ESTRAGON: I can't go on like this.
VLADIMIR: That's what you think.
– Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
As I write this newsletter that’s supposed to update readers on what plays and musicals are opening this week, most theatres across the country have either shut down or been mandated to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seasons have ended early or, in the case of the summer theatres, had their openings postponed. Many rehearsals for upcoming shows are on pause at the very least.
I’m heartbroken for all the theatre creators who may have spent weeks, months or years working on art that now has an uncertain future – and even more concerned about all the art workers who will now struggle to find a way to pay their rent.
Here in Ontario, where a state of emergency has just been declared, many of the flexible jobs that stage artists hold down in between gigs (or alongside them) like catering or serving are going to be on hiatus as well.
So if you have tickets at a not-for-profit theatre for a show that has been cancelled, please consider converting the money you spend into a donation rather than asking for a refund. Many theatre companies can give you a tax receipt if you do so.
While the shows can’t go on, that doesn’t mean that theatre artists are sitting at home washing their thumbs.
Canadian playwright Nick Green is one of many who have sprung into action to imagine how performance can continue on during a pandemic.
Green, who won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his play Body Politic, quickly created what he’s called the Social Distancing Festival, online at socialdistancingfestival.com, to celebrate the artists whose live art has been cancelled/delayed/disrupted in Canada and around the world. As of yesterday, it had had more than 100,000 visits.
On Green’s site, you can watch a clip of the cast of the Edmonton Opera sing Make Our Garden Grow from their cancelled production of Candide, check out Snezana Pesic’s costume designs for Ghost River Theatre’s postponed production of One, and there is also a list of planned livestreams of theatre, dance and opera – such as the nightly free online encore presentations from New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
If you are a playgoer at home missing going to the theatre, this is a great opportunity for you to discover (if you haven’t already) the PlayME podcast, which was created by Chris Tolley and Laura Mullin of Toronto’s Expect Theatre. Since 2016, it has transformed new Canadian plays into audio dramas and, in late 2018, started a partnership with CBC Podcasts to bring them to even more listeners.
The latest episodes are an adaptation of Karen Hines’s Crawlspace, a darkly cautionary tale about how the playwright and actor lost money in Toronto real estate. I loved this show and called it “a Mike Holmes episode scripted by Franz Kafka” when I saw it at Soulpepper back in 2017.
The other plays-turned-into-podcasts this season are similarly top-notch: Emil Sher’s adaptation of Ian Brown’s memoir The Boy in the Moon (here’s my review of the show at Crow’s Theatre) and Nicolas Billon’s Butcher (here’s my review of the show at Alberta Theatre Projects). You can also dip into the PlayME archive to find works by Hannah Moscovitch, Kat Sandler, Andrea Scott, Rose Napoli, Norman Yeung and many others.
Feeling deprived of the classics? The Stratford Festival, which announced last week it will delay its 2020 season until at least May, has been at work capturing Shakespeare’s plays on film since 2014.
After the Stratford films are screened in movie theatres by Cineplex, they are broadcast on CBC in a condensed version – and the first 12 are now available for streaming on the CBC Gem app.
Three I would heartily recommend based on the full stage productions (click the titles to read my reviews): The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Chris Abraham and starring Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson; Macbeth, directed by Antoni Cimolino and starring Ian Lake; and Corionalus, directed by Robert Lepage and starring André Sills and Lucy Peacock.
I’m going to keep this newsletter going even though the stages are dark, so please feel free to send me your suggestions of how to engage with theatre, dance and opera while housebound.
And if you’re a Canadian playwright who has had a new or upcoming play cancelled but would like me to write about it, please send me the script. My email is email@example.com.
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