Performing arts |  Labor shortage: "We went to the end of what we could do"

Performing arts | Labor shortage: “We went to the end of what we could do”

The performing arts community is experiencing a general labor shortage as shows have to be canceled

Posted on June 8

Elise Fiola

Elise Fiola
The Press

The resumption of festivals and tours, combined with the general labor shortage, is weighing on the performing arts community. Result: faced with a crying lack of technicians that threatens shows across the province, Culture Trois-Rivières chose last week to cancel five shows, including one by Marie-Mai and a performance by The dark side of the moon by Robert LePage.

“It’s unimaginable to believe that today, after a pandemic, we have to postpone or close a performance hall due to lack of staff,” exclaims Martin Leclerc, of productions of the same name, who experienced a similar situation a month ago. The producer had to postpone some of his performances in Saint-Hyacinthe because too many people had caught COVID-19.

Photo CATHERINE LEFEBVRE, archives special collaboration

A sound technician during the rehearsals of Lysis at the TNM, last January

“For many venues, we are one step away from having to consider cancellations or postponements,” says David Laferrière, president of the Professional Association of RIDEAU show presenters.

“We resume as if there was no tomorrow,” adds Mr. Laferrière. Such a frenetic recovery has an impact on the mental load of the teams, according to the representative of RIDEAU, who is also general and artistic director of the Gilles-Vigneault Theater in Saint-Jérôme.

We have an occupancy rate for shows that is almost 100% for the fall. This is unheard of. It puts pressure, but we have no choice because we cannot ignore the two years of delays and repositioning that we have had.

David Laferrière, President of the Professional Association of RIDEAU Show Presenters

This funnel effect means that the community tears away the workers, explains the co-director general of the Regroupement des festivals regionals artistesdépendants (Refrain), Caroline Johnson. “And it even goes beyond stage technicians,” she points out.

According to an online study conducted last March with member festivals of Refrain, nearly 24% of respondents foresee human resources issues after the pandemic and 15% believe that there are major issues in terms of maintaining jobs. Despite this, only 1.7% of festivals mainly fear a lack of stage technicians.

Six months in advance for skilled workers

For his part, Martin Leclerc also notes the lack of specialized workers. Previously, he would book craftsmen a month or two in advance to ensure the technical teams answered the call. Today, he is doing it six to eight months in advance.

The schedule and editing time also played a part in Culture Trois-Rivières’ decision to cancel five shows that were to take place in June. “We had to consider the number of working hours and the number of resources available for each of the specific days [avant d’annuler des spectacles] “, says Mélanie Brisebois, director of performing arts at Culture Trois-Rivières.

A setup like The dark side of the moon is very demanding. It takes a lot of people. And we arrive close to Saint-Jean-Baptiste, where there are a lot of events in the region.

Mélanie Brisebois, Director of Performing Arts at Culture Trois-Rivières

According to Mme Brisebois, it is not justifiable to ask artists to limit themselves to less extensive formats that require few resources, as has been done in the past two years. “It’s okay in a particular context like a pandemic, but after that, we want to get back to normal because the act of creating doesn’t feel like having your wings clipped. »

“If we go to productions that require fewer staff, yes, we risk worsening the current situation, adds Mr. Leclerc. The goal is not to eliminate important professions either, we are experiencing a shortage, but there is a limit to reducing the quality of a show at the level of creation. »

Photo Martin Chamberlan, press archives

A representation of the play The dark side of the moon was canceled in Trois-Rivières.

A major problem ”

The pandemic and the cessation of cultural performances have cruelly weakened the troops, even if the issue of the lack of manpower was already present before 2020, according to Mr. Laferrière. “It’s major. We have witnessed many people who took their own lives in the last two years. It weakened many structures both in theaters and in tour teams. »

Finding themselves unemployed, craftsmen reoriented themselves during the pandemic, but working conditions add to the reasons for this exodus.

We must make the environment attractive, attract new generations and review budgets. People in cultural events are war machines. So we always end up finding a solution, but it’s not easy and it’s worse than before.

Caroline Johnson, co-director of Refrain

Mme Johnson also raises the exhaustion of workers, who are often forced to perform tasks that do not correspond to their duties.

According to her, to remedy this shortage, it is first necessary “that the medium of culture be placed at the same level as the other fields”.


Technicians remove rainwater from the main stage at Osheaga in 2017.

In search of solutions

“It will not be resolved overnight, presumes Mélanie Brisebois. We must continue our pooling and consultation efforts to find new training or corporate sponsorship initiatives. In this sense, the community is mobilizing. Since March, Culture en action has been leading a project whose intention is to solve the shortages and needs of labor in culture. Their goal is to submit an action plan in December.

Several solutions are on the table. The co-director general of Refrain brings up the idea of ​​establishing a directory that broadcasters could consult to complete their team when necessary. Nevertheless, again according to the survey presented by the organization, financial issues are the most feared among 52% of participating festivals.

To deal with this critical situation, the performing arts community will need a helping hand from cities, municipalities and RCMs, says David Laferrière, who is impatiently waiting to see how the recovery plan announced by the government will materialize.

“The cultural community always works miracles with two 25 cents, but here, I think we have gone to the end of what we could do, he believes. It’s no longer just about being able to put on a show, it’s about being able to maintain the physical and mental health of our teams. »

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