WILL COMMUNITY THEATRES SURVIVE THE PANDEMIC? (Edition 2)
(Photo of the Borelians' production of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Jonathan van Bilsen)
Compiled by Joe Szekeres, Principal Toronto columnist/critic for On Stage Blog and contributor to SlowCity.
As the coronavirus numbers appear on the uptick in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa along with news from The Broadway League that the Great White Way theatres are now closed until June 2021 (and who knows if that order will be extended), I've been wondering if community theatres in our GTA cities and towns will even survive if professional theatres have their doors shut until who knows when.
It also appears that many of our Canadian professional theatres will have their doors shut as well; however, the Mirvish series promises 'Blindness' will open for 100 performances mid November where 50 audience members will sit six feet apart on the Princess of Wales stage. We'll see about this since Toronto is now back in Stage 2 for 28 days.
In any event, I thought it'd be interesting to continue checking in on those who participate in the community theatre scene in the Greater Toronto area to gauge their feelings. Those who were profiled earlier this summer will not be asked this time.
This edition's question: "If we all had a crystal ball, how comfortable would you feel returning either to a community theatre to watch a performance OR to participate in one WITHOUT a safe vaccine in place?"
"Obviously the ideal situation would be for a vaccine to resolve the pandemic so that we can resume the activities we love without restrictions, but there are places in the world showing that strict adherence to things like wearing masks and regularly washing hands and disinfecting high touch areas are keeping the virus at bay far more effectively than in places with half-implemented measures and a fear of shutting things down when necessary. Knowing the discussions that have been going on behind the scenes I would feel far more comfortable returning to a theatre where rules are being enforced than to several businesses that I have stopped frequenting because they clearly aren't, even by members of the staff.
As a performer, I would say it depends. I would not participate in a production of Mamma Mia! on the Scarborough Village Stage because there is simply no way to even remotely have physical distancing of a cast that size in a space that size. Nor is the show conducive to physical distancing. But consider a show like The Last Five Years - the ultimate physical distancing show. A cast of 2 who only ever need to be on stage together briefly for one song in the middle of the show, and even then with creative staging could keep their distance from one another. (Why do I suddenly feel like this is going to be the Jason Robert Brown version of the year that community theatres finally got the rights to Les Mis?) If I was reasonably sure that the group producing the show was going to adhere to public health recommendations, then I might consider participating."
"I feel very comfortable. I see the work all the community groups are doing to plan and the fact that they are keeping safety as their top priority. Some of what's happening now is going to be our new normal, perhaps for a long time. We need to learn to work within this new reality. If groups are using common sense and enforcing government guidelines I don't see why we can't return. Obviously it would be amazing to have a vaccine to resolve the pandemic so we can go back to normal but I don't think we can hide ourselves away until that happens. I attended the first physically distanced, in person rehearsal for our upcoming streaming production of Songs For A New World. The cast had been working online with the music director and this was their first time in the same room. When they finished singing the opening song there was palpable emotion in the air. Some of us were in tears, others were laughing out loud but it was clear that everyone had needed this moment. I need theatre in my life."
"With proper precautions in place, absolutely. As a recent retiree, theatre was something for me to do. I have worker behind the scenes and on the stage. I dearly miss all the great people. As I gaze into my crystal ball, I see set builders hard at work and stage managers pulling their hair out while actors strut and ask for cues. The calendar in the green room though is sadly blurry.
[With all this said], I don’t think it should be rushed. Vaccines take time to create and test. I am confident that there will be a safe return I do look forward to a safer time everywhere, not just in theatre."
"I think until there's a vaccine that has been out long enough that it's been widely adopted, there's really no "zero risk" way to live short of never leaving your home and never having anybody over either. Anything else carries some degree of risk and it's important for each of us to assess that risk based on our particular situations (age, family members at risk, work situation, anxiety levels, etc) and only take on risks we feel are low enough to be worth taking.
The first two months of this, my weekly grocery shops almost sent me into a panic every time, just because so much was unknown and the shopping experience suddenly felt more dangerous. After those first few months (and after buying lots of masks - I have 18 now), I was able to do my shopping without stressing. Doing what I needed in order to keep safe had become second nature.
Even when a vaccine is approved, it will be a long while before enough supply is available and plus we don't know how effective the vaccine will be, whether the virus will mutate quickly enough to render the vaccines less effective, it's just so much unknown. I would be hesitant to commit to much of anything until either we have a vaccine or we find other solutions that could make theatre safe prior to a vaccine's availability (and that could be a pipe dream or something so cost-prohibitive that it would never happen)."
"It's going to take time for everyone to get comfortable in the theatres again be it actors, crew or patrons. Any who's spent time on stage knows that the two weeks leading up to any show is stressful and actors are prone to falling ill as it is. This past year will be fresh in everyone's mind's if they're even in the same room with a sick colleague, let alone be close to someone in a scene. I think we'll see a resurgence (we already are), in the one-person show. We'll also have theatres start to bring back the audiences in small batches with socially-distanced seating. The only thing that I think will help here, is time. It will come back and I bet you'll see an increase of attendance, over the next few years, at local community theatre shows."
"I believe it will just take all of us quite a bit of time to acclimatize to this new normal, whether we are venturing out to a movie theatre or a live show. While acting on stage I can vouch that the run of a show is quite tiring (and exhilarating) and those of us backstage rarely get away with not getting run down and catching a cold. Now I think all of us will be extra diligent with taking precautions for ourselves but also our cast and crew mates. This also extends to our patrons. As a community they are why we push ourselves, who we strive to entertain and who we will try to keep safe as we slowly get back to our beloved theatre."