I love circus because I am captivated by watching skilled acrobats and aerial artists taking thrilling risks – not because I want to take risks myself.
So I was disappointed when I discovered that Cirque du Soleil was not requiring audience members to wear masks at Kurios, their bigtop show currently playing in Toronto amid a sixth wave of COVID-19.
That’s out of step with the other performing-arts companies in town I’ve been covering so far this year: From the commercial behemoth Mirvish Productions to the smallest indie-theatre company, all have required not just masks, but proof of vaccination from patrons.
I went to see Kurios on the weekend with my family, nevertheless, and it had the dubious distinction of being my first live, indoor show in a majority unmasked audience since the start of 2020.
Cirque du Soleil says on its site that guests are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks – but that turned out to be meaningless in practice. None of the front-of-house staff said anything when our tickets were scanned, I didn’t see any prominent signage encouraging masking and there was no pre-show announcement about it. I doubt more than 20 per cent of the audience was wearing a mask.
Cirque’s lack of even gentle encouragement on this front is strange to me, as the charitable group Business/Arts just released its latest Arts Response Tracking Survey last week. This vital research on audience attitudes is based on responses from Canadians who had been to a cultural gathering, a gallery or a museum in the 12 months before COVID-19 hit.
According to the latest data, masks remain the top precaution Canadian culture-goers say they need to feel comfortable attending indoor performances.
The survey summary’s main take-away: “Culture goers are six times more likely to say requiring people to wear masks would make them feel more comfortable (68%) rather than less comfortable (11%) attending in-person arts or culture events.”
The health case for requiring masks in theatre (and enclosed tents!) during times of heightened transmission seems unassailable to me – but the business case does, too.
And yet, I didn’t leave Kurios despite my discomfort (unlike at least one other Toronto critic who decided to skip it). Why? Well, I had promised my son we’d go to Cirque way back in the fall – at a time when Ontario was completely shutting down the performing arts every time there was wave of COVID-19, and it seemed impossible to imagine the government not at least mandating masks during a spring wave.
I just didn’t want to disappoint him – and, for what it’s worth, the newly minted three-year-old’s review of Kurios on the way home was: “I want to stay at the circus every day and every night.” My review will be up later this week, now that I’ve got my rant out of the way.
Closing this week: The House of Bernarda Alba, playing at Buddies in Bad Times in a production directed by Soheil Parsa, ends its run on April 24.
With his 2015 production of Blood Wedding, Parsa showed a strong affinity with the works of murdered Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). His new expressionistic, black-and-white production of Lorca’s final play is nearly as impressive.
The tragedy centres on a matriarch (Beatriz Pizano), who keeps her five daughters locked up in her rural home in perpetual mourning. It captures the dangers of extended social isolation in the name of safety (very topical!) – and the cruelty of repressing female sexuality. The actors playing three sisters who all desire the same suitor (Nyiri Karakas, Liz Der and Lara Arabian) vividly channel feelings of longing and lust into heightened performances.
If you see it on a day when you’re up for inevitability and inexorability of Greek tragedy, you’ll be captivated. I saw it on a day when I felt like Lorca was kinda dragging things out – and spent the time waiting for the denouement thinking about other playwrights since who have had more complex things to say about the female condition.
Opening this week in Toronto:
– Boy Falls From the Sky, Degrassi and Broadway veteran Jake Epstein’s solo show about his life in showbiz, opens on Friday at the Royal Alex (and runs to May 29). I recently interviewed him; look for my review next week.
– Italian Mime Suicide, the latest from physical theatre company Bad New Days, is described as a “philosophical meditation on themes of mental health, dignity in failure, and the usefulness of art in troubled times.” It’s at the Theatre Centre, April 21 to May 1.
– CoMotion, a new deaf and disability arts festival at the Harbourfront Centre, opens April 20 and runs to May 1. Curated by Alex Bulmer, who co-created and starred in R+J at the Stratford Festival last summer, it features a mix of in-person and digital productions from North America, the U.K., Finland and Japan.
Elsewhere this week in person and online:
– Grow, a new musical comedy about Amish twins who get mixed up in the marijuana industry, opens at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont. Its music and lyrics are by Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal, who were being hyped (by, er, me, but others too!) as Canadian musical theatre’s next big thing before the pandemic slowed their growing career momentum. Look for my review next week.
– Bad Parent, a new comedy about parenthood by Ins Choi of Kim’s Convenience fame, was on my list of shows to look forward to in 2022. It had the first stop of its rolling world premiere, at Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, rescheduled due to COVID-19, but now is finally set to take the stage in Vancouver courtesy of Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre at the Cultch (April 21 to May 1). Look for Marsha Lederman’s review soon.
– Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange, meanwhile, is presenting Deer Woman by Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright Tara Beagan digitally this week (April 20-24), if you’re staying in for the sixth wave. Canada’s foremost mall-based theatre company announced a strong-looking 2022-2023 season last week, by the way.
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