and hit a cross-section of genres, she said.
“Maybe people can’t see all of the shows, but it really is our hope that people can get to one or two and get a taste of live music.”
For those who can’t leave the house for medical reasons, the centre will also be selling access to a live stream of its shows accessed through the website. More details about that process will come. For now, ticket sales are for in-person seats only.
“Actually having people in our house is going to be really, really exciting,” Stelmaschuk said.
“If we proceed with caution it’s our hope that in a couple of months that maybe were will be able to have a slightly bigger audience for some of these shows.”