There’s dramatically less demand these days for the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC’s) auditorium as many live theatre performances and concerts have been cancelled due to Covid-19.
However, NACC management is trying to raise interest by offering reduced rent to anyone interested.
Marie Coderre, executive director of the theatre, said she is providing the space for $400 per day to restricted groups. This is for an eight-hour maximum. If there is a need for a separate night for rehearsal for the main show, that comes at an additional $200 cost.
Currently, the chief public health officer (CPHO) allows a maximum of 50 people to use the space at a time, with an additional 25 people allowed backstage, such as crew and artists.
“We have very good rental rates with the idea that whoever wants to use it, can use it,” Coderre said, adding that the standard group rate is $800 daily while non-profits normally pay $1,000 a day and businesses are charged $1,500.
One person who is highly complimentary of NACC and its policy for more affordable private event options is longtime Yellowknifer and former Ptarmigan Theatrics vice-president Robin Williams.
His wife Melanie surprised him with a private screening of the Hamilton musical for his birthday in September, shortly after the reduced rent option went into effect.
“I turned 40 in September and my wife had been planning pre-pandemic that she would take me to New York to see Hamilton – my favourite show on the stage on Broadway,” Williams said. “Musical theatre is really a guilty pleasure.”
Covid-19 dashed those plans. The musical, however, became available on Disney Plus over the summer.
As part of his birthday celebration, what Williams thought was merely a planned family photo session at NACC turned into a surprise private showing of the musical with close acquaintances.
“It was like being at a Broadway in Yellowknife and it was probably one of the most amazing experiences ever,” he said laughing, adding that public safety precautions were taken with mask-wearing and social distancing.
“It really felt like an experience, and it felt like I was able to have a break and that I was whisked away for a few hours which is important during these times,” Williams said.
Emily Smits, manager of communications and graphic design with NACC, said the venue is also encouraging residents to show support by engraving a name on a seat – an ongoing campaign, but one which has a reduced price leading into the Christmas gift season.
Out of the 301 seats, only 33 are available for supporters to purchase golden-bronze seat plates with up to 30 characters. Those go for $150 each.
“We have been selling them since 2012 when we did major seat renovations and we are now down to 33 left,” Smits said. “Once they are gone, they are gone.”
NACC has been hard at work putting together artistic programming for the coming months despite group limitations, according to Coderre.
Scheduling, however, is fluid and subject to change.
Thelma Cheechoo, a Yellowknife-based Cree folk singer and songwriter will put on a live and livestreamed performance on Oct. 29. That show is now sold out, however the show will be recorded and shown the following day on Facebook and on Northwestel TV.
NACC also has a Christmas comedy event lined up, featuring Martin Rehak, on Dec. 12.
There are also several other art projects in the works at various stages of development. Some will be announced for November while others will take place in the new year.
In typical years, NACC would be heading into a season full of acts, both local and from abroad, but at this juncture it’s difficult to plan much beyond 60 days, Coderre said.
“We go with the flow, and we go with the budget that we have,” she said, noting that NACC is coming off last year with a $300,000 reduction in various pots of arts funding. Some of that has been made up with other assistance like wage subsidies, she added.
“Every month is changing. We lost a lot of money this year so we’re doing what we can to try to make up for those losses,” she said.