Festival of the Performing Arts gearing up to make in-person return

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

Following a two-year absence and “virtual” measures meant to bridge the gap, the Rainy River District Festival of the Performing Arts is set for an in-person return this April.

The return of the Festival is scheduled in April, with the vocal categories kicking things off on April 4-6 and the rest of the categories following. While many details and specifics of this year’s event are still being hammered out by the committee and a team of volunteers, Festival co-chair Marie Brady said they’re committed to having an in-person festival that is as safe as possible, even as restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have begun to lift.

“We’ve met twice as a committee, and both times have really talked about doing a hybrid Festival where some of it might be online, maybe the adjudicator would be in Winnipeg, or the other way around where the adjudicator would be here but the performers would be at home,” Brady said.

“We just don’t have the expertise with our volunteer base to do that. Larger Festivals that have paid or full-time staff can do it, but we just can’t. So we’re focused on being able to do an in-person Festival.”

Brady explained that getting volunteers who help to make the Festival a success year over year will be crucial this year as well, and added that there will be additional responsibilities for some volunteers in order to keep COVID precautions in effect.

“We’ve put together a small working group to look at some of the COVID guidelines,” Brady said.

“Things will always change, but at this point in time any participant or volunteer or observer who wants to come to the Festival will need to be vaccinated. That’s going to be unfortunate, as it means there are some people who may not be able to participate and wanted to, however it’s just for this year. Hopefully by next year we’ll be back to the point where vaccinations will not be required. Having said that, by April 1, that might have changed as well, we don’t know how fast we’ll be unwinding from those requirements.”

In light of recent announcements by the provincial government, there’s more and more chance that vaccination requirements will be nixed by the time the Festival rolls around, but Brady said that they will follow whatever guidelines are in place at that time, and will update the public as necessary.

Even as vaccination requirements change, the committee is still working on figuring out how to hold an in-person Festival in COVID times. Some of the ideas they have floated so far involve having a volunteer at the door checking for vaccination status. However, things get more complicated when you factor in adjudicators and their assistants, or how to keep a performing space sanitized between performers.

“We don’t know if we’ll be collecting music this year, because of COVID,” Brady offered by way of example.

“If I take a piece of music from a student and hand it to the adjudicator, what does that do if there are issues with COVID? The person at the front announcing the next performance, they might be the person that has to clean the piano after every class, or they might be the person to ensure each student going up uses the hand sanitizer before they play. The duties might change a little bit.”

Outside of the safety precautions that are being worked out, the remainder of the Festival will proceed similarly to how it has in the past. Registration for this year’s Festival will be open until the February 25, giving the committee the month of March to get events organized. Categories have remained mostly unchanged, according to the handbook available on the Festival’s website. Brady said that adjudicators for the piano and vocal portions of the Festival have been confirmed, with the remainder to come in the following weeks.

One larger difference from years past lies in how performers will register to take part in the Festival. Brady explained there is still the option to mail in forms available at their website. However, the committee has also reached out to instructors directly for them to submit entries on their student’s behalf.

“We will accept entries that are mailed in but for the most part now we’re just going to have the music teachers collect the entry forms and money from the students,” she said.

“And then we’ll have just three or four pickup points instead of having to have people stop by Safeway or some other business and increase traffic where it doesn’t really need to be.”

Anyone interested in taking part in this year’s festival is encouraged to go to their website at ff-festival.com/ for registration forms and the syllabus for this year’s categories. Additionally, Brady noted they are actively searching for volunteers to help make the Festival as successful as possible.

“If anyone new wants to volunteer, we’d be very happy to have that done,” Brady said.

“A successful Festival really is based on the volunteers that we get: people at the door, people that help the adjudicators, everything. That will be the key. We’re cautiously optimistic.”