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Rhys Bevan-John plays Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Neptune Theatre in Halifax.Stoo Metz/Neptune Theatre

’Tis the season to livestream a holiday show.

We got into the spirit in my household with Hawksley Night in Canada at Christmastime this past weekend – and I was surprised to find that what had felt like a strange and unusual activity back in March had been normalized for me.

In fact, for the first time, I could really see myself curling up on the couch and putting a live-streamed show or concert on my television even after venues and theatres re-open, which, fingers crossed, they properly will in 2021.

Here’s some of the holiday theatre, music and magic happening online between now and the end of this terrible year (of which we will never speak again).

There’s not as much of a Christmas pantomime tradition in Canada as there is in Great Britain, but silly, interactive fractured fairy tales interspersed with pop songs are a favourite part of this time of year for me.

Ross Petty Productions is Toronto’s primary purveyor of panto. He’s producing a virtual holiday family show this year called There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays, which is written by Matt Murray and seems to be some sort of riff on the The Wizard of Oz.

The Stratford Festival’s Dan Chameroy is back as beloved comic aunt-to-all Plumbum and Sara-Jeanne Hosie is returning as the baddie-to-be-booed. Tickets are available for the pre-recorded performance to stream on either December 19 or 20, any time between the hours of 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.

This year offers an opportunity to broaden my panto-rizons, however, and finally check out Theatre Replacement’s popular East Van Panto. This year’s edition of the Vancouver tradition is called Panto Come Home! – you may be sensing a theme here – and it will involve some of the best numbers from the last seven editions, featuring singer/songwriter Veda Hille and great performers like Amanda Sum and Shawn Macdonald.

Panto Come Home! is livestreaming from Vancouver’s The Cultch, which has become like a local theatre to this Toronto-based critic during the pandemic and has led the country in taking live theatre online.

For many Canadians across the country, going to see a stage production of A Christmas Carol is an annual tradition – one that many theatre companies are keeping alive in new forms this year.

I recently spoke to the Scrooges performing in four productions livestreaming or streaming this month from Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, Theatre Calgary, Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Halifax’s Neptune Theatre.

Halifax's A Christmas Carol is one of at least four Canadian productions of the holiday classic that will be streaming this year.Stoo Metz/Neptune Theatre

But there are a plenty of other Christmas Carols across Canada to check out online or IRL this month, too – from the Rosebud Theatre in Rosebud, Alta., to Theatre Orangeville in Orangeville, Ont., to the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, Nfld.

I’d suggest it’s in the spirit of Charles Dickens’ story to support your local not-for-profit theatre company’s version over tuning into a big-budget international production – like the one starring The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge and currently livestreaming from The Old Vic in London, England.

But an international Christmas Carol that did catch my eye in terms of inventiveness is a drive-in production produced by Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Ga., that is also available to stream online. This is a “live radio play” adaptation that makes explicit reference to the current pandemic and includes interviews with local essential workers. It’s co-adapted and directed by the very talented Canadian creator Leora Morris, who has been working down in Atlanta for a number of years, but directed this show from Vancouver, where she is now based.

I assumed that border restrictions would keep Canadian artists from working in the United States right now, but Morris isn’t the only one directing virtually across the 49th parallel.

Amy Segal, a Toronto-based television producer and director, has directed Broadway performer and singer-songwriter Shoshana Bean’s Sing Your Hallelujah concert at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. It streamed live over the weekend and is now available on demand through the Stellar app.

Elsewhere on the concert front, the Shaw Festival has had a mini-company of performers singing live and in-person all fall long – outdoors at first, and later indoors at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre.

Songs for a Winter’s Night is the latest Shaw concert directed and choreographed by Kimberley Rampersad with musical direction by Paul Sportelli. If you can’t or don’t want to check it out in person in Niagara-on-the-Lake, its eight-actor ensemble is coming caroling to your house (aka livestreaming on the Shaw Festival YouTube channel) on Friday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. ET. No re-broadcasts – but note that you’ve got to watch it then and there.

A couple other free upcoming theatrical holiday concerts that have caught my eye:

  • And Soon the Year Shall Slumber, produced by Cahoots Theatre, will premiere on YouTube on Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. ET and then be available to stream all month. Some favourite Toronto-based stage performers, such as Carolyn Fe, Peter Fernandes and Jacob MacInnis, are taking part.
  • All is Bright, produced by the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, showcases songs and stories performed by Manitoba artists such as Lisa Bell, Alex Poch-Goldin and Kevin McIntyre. It premieres Saturday, but is recorded so you can watch any time before the end of the year.

Last but not least for this final theatre newsletter of a very theatre-challenged 2020, Edmonton-based magician Lucy Darling is performing a pair of interactive holiday shows on Saturday, Dec. 19, featuring “magic, puzzles, games and even cocktail recipes.” She’s one of my favourite pandemic discoveries – and this show should be a lot of fun.

Have a safe and enjoyable end of the year.

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