With the scenario reversed by COVID, the theater community in St. John’s pivots around another disrupted season by making its art more accessible
ST. JOHN’S, NL — For artists, writers and theater companies, the pandemic has been full of ups and downs.
“It makes you a bit dizzy and can be exhausting,” says Mallory Fisher of St. John’s, NL.
“Doing theater is a conversation with your community, and when there haven’t been so many plays to watch, that tends to make it harder to create.”
Fisher is the artistic director of Shakespeare by the Sea in St. John’s and also works as an actor and playwright. She’s experienced the complications firsthand, as she’s worked to constantly pivot with each wave of COVID.
It’s hard to plan, she says.
“When we are affected by these different waves, the auditions are canceled, the parts are moved”, she adds.
“Your plans change and it’s hard to stay motivated.”
Mike Hammond, an actor and comedian from St. John’s, has just postponed his upcoming solo show, Big Dumb Circus Bear.
“I was supposed to be in rehearsal now, but Omicron made that impossible. It set me back about a year,” he says.
“I was supposed to work this piece in the studio, tour it at Fringe festivals, but because of how the grant works, the tour is postponed.”
Hammond has instead turned to writing another play and is trying to stay busy and positive.
“I’m writing a play with playwright Veronica Dymond, and that’s something that kept me going. I learned to shrug my shoulders, say “it will happen when it can” and move on to the next project.
As the artistic director of Shakespeare by the Sea, Fisher’s has had to deal with a lot of adaptation over the past few years.
“In an artistic leadership role, lockdowns are difficult because grants and funding bodies want to know your company’s two- or three-year plan. They want to see that you have a vision, and that can be hard to communicate when the world of theater is changing.
“In an art direction role, lockdowns are tough because grants and funding bodies want to know your company’s two- or three-year plan.”
Shakespeare by the Sea has the advantage of being an outdoor company, but it has moved into digital media creation and presented an online adaptation of Richard III last summer.
“These waves have actually created a new form of art. Theaters are producing content online. It’s not theater and it’s not film. It’s a new type of digital media,” explains Fisher.
“Digital theater is more accessible. You can control the volume; you can pause and stretch. Hopefully, we’ll take some of those lessons we’ve learned about accessibility and incorporate them into the live theater experience.
New ways of doing theater
TODOS Productions Artistic Director Santiago Guzmán has also found himself creating new forms of accessible theater in these pandemic years. He was one of four artists from Eastern Canada commissioned to write a piece for Boca Del Lupo’s Eastern Box.
Boca Del Lupo is a multidisciplinary theater that has partnered with six different theater companies to create box sets of home plays. Each box contains four different games, with up to four characters, and each character comes with a script.
“It was such a satisfying project. These are pieces you can play around the dinner table or outside with your family or your bubble,” says Guzmán.
“They’re accessible and they’re so much fun. It’s such an amazing way to bring a theatrical experience to your home.”
Guzmán has tested many ways to bring theater home.
“I am also a filmmaker, so I understand cinema and theatre. I see the similarities, but they are separate things for me,” he says.
“In a theater, you’re having a drink and you’re surrounded by people laughing. You can’t just stick a camera in front of a theatrical performance; there has to be a vision as you pivot.”
Guzmán points out that theater kingpins need to tackle budget issues and many other potential issues.
“A theater budget does not translate into a film budget; we are not able to buy the things we need to make it beautiful. You have to deal with different unions. And then there’s the box office, I mean, how can you charge a theater ticket price, when you have access to so many shows through Netflix? »
These problems, Guzmán points out, are easy to overcome.
“You can’t just stick a camera in front of a theatrical performance; there has to be vision as you pivot.”
“All of these problems can, however, be overcome. It just takes proper planning. When we can recreate theater at home, it’s so satisfying because we’ve managed to create a quality experience for people who might find the cost of theater to be a barrier, who find it difficult to get outside.
“It also brings the world into your home,” he says.
“I’ve watched so much content for Mexico, which wasn’t available to me before. Pivoting is hard, but if done right, it’s beautiful.”