Montreal — Downtown Montreal is a festive season.
In the city’s red-light district, the musical was doing a soundcheck on Friday night on the second day of the French version of the famous Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Many tickets for the festival’s free outdoor shows, which are restricted by COVID-19 regulations, have been sold out.
Two blocks away, over 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by Isaac Neto Trio. This is part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuidaflick, which celebrates the music of the African continent and African diaspora.
Festival organizers are happy to be back as COVID-19 limits continue to limit capacity, but hope that border limits and capacity limits do not affect their plans. I am looking forward to next year.
Charles Decarie, CEO and President of Just For Laughs, said this year is a “transition year.”
“There are big restrictions from the Montreal public health group, but we were able to design a festival that could overcome those restrictions,” said Decali Street.
The French Just for laughs festival begins on July 15th and continues with the English festival until July 31st.
According to Decarie, when the plan began in February and March, the organizers came up with different scenarios for different crowd sizes, from no spectators to 50% of normal capacity.
“We need to create a scenario,” he said. “We need alternatives, so we need to plan a little more than usual.”
As in the past, the festival includes both indoor shows with tickets and free outdoor performances. Outside, there will be fewer stages and fewer spectators than in the last few years, Decary said. Indoor performances run at 30% capacity, while outdoor shows are about 10-20% of pre-pandemic capacity.
“Usually, about 1 million people attend the festival in 15 days, but we’re happy to see 200,000 people coming this year in the coming weeks,” said Decarie.
Due to the COVID-19 limit in Quebec, outdoor events are limited to a maximum of 5,000 people and should be divided into separate sections of 500 people. The maximum indoor event is 3,500 people, the spectator must sit in a section of 250 people, and each section has a separate entrance and washroom.
Due to border restrictions, which Decarie describes as a “big concern,” some performances have been filmed in New York and Los Angeles and will be streamed online.
“That’s the way we were able to reach out to international talent,” he said. “We decided to change the way we went, and we went to them.”
The face-to-face show focuses on local talent, he said.
Other Montreal festivals also say they plan to avoid border restrictions by focusing on local talent.
Festival Managing Director and Co-Founder Susanne Rousseau said in an interview on Friday that Festival International Nui Daflick features local artists and leverages past recorded performances. ..
“Especially the first night was great,” she said of the festival, which runs from July 6th to July 18th. “The artists said it was a show in front of a live audience for the first time in a year and a half.”
According to Rousseau, the festival’s outdoor components consist of two small “cabaret” stages. Instead of the main stage, there is a show of sound and light projected onto the building, including video performances from the festival’s 35-year history.
“The important thing is that festival attendees can come to see the live show. It’s big, big, big,” she said. “And to hold some online shows for people who can’t go to or travel to Montreal.”
Rousseau hopes to maintain some online components in the future, but said he is also looking forward to hosting a larger festival next year.
“I’m really happy to have a festival this year and I’m ready for next year,” she said. “It gives us the ambition to be ready to accept more people, more deeds, and a complete experience.”
Some of Montreal’s major summer festivals, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, have been postponed to September. However, Rousseau said he had never considered delaying this year’s edition of Nui Daflick.
“It’s really important to be there in the summer. There was no doubt that we were trying to do that,” she said.
Francis Bouchard, a spokesman for Turisme Montréal, a non-profit organization that promotes the city’s tourism sector, said the event has been rescheduled and the city’s summer festival season will continue until October this year. He said it was encouraging to see festivals and events postponed or canceled last year coming back this summer and fall.
“I’m relieved that it’s back,” Bouchard said. Border restrictions limit visitors, but the tourism advertising campaign is currently targeted at Canadians, he added.
Decarie Boulevard said he was optimistic about the future of the festival in Montreal, adding that people “have a desire to be there to celebrate the city’s summer.”
“We are excited,” he said. “We are back.”