When the global pandemic first hit the Strathcona region, the local performing arts community was faced with many uncertainties. The team at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River wasn’t sure how the future of their iconic venue would unfold.
“Once the flurry of cancelling and rescheduling shows calmed down, the reality began to sink in,” remembers Heidi Cuff, the Tidemark’s Marketing and Programming Coordinator. “We have an amazingly passionate team who are all incredibly driven and wildly creative, so we all took a deep breath, and together we dove into the world of online streaming, digital programming, and video production.”
As an iconic theatre and local heritage site, the Tidemark Theatre holds a rich history and deep appreciation in the performing arts community of Vancouver Island. “Live theatre events are all about connection and community—bringing people together for a shared artistic experience,” says Cuff. “When the pandemic hit, we had to
figure out how to continue connecting with the community and facilitating shared artistic experiences without actually bringing anyone physically together. Digital streaming solved all of those problems for us and showed us a new way forward.”
Jim Kent, Managing Director and Technical Director at the Tidemark says one of the first major hurdles they faced was procuring the equipment needed to do so. “We ran into issues with the stall in the global supply chain, and everyone was in the same fluid situation. It really became a global endeavour to get this equipment to Campbell River as soon as possible.”
“Initially, we had to do a ton of research to figure out all of the equipment and software pieces that we would require, then we needed to gather the funding to invest in the digital infrastructure,” says Cuff. “Island Coastal Economic Trust was an absolute lifeline for us. We submitted our digital programming plan to them and were quickly approved. I can honestly say that we wouldn’t be where we are today without their timely investment in the Tidemark Theatre and the Campbell River community.”
Once funding was secured and equipment was purchased, the staff moved into training and testing. “Our entire team had to work together to learn a whole new operating system, new software, technology, communication, and more,” remembers Cuff. “It was a really steep learning curve that needed to happen in a very short period of time.”
The technical staff at the Tidemark rose to the challenge, and by July 2020—just three months after lockdown—the equipment had arrived, leaving only a few days to prepare before their first digital performance with the Vancouver Island Symphony. This recording streamed publicly as part of the Tidemark’s inaugural Digital Season in September 2020.
Live streaming has allowed the Tidemark to become accessible to audiences who wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience their performances. “With live theatre, if you can’t attend an event on a particular day, at a specified time and place, you completely miss out,” says Cuff. “Now that we can offer both live streamed and hybrid events, it actually gives our audience the option to customize their theatre experience to suit their individual needs.”
For patrons with mobility issues, sensory issues, trouble driving at night, and even those with young children and no babysitter, this shift to digital has changed everything. “It provides a level of accessibility that we have never been able to offer before, and as a result we are now reaching audiences we’ve never been able to reach before,” remarks Cuff. To date, their digital programming has been streamed in 16 countries and 65 states and provinces combined.
Another unexpected audience that the team at the Tidemark has found are individuals living in long-term care facilities. Seeing the adverse effects of isolation during their lockdown, the Tidemark saw an opportunity to help. “After offering it locally, we decided to reach out to all care homes Island-wide and offer our programming to them free or at the cost of one ticket for their entire facility,” says Cuff. “The response has been amazing, and we hope to continue this program beyond the pandemic.”
With a high-definition, eight-camera video production system, live motion graphics, and virtual set capabilities, the Tidemark now has the ability to share quality local performances with the world. As we continue to return to a “new normal,” the performing arts community will undoubtedly look different for future generations, and the Tidemark Theatre will continue to evolve as an accessible venue for all.