What will we choose to keep from pandemic life when we are past this fearful time?
There are some temporary coronavirus-inspired changes that have come to Stratford, Ont., since I last visited that I hope will become permanent here.
The most obvious is the civilized pleasure of drinking a bottle of wine while picnicking in the park.
Stratford’s Al Fresco program, now in its second year, allows visitors to imbibe alcohol amid the geese and swans in most public places along the Avon River. There are conditions: You must purchase your drinks from a local restaurant, and you need to have some sort of comestible to go with it.
I don’t see anything wrong with simply allowing drinking in parks, period – but this seems like a workable compromise that has made what was shot down elsewhere in Ontario (such as in Toronto) politically feasible here.
The hospitality-boosting initiative – which also includes pop-up patios outside of eateries and bars – has made Stratford feel like a more vibrant place in the evenings than it usually does, even though the Stratford Festival is currently playing to a fraction of its usual audience. I’ll be writing more about the surprising resilience of the restaurant scene here soon.
But I’m curious to hear what theatregoers would also like to see hang around from this in-between time once the pandemic is over. The regular filming and streaming of productions? The resurgence of cabaret? Wearing masks while attending a show?
I drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake over the weekend to review the first three regular-season shows to open at the Shaw Festival – and my only regret is that I was so busy writing in between performances that I was unable to explore the extra outdoor offerings happening this year.
These include performances of Bengali playwright Rabindranath Tagore’s 1913 one-act play Chitra, which is based on a story from the Mahabharata (which I’m sure would whet the appetite for Why Not’s upcoming theatrical take on the whole shebang); and a new version of the much-adapted Leo Tolstoy short story Kreutzer Sonata, complete with a string quartet.
Later this week, the baton gets passed to the Saskatoon Fringe Festival (July 29 – Aug. 7) and Calgary Fringe Festival (July 30 to Aug. 7), both of which feature a mixture of indoor and outdoor performances of shows from across the country and digital performances from around the world.
I can’t personally speak to the quality of any of the shows on offer, but I’m always in admiration of the attention-grabbing titles that you only find at a Fringe.
Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me but Banjos Saved My Life (from Vancouver company Quivering Dendrites) stood out in the Saskatoon lineup as a classically Fringe-y title, while Final Sale: No Exchanges, No Refunds (written and performed by Jessica Belbin) in Calgary seemed to perfectly capture this moment, when you never really know if a show will be able to go on or not.
Playwright Mark Crawford has a big following around Ontario, thanks to past hit comedies such as Bed and Breakfast and The New Canadian Curling Club that have somehow found wide appeal with audiences at both country theatres and city stages.
Chase the Ace is his latest, a one-man show written during the pandemic that appears to play on familiar Crawfordian themes – concerning, as it does, a “big-city radio host forced to take a job managing a small-town station.” It’s currently having its world premiere at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover, then makes its way to the Festival Players in Prince Edward County at the end of August before hitting the Blyth Festival in September. I hope to catch it somewhere along its journey.
This week: I’ll be seeing The Rez Sisters in the tent outside the Tom Patterson Theatre at the Stratford Festival. Look for my review later this week – but, as with all the Stratford shows playing to reduced capacity, best to get on the waiting list now if you hope to snag a ticket.
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