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Scrambling to honour tickets with slashed capacities, comedy tour organizer claims city ‘profiteering’ off his struggle

"I feel like I'm being taken advantage of when it's been a horrible time for artists."
Snowed-In-Comedy-Tour-Dan-Quinn
Dan Quinn says the fees the city wanted to charge the Snowed In Comedy Tour after new provincial restrictions were announced forced him to change venues.

For those trying to book live shows, pandemic restrictions have thrown more than a few barriers over the last two years.

The last place Dan Quinn was hoping to see a new one pop up was in his hometown. However, the Vancouver-based comedian and man behind the Snowed In Comedy Tour says he's had to move the show from the city-owned Vancouver Playhouse Theatre to the Vogue when more fees were being asked for after provincial restrictions were extended earlier this week.

"The city, which should be doing what it can to help artists in this time is doing the exact opposite," he says, noting stand-up comedians haven't had much opportunity to work in the last two years.

The show was booked for the Playhouse for Saturday, Jan. 22. At the time of the booking, six months ago, crowd size restrictions had been lifted, and so when tickets went on sale in October the goal was to fill the 668 seats.

However, in mid-December, as the Omicron variant arrived, new restrictions were put in place. While the restrictions were due to end before the show, Quinn began to look at backup plans. He says they'd sold around 500 tickets at that point, or more than half the venue, which is an issue when crowds are restricted to 50 per cent of capacity.

For Quinn the most straightforward course of action was to split the crowd and do two shows; an early and a late set, but Vancouver Civic Theatres policy is to charge a new fee for a second show the same night. Normally, this occurs when someone sells out a show and wants to have a second, but in this case, Quinn hadn't sold out the venue, the venue had, practically speaking, shrunk. That new fee was $2,200, which was essentially the margin Quinn was operating on.

"I don't make any more by doing two shows even though I'm working twice as much," he notes.

Part of the issue, he adds, is that the technical crew (which is minimal for a stand-up show) was already covered for 8 hours (4 p.m. to midnight) in the initial agreement so the $2,200 would just be covering front-of-house staff costs, who would be cleaning and interacting with the half-sized crowd.

"I asked them straight up, tell me what your costs are for this, and they wouldn't answer," he says.

Vancouver Is Awesome also asked and were told it's to cover staff costs.

"It is another performance call for all of the other staff including but not limited to ushers and ticket takers, cleaning staff between performances, and Level 2 Occupational First Aid Attendant," the city says in an email. "Our entire frontline staff are unionized and make a living wage adding up to approximately $2,200."

Quinn adds that he's not looking for the city to lose money, but says it seems to him that the city is "profiteering off my misfortune."

"I feel like I'm being taken advantage of when it's been a horrible time for artists," he says.

The issue of one show becoming two wasn't just an issue in Vancouver; the tour had shows scheduled for more than 25 B.C. cities and many were affected by the crowd restrictions.

"Every other venue across Canada is working with us, it's just a Vancouver thing," he explains.

In Courtenay, where the tour was earlier this week, no fee was charged and the venue called all the ticket holders (in Vancouver Quinn will have to do that). In Kelowna, it was the same, and other places, too. However, the city says there's no wiggle room.

"We cannot speak to the operations of other venues but the extra cost associated with booking a double performance at any Vancouver Civic Theatre venue is to cover staff wages for the event," the city states. "Our staffing levels remain the same regardless of capacity limits to ensure provincial health orders and guidance are followed and to ensure thorough cleaning and sanitizing procedures are followed for patron wellness and safety."

The city notes its cultural services group "would like to reaffirm our commitment to supporting arts and culture in Vancouver during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic."

"I'm from Vancouver, I live downtown; this is my home show. I have 75 friends coming to this show," Quinn says. "The only city that won't do anything to help me is the one I live in."

Looking for a new backup plan, Quinn has reached out to other venues and found the Vogue willing to help.

"I'm moving the entire thing to the Vogue," he says. "For less than half of what the city was going to charge me."

The show will now take place Sunday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.