One of the great things about hanging out in Stratford, Ont., is how many theatre artists from across Canada you’ll run into here, passing through either to see shows or participate in events. This year is no exception.
Rodrigo Beilfuss, the artistic director of Winnipeg theatre company Shakespeare In The Ruins (SIR) and a former Stratford Festival company member, landed in town on Sunday. We met for a coffee on Tuesday morning to talk about how live entertainment is surviving in the ‘Peg (where I was born and partially raised).
As it happens, SIR has just released its first digital production of the pandemic: The Winter’s Tale/Le conte d’hiver. This filmed outdoor take on Shakespeare’s late romance is available to stream until Aug. 8 from anywhere in the country – or indeed the world. (Tickets are $25.)
The bilingual project (with subtitles) was created in partnership with Théâtre Cercle Molière, which is the oldest theatre company in the country operating in French (or in English, for that matter), and has the fun idea of having the Sicilian characters in the play speak English and the Bohemian ones speak French.
I haven’t had an opportunity to watch The Winter’s Tale yet, but it’s been attracting attention even over in England as a rare film of a promenade production.
Winnipeg theatre companies have done very well with digital pivots during the pandemic, with online shows from both Prairie Theatre Exchange and Winnipeg Jewish Theatre even being picked up by the Stratfest@Home streaming service.
But the return to live, in-person theatre there is lagging behind many other parts of the country due to the belated arrival of a third wave of COVID-19 in Manitoba – and a provincial government that trailed other provinces in providing clarifying details regarding reopening.
The Winter’s Tale was at one point imagined as SIR’s return to live outdoor production in the Trappist Monastery Ruins Heritage Park in St. Norbert, Man., but it wasn’t meant to be. “We had to decide by early spring,” Beilfuss says.
Beilfuss is currently in Stratford to work on a play called The Dark Lady – which concerns Emilia Bassano, the woman who is theorized to have been the “Dark Lady” referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets.
It’s written by Jessica B. Hill, a Stratford Festival actor who has pivoted to playwrighting during the pandemic, and will have a reading in front of a live audience on Friday in Lazaridis Hall in the Tom Patterson Theatre.
The plan is for the show to have its full-length world premiere at SIR in Winnipeg in 2022.
Beilfuss is one of many artistic directors who took over theatre companies right before the pandemic hit. “I’ve never experienced a regular cycle of the company,” he says. But there is a positive side to that, he adds: “Anything is up for grabs now.”
Blackout, a new musical being presented by Musical Stage Company (MSC) in High Park in Toronto, had to cancel its Sunday performance due to caution around COVID-19.
Moments before the show was set to begin on Sunday night, the health status of someone involved with the production changed, the company said, and they no longer passed the criteria of MSC’s screening test to be backstage or with others. Sticking to its health and safety policies, the company required the person receive a negative COVID test before being able to return.
Given the person’s role, it was not possible to put the show on without them, but the good news is that the artist in question has since received a negative test – and so the outdoor run of Blackout will resume as planned this week.
The incident is notable for two reasons – it shows just how careful Musical Stage Company is about protecting the artists working for them right now, and also reveals how fragile the current return to live, in-person theatre can be.
I’ll be driving back to Toronto on Thursday to see both Blackout and Mirvish Productions’ presentation of Blindness at the Princess of Wales. Look for my reviews in the next week.
Also opening this week elsewhere: Sexy Laundry brings live theatre back to the beautiful Thousand Islands Playhouse in Ganonoque, Ont., on Thursday; the Michelle Riml comedy has already been extended to September due to popular demand.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, the Arts Club relaunch of in-person shows continues, with Beau Dixon’s Beneath Springhill: The Maurice Ruddick Story reopening that theatre company’s Granville Island Stage.
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