As hard as it is has been for theatre companies in provinces such as Newfoundland, Ontario and Quebec to be shut down again because of government restrictions introduced in the past few weeks, at least it has made the decision-making process on whether to go ahead with shows this month easy for artistic directors and administrators.
You only have to look to New York or London’s commercial theatre districts to see how hard it is to keep plays and musicals going during the Omicron wave without a battalion of understudies. And then there’s the matter of whether an audience will actually show up when a show does go on.
It’s not a huge surprise then to see that live, in-person offerings are disappearing by the day even in Canadian provinces where they are still allowed.
A major disappointment came on Monday when One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo, the annual avant-garde theatre festival in Calgary, cancelled its 36th edition that was set to run from Jan. 18 to Feb. 6.
Though current government regulations in Alberta would allow it, the festival’s organizers put out a statement saying they’re not proceeding but are exploring options “including the potential of rescheduling individual events or the festival as a whole.”
What exactly happened between last week – when publicists were pitching coverage of the festival to journalists – and this one to change organizers’ minds is still unclear.
Also on Monday, the comedy Nunsense, which had been set to run Jan. 14 to 30 at the Metro Theatre in Vancouver, announced at the last minute that it would be rescheduling to March. “We wanted to present this family friendly comedy at a time when theatregoers will feel more comfortable in an intimate setting like the Metro Theatre, especially with a production that involves audience interactions,” Shel Piercy, producer at Boone Dog Productions, said in a press release
This was not a huge surprise. Despite theatres being allowed to operate at 50-per-cent capacity, Vancouver’s Arts Club had already rescheduled the new comedy Made in Italy that was set to open this week to March – and lighting designer Itai Erdal’s acclaimed How to Disappear Completely was postponed at Presentation House Theatre until next season.
The Firehall Arts Centre is now one of the only spots in Vancouver where audiences can catch a live show this week: John, choreographer Helen Walkley’s acclaimed dance/theatre piece about the disappearance of her older brother, is (as of writing this newsletter) still set to go on from Jan. 12 to 15.
But theatregoers shouldn’t show up at any theatre right now without checking the website or calling the box office first.
The ray of hope that’s to be found in Canadian performing arts right now comes from the fact that companies are postponing rather than cancelling shows. Many seem to be hoping that stages will be operating in earnest again in March.
For instance, Room, Emma Donoghue’s much-anticipated adaptation of her novel of the same name with songs by Scottish songwriters Kathryn Joseph and Cora Bissett, is now planned to open at the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., on March 8. After that it is scheduled to move in April to the Princess of Wales in Toronto, part of a rejigged Mirvish Productions season that will see a production of Singin’ in the Rain replace the dearly departed Leopoldstadt.
This current round of COVID-19 cancellations may feel like déjà vu for Canadian theatregoers and theatremakers, but it’s also a case of déjà entendu. The first theatrical pivots ready to go during this Omicron wave, as in previous ones, are in the realm of audio.
– The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, an interactive adventure that became an international hit for Toronto’s Outside the March early in the pandemic, is back up and running. Tickets are available throughout January for the latest iteration of this telephone-based theatre production in which detectives try to crack a case based on your suggestions.
– PlayME, a podcast produced by Expect Theatre in collaboration with the CBC, is back for a new season of audio drama adapted from acclaimed Canadian plays. Up first in 2022 is Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor’s New Magic Valley Fun Town, a tragicomedy I raved about in its original 2019 production, writing that it was a “moving portrait of difficult, traumatized humans trying to live and love as best they can.”
Among the plays coming soon down the PlayME pipeline is Controlled Damage, Andrea Scott’s drama about Viola Desmond, the Canadian civil-rights icon honoured on the $10 bill. I had hoped to see a production of it at the Grand Theatre in February, but last week its run was rescheduled to 2022/2023. So I’ll definitely be tuning in to the audio version when it premieres.
– The Frank Theatre Company, Vancouver’s oldest professional queer theatre company, is currently running an audio adaptation of I Cannot Lie to the Stars That Made Me by playwright Catherine Hernandez, who is perhaps best known for the now-a-major-motion-picture novel Scarborough. I Cannot Lie is described as a “raw and unflinching meditation on race, class and queer partnerships” and is available to stream for free until Jan.16.
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