The drive to put on live performances is alive thanks to some inspired ingenuity and teamwork.
Alberta Dance Academy has teamed up with DB Visuals and AVHD Visual Solutions to put on a series of Drive-In Dance Recitals next month at the High River Sunset Drive-In, subject to AHS restrictions being lessened over the next few weeks.
“That was our hope was to give these kids an end game, something to look forward to because so much keeps getting stripped away from them,” said Erica Hendry, director of the academy. “The families are very excited, there’s lots of worry and apprehension because we’re going to be dealing with Mother Nature and we know how she rolls.
“But I think considering everything these kids have been through and these families, it’s just this bright spot that we hope isn’t going to be taken away from us. I think it’s such an excellent idea.”
The concept quickly shifted from a one-time performance for Alberta Dance Academy to one in which the group could collectively host other dance studios at the drive-in.
“LED screens are pricey, but that’s a thing we need, I can’t run my show for little kids and their parents at 10:30 at night,” Hendry said. “When I got the lovely quote in from the gentlemen, I thought how do we make this work? So instead of going smaller I thought maybe we should do two weekends and try and sell to more people to help cover the costs.
“Including my studio, we’ve got nine studios booked and we even have a dance competition tentatively booked during one of the weekdays. We’re all just hanging in the balance waiting on these restrictions because while drive-ins are permitted, the performance piece is hanging in the balance.”
Hendry’s group, which includes 80 dancers, has been held to just one performance over the season in Innisfail, with only about a dozen able to participate.
“We’re constantly looking at the Alberta Health guidelines and what can and can’t be done,” she said. “Every update that comes out we’re fine-tuning our plan and I just hope they let us do this,” she said.
Current restrictions do not allow for children’s performance groups, though going back one month ago groups of 10 or less were permitted outdoors.
From June 18-27, nine studios have signed up to perform including Okotoks-based Possak Hampshire Academy of Dance, High River’s Dance Tech Inc., Cochrane’s Eurythmics Dance Studio as well as Evolutions Dance Academy, Compass Performance Studios, Soul to Sole Dance Company, Boundless Dance Studio and Fox Dance Company out of Calgary.
“I knew my needs as a studio owner and my desire to get these kids this opportunity to finally get back on a stage, many of them have not performed for two years,” she said. “Plus the option to have parents be able to view them, that’s also not a thing, everything is streamed or they don’t get to see it at all.
“I just started contacting studios that I knew, everybody in Okotoks I got in touch with and all the studios I know in Calgary and some of the Facebook groups online, some of the dance associations that I’m a part of, just started spreading the word that way.”
The relationship between the academy and DB Visuals was forged last year when the studio was looking to set up Zoom classes during the first wave of the pandemic and Hendry came upon Bowie’s business through an article in the Western Wheel last summer.
David Williams, the owner of AVHD Visual Solutions, and Bowie set up the academy’s online programming over Zoom and over the season the talks developed into different ideas.
“We got talking about performance ideas and I thought maybe we should just do this outside, I just don’t see an indoor event going or being able to have enough of an audience inside to pay for the venue,” Hendry said. “I thought ‘maybe we’ll do it on a football field and we rent this and rent that’ and Dan said ‘but Erica, there’s a drive-in down the road in High River.’
“I thought this is amazing, what a great idea and we just started putting some stuff together.”
Bowie is no stranger to the drive-in format having helped with Town of Okotoks drive-in summer events, the Foothills Country Hospice Rally in 2020, along with a background in sports events such as the Calgary Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon races as well as running events.
Bowie, a veteran of the audio-video industry for 22 years, has been working with the Sunset Drive-In and its owners Wes Shaw, Roger Hamel and Jeff Langford since last summer.
“We helped them out when the hospice did their event there last year,” he said. “They needed some help with additional audio-visual type cameras and PowerPoint support so I’ve been kind of there technical advisor on things.
“I then approached them early this year saying I think we can do more than just movies and they said ‘yeah, we’ve got you Dan. What are you thinking?’ And I said I was thinking of doing a big LED screen in front of your screen so we can do it during the day.’”
The daytime hours can be a challenge as Bowie stated “you can’t compete with the sun with a projector, no matter how bright it is.” Bowie then partnered with another group on LED screens and in partnership with Williams put together video packaging, allowing for the recitals to be livestreamed.
“The people that can’t make it to the drive-in, whatever gets broadcast onto the LED screen will go onto a video stream,” he said. “And that’s only been made possible with a partnership with a local company here in Okotoks, NetWisper … We’ve been finding those cool stories and connections with people. For example, Amber (Wigg) who runs the Okotoks Cinemas, she asked ‘what can I do to help with food and concessions?’
“It’s been really great to find people that are here in the Okotoks and High River area saying we want to help.”
For more information go to albertadanceacademy.com/drive-in-event