I watched my first live-streamed Canadian theatre production of the COVID-19 pandemic last week. Theatre Replacement, the endlessly inventive West Coast theatre company run by recent Siminovitch Prize co-winners James Long and Maiko Yamamoto, went ahead with three modified performances of a show “created by tweens and adults for tweens and adults” and broadcast it online from the Cultch in Vancouver.
It was well-suited for screens. Mine explores classic mother-son narratives (Beowulf, Bambi, The Terminator) and features Yamamoto and her preteen son, Hokuto MacDuff, acting out versions of these stories in the virtual world of the video game Minecraft. A highly unusual but ultimately quite moving show, it’s ultimately about how parents must strike a balance between our desire to protect our children and the necessity of letting them grow up.
At first, I felt mostly loneliness watching Mine’s live-stream on Facebook, in a darkened living room several time zones deeper into the night than the performers, while the three generations of family I am isolating with slept in rooms nearby. I missed having people around me; I missed the audience and the unique energy groups of humans create.
But then I saw all the comments come in during the curtain call, a flurry of hearts and clapping emojis. “Parents of 11-year olds in tears here” read one. The sense of connection that completes a theatre experience did arrive in the end.
There will be plenty of connection and caring on Wednesday during Places, Please, a 24-hour YouTube telethon to benefit the AFC, a charitable organization that helps entertainment professionals when they fall on hard times, which many are already as live gigs are cancelled and film and TV productions are put on hold.
Michael Rubinoff, a Come From Away producer who runs the Canadian Music Theatre Project at Sheridan College, is the force behind the telethon – and he will co-host with the playwright Nick Green (now known best for founding the Social Distancing Festival) and Second City performer Ashley Botting.
Places, Please kicks off on March 25 at 2 p.m. EST and will feature performances by and interviews with Canadian theatrical talent and artistic directors. Confirmed guests include Come From Away creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein, composer Britta Johnson (Life After), playwright and composer Tawiah Ben M’Carthy (Obaaberima) – and, as you would expect from a Rubinoff production, a host of the country’s best musical-theatre performers such as Louise Pitre (Piaf/Dietrich), Vanessa Sears (Caroline, or Change), Trish Lindstrom (Once, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical), Alexis Gordon (Shaw Festival and Stratford Festival) and Jeigh Madjus (who just made his Broadway debut in Moulin Rouge!).
The telethon will be live at www.youtube.com/ActorsFundofCanada and charitable donations to the AFC (which used to be called the Actors’ Fund of Canada, but went initials-only a few years back because it helps more than actors) can be made at AFChelps.ca/placesplease.
A newsletter subscriber in Montreal wrote in last week to suggest that, when I mention the AFC, I also mention Fondation des artistes, which is a similar organization that helps artists during times of precarity based in Quebec. Bonne idée.
Online offerings from theatre companies continue to explode in Canada as more and more stage artists try to figure out how to work from home. This week, I wanted to highlight Reprint Rewind from the Musical Stage Company, which will release three new 30-minute Canadian musicals inspired by The Globe and Mail archives in podcast form over the next three weeks.
Fangirl, a show about YouTube celebrity with music and lyrics by Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston and book by Nick Green, is the first to be released online. I wrote about these mini-musicals back in August – and later saw them performed in the 17th-floor event space in The Globe and Mail’s building on King St East. (Working from home now, I’m missing that view.)
Though I mentioned the free nightly Metropolitan Opera online streams in the last newsletter, I wanted to note that this week is Wagner week – which means you have an opportunity to watch the entirety of Quebec director Robert Lepage’s famously controversial production of the Ring Cycle, Tuesday through Friday. Here’s Robert Everett-Green’s original 2010 review of the first instalment, Das Rheingold.
I watched it 10 years ago as well - in the form of a livestream that was projected in Times Square. At the time, I wrote in the Guardian, “By the end of the evening, I was convinced I enjoyed Das Rheingold more in this setting than I would have as part of the audience at the official venue. In fact, it was the first time in ages that I’ve enjoyed any live performance without being annoyed by the people around me.”
I sure wouldn’t write that now.
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