WILL COMMUNITY THEATRES SURVIVE THE WORLD WIDE PANDEMIC?
(Jennie Archambault and Paul Love in Ajax Community Theatre's production of RUMOURS. Photo by Jan Donnelly appeared originally in slowcity.ca)
By Joe Szekeres, Columnist for Slow City and Toronto Columnist/Critic for ONSTAGE BLOG
As the corona virus numbers appear to be on the uptick in three Ontario hot spots 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.
Earlier this summer, I compiled a series 'WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH COMMUNITY THEATRE FOLKS?' and am still continuing the series 'MOVING FORWARD': A CONVERSATION' with professional artists. The idea behind both of these profile series was to check in on those who see theatre as an enjoyable part of their lives outside of their career and job AND those who are paid to work in the industry and how this pandemic has influenced their lives.
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.
For each column, I will ask one question and have members of various GTA community theatre groups respond to the question. Another goal behind this series is to invite dialogue so please feel free to respond to any comments made by those questioned.
QUESTION: "It looks as if any form of live entertainment in the media of theatre may not return possibly until 2022 (if a safe vaccine is in place for actors and audience members)." Is this a fair assessment in your opinion?
"I don't think it is a fair assessment. We're seeing a lot of new and interesting projects coming from some big professional companies that although not traditional theatre are still a version of it. Things like Mirvish's 'Blindness' or CanStage's 'Dance in High Park' series. There have also been a handful of smaller productions around the city by indie companies.
At Scarborough Music Theatre we are looking at smaller cast shows of 2-4 people. Normally we wouldn't even consider a show that small but we're looking at this as an opportunity to try something new and to keep our community engaged. In this case some pieces that would allow us maximum distance from the audience as well as being able to distance on and backstage. Certainly it won't be a revenue generating proposition but there are a lot of people out there who are desperate for a return to theatre on and off stage and if we can figure out how to do that safely for all involved (and we are working on it) then we will. Most certainly a challenge but not one that can't be conquered."
"That would be a hard statement to disagree with, especially now with COVID cases on the rise again. I know so many of us are itching to get back to theatre again; when the pandemic first started, we were less than a month from opening for "Kiss The Moon, Kiss The Sun" at Whitby Courthouse Theatre and then the show was bumped til Nov 2020 and now tentatively to April 2021. I've still been going over my lines every couple weeks just to not have to re-learn them from scratch and I'm trying to keep optimistic about April though it would only make sense to do if it can be done in a way that is safe for everyone involved in the production (cast and crew) as well as for the audience.
Besides BEING safe, it also has to FEEL safe to the average theatregoer. In recent months, restaurants and bars have re-opened and I've gone to some the odd time to meet with a friend and while the few places I've been to have had good safety protocols, the places have been fairly empty: not just because of distanced tables but because even with tables spread out, those few tables have not even been close to being filled. So many people are still scared and I can't blame anyone for that: we still have so much to learn about how bad COVID is and the long-term damage it's capable of."
"I think it's fair to say that live entertainment in the form of *traditional* theatre as we think of it may not return until there's a safe vaccine in place, but I also think that we will have an opportunity to see things in forms that we may not have thought of before. Mirvish recently announced the physically distanced sound installation 'Blindness'. 'Canada's Drag Race' is doing their Drive In tour.
For Scarborough Music Theatre plans include, when they are able to, programming smaller cast shows of 2-4 people that might not normally be considered for part of a season because conventional wisdom suggests that larger casts sell more tickets and more tickets means a higher likelihood of breaking even. But these are not conventional times and even when a vaccine is in place it will take some time for things to return to something more like conventional. Certainly the intimacy of community theatre spaces create challenges beyond what large professional houses may have because it will be easier to have a viable physically distanced audience in the 1,200 seat Royal Alex than the 250 seat Scarborough Village Theatre, but I don't think that these are challenges that can not be overcome."
"I think that it is a fair assessment. As much as “the play's the thing", survival is paramount. If Broadway can remain closed, certainly community theatre can. Unless people are healthy and safe, it would be folly to open the doors. I think that there are too many sides to the vaccine issue to discuss in this forum. Polio was eradicated a proper vaccine so hopefully this will be the case here as well. “All the worlds a stage”, but nothing without actors and an audience to paraphrase."
"That's fair enough...in a nutshell anything before the end of 2021 is really optimistic. For example, I think Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera are trying to be optimistic though I think for planning purposes it's probably better to be more realistic. That said, I would guess things will not be normal for a couple of years. There will be people who will not come back. Some change has been permanent."
theatre may not return until possibly 2022 (with a safe vaccine in place) Is this a fair assessment in your opinion?