Theatres have remained closed in BC while restaurants and bars remain open. What gives?
Joss Arnott // Contributor
Liann Huang // Photographer
“Our marquee says; ‘Screw the Arts, We’re a Sports Bar Now’,” announced Corinne Lea, owner of the Rio Theatre, in an interview with Globe and Mail, “and that’s because the arts are getting screwed.” Just two years ago, Lea won a months-long fight to #SaveTheRio from probable demolition. Faced with the Rio’s closure for a second time, Lea said ‘fuck it’ and reopened the theatre as a bar a few days a week.
Theatres have been shut down in the province since Nov. 25, 2020, when they were classified as event spaces to decrease the spread of COVID. The period was set to last two weeks, but as is customary in the time of COVID-19, the restriction was still in place come January 2021.
The province needs to revise its COVID-19 protocols—either bars and restaurants are just as dangerous and should be closed, or theatres can be reopened.
The Rio’s rebranding was surprisingly straightforward once it happened. Lea decided to use the theatre’s existing liquor licence to her advantage and reopened the landmark theatre on Jan. 23 as a sports bar. The Rio’s COVID-19 safety operations haven’t changed much since it reopened the doors in July, except patrons must now be served food at their seats instead of at the bar. The theatre operates with reduced seating, social distancing measures and COVID-19 safety protocols. Essentially, because the Rio is screening sports instead of movies, they’ve been allowed to reopen.
The question that lingers is why are bars and restaurants open if theatres are closed? It seems an arbitrary distinction, and the Rio’s pivot emphasizes that. The province needs to revise its COVID-19 protocols—either bars and restaurants are just as dangerous and should be closed, or theatres can be reopened. Theatres already have to fight tooth and nail to stay alive against online streaming platforms, and with the announcement of HBO Max’s plan to debut new movies digitally alongside cinemas, things are looking worse still. If we truly want our cultural landmarks to stay around, then we have to protect them.
In a theatre, nobody talks—well, except for those people—but masks are mandatory, and patrons are socially distanced from each other.
Over 58,000 businesses in Canada have shuttered permanently since the pandemic began. Fearing the Rio might not survive the forced lockdown as well, Lea launched a petition to reopen her theatre in December that has since garnered over 8,900 signatures.
The Rio Theatre shouldn’t have had to rebrand as a sports bar to survive—full stop. No evidence suggests that theatres as an industry is inherently more dangerous than restaurants. In a theatre, nobody talks—well, except for those people—but masks are mandatory, and patrons are socially distanced from each other. People also face the same direction, which has been proven to lower the risk of transmission.
New Zealand is often cited for its strict yet effective COVID-19 laws, and in March 2020, the country entered a full shutdown with only 102 recorded virus cases. These harsh lockdowns have allowed an effective return to normalcy for the Kiwis. New Zealand’s system uses alert levels to differentiate between the types of lockdown. This is done so that the public knows what to expect with lockdown measures, even in a dynamic situation. Their second-highest level, alert level three, requires cinemas and restaurants to be closed to the public. At alert level two, both cinemas and restaurants are allowed to open as long as they practice COVID-19 safety protocols like social distancing.
The province needs to decide what kind of lockdown this is because as it stands, COVID-19 regulations are all over the place. If theatres are too dangerous to be open to the public, then so are restaurants and bars. But hey, the Rio Theatre’s marquee said it first and said it best:
“Arts and Culture Closed,
While Bars are Still Open.
F*** That Noise.”