British Columbia

Performance artists make hopeful return to B.C. festival stages

Summer 2022 has given B.C.'s performing artists a taste of the opportunities and live audience connections many so badly needed to jump-start flagging careers.

'I’m trying to take things one at a time and just cherish it as much as I can'

Joanne Tsung stands on stage holding a microphone.
Performers, including Joanne Tsung, have returned to the stage after two years of virtual performances, or none at all. (Submitted by Joanne Tsung)

Summer 2022 has given B.C.'s performing artists a taste of the opportunities and live audience connections many so badly needed to jump-start flagging careers.

According to the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, one in four arts, entertainment and recreation workers lost their jobs when events were cancelled across Canada in 2020. July and August have seen a resurgence in festivals, large-scale performances and indoor events, bringing relief to artists and audiences alike.

CBC spoke with three artists of varying disciplines to find out what the return to gatherings has meant and what has changed for them.

The pivot

Nanaimo-based DJ and electronic music producer Mat Andrew is known by his stage name — Mat, the Alien. 

For over 25 years, Andrew had built a successful career with a substantial following on the West Coast, relying primarily on live shows for his income.

A man in a toque makes a funny face
Mat Andrew, also known as Mat, the Alien, suffered a near-fatal neck injury while mountain biking in 2020. (Russell Dalby)

But in 2020, not only was Andrew's career derailed by the pandemic, he suffered a near-fatal neck injury while out mountain biking one day. 

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Andrew says that despite the challenges, nothing can dampen his love of making music.

"Doing something you love, if you have that passion for it, then you'll do it no matter what."

After returning to the stage this summer, Mat is focusing on his record label, Really Good Recordings, expanding his music repertoire, and continuing to build his brand from the studio.

A new series titled "Keeping The Dream Alive" starts today. This week we’re celebrating the music, the art and the performers who’ve returned to festival stages across B.C. this summer. Read-Mercer recipient and journalist Hollie McGowan joins us for more.

A bolder return to the stage

Joanne Tsung was a full-time Apple employee and an occasional comedian before the lockdowns of 2020. When she began performing virtually during the pandemic, Tsung found that it gave her the confidence to pursue a career in comedy with more determination. 

A woman wearing a pink boa stands in front of a pink curtain.
Joanne Tsung found virtual performances gave her the confidence to pursue a career in comedy. (Jenn Bowie)

By blending two of her favourite hobbies, Tsung discovered she could relax more while performing comedy online.

"[I was] receiving messages from people telling me, 'Oh my God, your cooking videos are so funny!' or 'Oh my gosh, like what you said about this. And now I actually want to try this recipe …That format allowed me to build on what I already knew was the funny part of me."

Now, Joanne is performing weekly as a comic and on stages again as venues have reopened their doors.

Langara Read Mercer fellow Hollie McGowan brings us another entry in our "Keeping The Dream Alive" series, with today's focus on comedian Joanne Tsung and her return to stage with a renewed purpose.

'Just cherish it'

Vancouver-based Skye Carter is thrilled to be back on stage this summer because, for a time, she was not sure when work would pick up again.

In 2019, Carter had just completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Dance and Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University. She was excited to kickstart her career when live performances suddenly came to a standstill, and so did the opportunities she was hoping for.

A woman dances on the beach.
Shion Skye Carter says she was unsure when she'd be able to get back to work. (Submitted by Shion Skye Carter)

For new artists like Carter, this summer has been the fresh start they had been waiting for. 

"To see people so engaged with festivals and arts organizations and arts events is so encouraging, to know that people are invested in the arts and curious and interested," she said.

"It's hard to predict, and I'm trying to just take things day by day and really just appreciate every moment that I have to be in a dance studio …. so I'm trying to take things one at a time and just cherish it as much as I can. I don't know exactly what the fall will bring." 

Today our special series about the return of the performing arts to B.C.’s stages continues. It’s called Keeping the Dream Alive. For artists just starting their careers in 2020, the public health shut downs were especially devastating. Producer Hollie McGowan went to this year’s Powell Street festival to speak to a local dancer about the internal journey from hopelessness back to the stage.

This story is part of a special series, Keeping the Dream Alive, featured on CBC Radio One and CBC Vancouver News about local artists' experiences as they return to stages across the Lower Mainland. 


Hollie McGowan


Hollie McGowan is the 2022 recipient of Langara College's Read-Mercer Fellowship.