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Director Marie Farsi and lighting designer Jonathan Kim chat prior to the Arts Club Theatre Company's performance of I, Claudia at the BMO Theatre Centre in Vancouver on July 22, 2021.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/The Globe and Mail

There were no physical tickets or programs, no milling in the lobby. Posted on the front door of Vancouver’s BMO Theatre Centre, QR codes linked patrons and workers to online health attestations. “Face masks highly recommended” read another sign. Free disposable masks were on offer at the Plexiglas-protected desk where patrons checked in and received their seat assignments, orally. Waiting at their seats, a handwritten note: “Welcome back to the theatre! We are so happy to have you back in our audience.” It was the first public performance at The Arts Club Theatre Company in 35 weeks.

In British Columbia’s Stage Three reopening, theatres can allow 50 per cent capacity – although to date, the Arts Club has not sold all available tickets. “I’m hoping that hesitancy dissipates,” executive director Peter Cathie White said in an interview ahead of the performance. “Theatre’s safe.”

The company had opened a three-show mini-season in the fall of 2020, but as case counts rose in the third wave, provincial orders forced theatres to close. The Arts Club had to cancel more than 40 performances.

“Possibly in the fall we were swimming against the tide and now we’re swimming with the tide,” says Mr. Cathie White. “Step four is on the horizon.” Step four will allow for increased capacity.

On Thursday night, almost everyone in the audience wore a mask, and seating was distanced. When the head of guest services walked to the front of the theatre to welcome everyone, people applauded and shouted out his name.

And when the curtain rose on the first preview of Kristen Thomson’s Dora Award-winning play, I, Claudia, the audience sat back and enjoyed a night in the theatre: the laughs, the surprises, the magic. The one-person show is directed by Marie Farsi and brought magnificently to life by Lili Beaudoin.

Ninety minutes later, the audience rose as one to give a standing ovation.

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