Self-isolation guidelines have brought opportunities for many of us to experience our favourite musicians and comedians in intimate performances from their own homes.
From the performers’ perspective, livestreaming online has provided a chance to bring their art to new audiences, many of whom may have been less likely to visit a live venue under normal circumstances. But the majority of these performances bring little or no income to musicians struggling under COVID-19 restrictions.
Enter the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. Inspired by the National Arts Centre’s Canada Performs series, the PAC launched Niagara Performs free online concerts and events in mid-April. Colleen Smith, the new executive director of the centre, confirms all artists who take part in this series are indeed earning income.
“That’s a priority for any performing arts centre right now, to ensure that artists are able to make a living as best as possible,” she says. “And secondary to that is to continue that connection to the people in the community that love them so much.”
Local comedian David Green, whose Garden City Comedy Festival takes to the Niagara Performs platform this Thursday, May 21, says “it’s very nice to get paid for performing this week.”
Like many entertainers during this pandemic, Green has been missing the chance to perform in front of an appreciative crowd.
“I’m usually out there live five to six nights a week,” he says, “And it’s been hard not to be able to perform in front of people, and to feel the rush I get from the live audience.”
But the funnyman adds that physical distancing guidelines have forced him to learn new skills. Since mid-March, he’s focused on streaming, creating YouTube videos, and reaching a whole new audience via the relatively new Tik Tok platform.
“That part of it has actually been great,” Green claims. “I have been adapting, and learning new skills that I am sure will continue to be useful for my comedy moving into post-COVID times.”
Green will be hosting Thursday’s Garden City Comedy Festival, and performing a pun-heavy set of his own. He will be joined by Fiona O’Brien, whose material often draws on her experience as an Irish woman who emigrated to Canada in 2012. Also on the bill will be Thomas Calnan, winner of the Next Top Comic award at the 2016 Windsor Comedy Festival.
The Sunday afternoon Niagara Performs time slot this week goes to the indefatigable St. Catharines singer/songwriter/producer/actor Joe Lapinski.
Between recording, releasing and performing his own original music, Lapinski also finds the time to produce other musicians at his WOW! recording studio. As well, he continues to be an associate member of Suitcase in Point Theatre Company and acts as Music Director for the In the Soil Arts Festival. He also teaches part time at Niagara College.
Name a local band or musician and chances are Joe Lapinski has either performed with or produced them. A visit to his studio’s website reveals a list of about 70 projects with which he has been involved as a musician, producer, engineer, mixer or masterer.
Lapinski says PAC programmers Sara Palmieri and Annie Wilson contacted him with the offer to perform this week. “I think they reached out to a lot of folks who have done the Hear Here concert series with (pianist) Mark Lalama and his crew,” he says.
While he welcomes the current situation as a chance for him to spend some valuable time at home with his wife and two-and-a-half year old daughter, his eyes have been opened to how important the arts are to a community.
“I really miss playing with other musicians,” he laments. “I miss an audience that I can talk and interact with. I might have taken all that for granted before all this happened. Now I have a different attitude about how important it is, and what role arts and culture plays in the community in bringing people together.”
With two solo albums currently in the works, Lapinski has been using the extra time in his studio to put some finishing touches on the tracks. He’s looking forward to his Sunday session, live from that studio, as a chance for him to debut songs from both, including those from an upcoming concert album he says is inspired by the city of St. Catharines.
“I’ll be playing some acoustic guitar, and some electric, I just have to get some of the tech ironed out in the meantime,” Lapinski says.
Both Lapinski and Green are appreciative of the chance to perform as part of the series, as it brings with it some of the PAC audience and a quality a few notches above the average Facebook Live event.
The Garden City Comedy Festival, hosted by David Green, is live Thursday, May 21 at 7 p.m., while Joe Lapinski performs Sunday, May 24 at 4 p.m.
Visit the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre’s Facebook page to tune in to the Niagara Performs series.