Have you seen the public-service announcement by many of Stratford Festival’s classically trained actors thanking front-line-workers – while demonstrating the perils of, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau so memorably put it, “speaking moistly” without a mask?
In this amusing short shot by actors in their respective isolations, Stratford company members such as Laura Condlln, Jessica B. Hill, Amelia Sargisson and Amaka Umeh put protective equipment on their video cameras, don raincoats and lay down drip cloths before launching into a spit-filled plea for Canadians to stay home.
“Our Prime Minister has warned of the dangers posed by speaking moistly – and our line of work requires some of the moistest speaking of all,” they say, speaking this speech so trippingly on the tongue that their surroundings quickly get soaked.
Maev Beaty, André Morin, Jani Lauzon, Qasim Khan, Danny Ghantous, Ron Kennell and André Sills are some of the serious thespians who drool and slaver their way through the video, which has amassed more than 10,000 views.
But as silly as the video is, there is some truth to it: Classical actors are known for speaking well and moistly.
A quick review of my old Stratford Festival reviews turned up many examples of performers giving memorable performances by knowing how to say it and spray it.
Ian Lake, an actor who later went on to play Macbeth at Stratford, first came to my attention in a 2008 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost playing a Berowne who, I wrote, “produces prodigious amounts of spittle.”
In a 2011 production of Richard III, meanwhile, I praised Bethany Jillard’s Lady Anne – a young company star for several seasons – for having “supreme command of her saliva."
Playing the title character in Oedipus Rex, the actor Gord Rand “spits out the word like a mouthful of tacks,” I raved in my four-star review in 2015.
And just last summer, in a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, I praised Gordon S. Miller’s swashbuckling performance as Dr. Caius above all the rest, writing: "If he doesn’t tone down his spit-takes, Stratford will need to set up a splash zone in the front rows for each time he shouts his catchphrase, ‘By gar!’”
I look forward to all these moist speakers returning to the stage in Stratford, Ont., as soon as it is safe to do so.
Last month, I wrote about how the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., was forging its own path during the pandemic, continuing to pay its theatre artists to April 13 even as the season opening date was pushed back further and further.
Well, believe it or not, the Shaw is still paying its artists even now – and executive director Tim Jennings sent out an update last week saying everyone on payroll would be paid “through to April 26th and hopefully beyond.”
“We are exploring every possible new program and idea that can enable us to support our company members as long as possible,” he wrote. “During this time we are continuing to rehearse while developing some online content to keep our audiences entertained while they practise physical distancing."
On April 22, we’ll get a first taste of some of what the Shaw Festival performers have been up to in isolation on the festival’s YouTube page. Actor Kyle Golemba will host an online cabaret called That’s Shawbiz! featuring the company starting at 8 p.m. EDT, an event described as “a fabulous evening of song, maybe dance, laughter and camaraderie." Best of all, you can watch and know you are being entertained by performers still earning a living to entertain.
The most promising theatrical event in this week’s National Arts Centre’s online #CanadaPerforms line-up is a livestreamed performance of Siminovitch-winning, Nova Scotia-born playwright Daniel MacIvor’s 1991 play House.
MacIvor last performed the solo show in 2007 (a “triumph” according to The Globe and Mail’s Michael Posner). This version is presented by the Astor Theatre in Liverpool, N.S., and stars its artistic director Jonathon Patterson, who has performed at festivals such as Just For Laughs and at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City.
Nova Scotia is, of course, in all of our thoughts right now in the wake of this weekend’s horrible events. A good way to check in on the artistic community there is to tune in to Off the Leash with Jeremy Webb, a Facebook talk show hosted by the artistic director of the Neptune Theatre in Halifax from Tuesday to Friday each week.
On Thursday night, Webb will host a Come From Away special with one of the hit Canadian musical’s producers, Michael Rubinoff, and two of the stars of its Broadway and Toronto productions, Astrid van Wieren and George Masswohl.
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