Canadian comedy legend Colin Mochrie has been cancelled.
I don’t mean the Whose Line Is It Anyway? star has been called out in a harsh way on social media as the word has come to mean in recent years. I mean he’s literally had an upcoming online show cancelled because of Ontario’s emergency stay-at-home order.
Mochrie was among a number of well-known performers set to make guest appearances in Entrances and Exits, a livestreamed show that Toronto’s The Howland Company and Crow’s Theatre had planned to partner to present digitally in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day.
On Monday, however, the two companies sent out an e-mail announcing that the improvised comedy based on classic farces could not take place because the province’s extension of the stay-at-home order, which requires that concert venues, theatres and cinemas not open for the purpose of rehearsing or performing a recorded or broadcasted performance.
It’s hard for many in the performing arts to understand why theatres are subject to these restrictions in Ontario while the film and television industry is permitted to continue shooting with proper protocols in place.
“We’re disappointed,” writes The Howland Company’s Ruth Goodwin, co-creator of Entrances and Exits and also a film and television actor who can be seen on the Global TV series Private Eyes.
“We took COVID precautions seriously, worked hard to secure the budget and protocols in place for COVID testing and regulation-approved practices, and were operating in a similar manner to any film set I’ve worked on during the lockdowns. Our cast was prepared, our crew small and trained, and it seems a shame to deprive them, and our audiences of what would have surely been a positive experience for all involved.”
Howland and Crow’s aren’t the only performing arts companies whose online “pivots” have been destabilized by Ontario’s stay-at-home order. Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts executive director Jacoba Knaapen says that around three-quarters of the organization’s 164 professional theatre, dance and opera members have been creating digital content during the pandemic, whether pre-recorded, livestreamed or in an audio format. (Some of this work has brought Toronto-based companies international attention – such as Against the Grain’s Messiah/Complex.)
Back in October, the Ontario government also issued an order that seemingly shut down performing-arts rehearsals and recordings in parts of the province while TV and film shoots were allowed to continue. But, after an appeal by TAPA and others in the industry, those restrictions were quickly modified.
No luck this time. Knaapen again wrote to Kevin Finnerty, assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, earlier this month – but this time there has been no course correction.
It’s perhaps worth noting here that Ontario does not have a provincewide body that advocates for theatre the way TAPA does for Toronto theatre. Indeed, Theatre Ontario, the body that used to do that work, was shut down in late 2019 because of funding cuts by the current provincial government.
Perhaps if Theatre Ontario was still around, the situation in Ontario might be more like it is in Quebec – where, even after curfew, theatre artists can travel to and from rehearsals and digital performances. “Broadly speaking, theatre artists can continue to rehearse and perform provided there are no audiences,” Quebec Drama Federation’s managing director Patrick Lloyd Brennan told me Tuesday morning before hopping onto the latest industry call with the province’s Ministry of Culture and Communications.
The late dramaturge Iris Turcott, who died in 2016, was a real character – and now she’s an actual character in a play.
Matthew MacKenzie’s The Situation We Find Ourselves In Is This is a solo show about the final days that the Alberta-based playwright, who has recently experienced great success in Toronto with his plays Bears and After the Fire, spent with the often-outrageous Turcott. It’s directed by someone who knows quite a little bit about crafting compelling one-man shows, Daniel MacIvor – one of the many well-known Canadian playwrights (Judith Thompson, Brad Fraser and Tomson Highway are others) who worked with Turcott during her long career at Canadian Stage, Factory Theatre or in a freelance capacity.
I saw a promising workshop presentation of The Situation We Find Ourselves In Is This at the Theatre Centre in Toronto back in 2018 – and now MacKenzie, who is artistic director of Edmonton’s Punctuate! Theatre, is performing the latest version on Saturday as a YouTube Live Event at 5 p.m. MST. (It’s presented in partnership with reWork Productions, Cape Breton University and the Theatre Centre.)
It should be worth tuning into even if you’re not sure exactly what a “dramaturge” does – as, according to MacKenzie, Turcott “literally wrote the Merriam-Webster definition” of the word.
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