After 16 long months, live theater is back in southern Ontario.
Outdoor performances begin at the Stratford and Shaw Festivals this weekend, and later this month productions from the Musical Stage Company, Roseneath Theater and other companies will take the stage at Toronto’s High Park Amphitheater in part of Canadian Stage’s Dream in High Park series.
Meanwhile, theater organizations are taking steps toward interior seasons for fall and winter, but continue to be held back by the lack of clear provincial guidelines. “We don’t know what the government’s plans are beyond Stage 3” of the current reopening plan, said Monica Esteves, executive director of Canadian Stage. “So we’re assuming that whatever we do in the fall will have to be on a relatively small scale, because we’ve lost that window of time needed for pre-production.”
Most Toronto theaters are planning a serious restart of indoor programming in early 2022.
Mirvish Productions could reopen their hit “Come from Away” as early as November, but it all depends on what is safe and legal. “We are committed to bringing ‘Come from Away’ back as soon as we get permission to do so,” said John Karastamatis, Director of Sales and Marketing for Mirvish.
The fact that Stratford and Shaw will be able to put on multi-production seasons this summer after being almost completely shut down in 2020 is great news for the besieged Canadian performing arts industry as well as theater enthusiasts. “There’s going to be a series of very, very powerful cathartic emotional moments as we get back together,” said Tim Jennings, executive director of Shaw.
Shaw’s season, which runs until early October, features six plays and a wide range of outdoor programs, including cabarets, concerts, and even a guided hike through the grounds of the Festival Theater accompanied by music. live, poetry and dance members of the entire festival. George Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” will be performed outdoors throughout its broadcast (July 14-October 9), while the plan is to open other shows outside and move them. indoors once it is safe to do so.
Outdoor programming takes place under three specially designed awnings (open tents). The last two shows of the season, “Sherlock Holmes and the Raven’s Curse” and “Trouble in Mind” will only be presented indoors, if regulations permit.
Shaw has partnered with McMaster HealthLabs to offer weekly COVID-19 RNA testing to members of the company. The company has also created a due diligence initiative that articulates all of its health and safety measures, including the fact that the public will be asked to remain masked during performances and to respect physical distance when gathering to enter. in places.
Tickets for Shaw’s plays have been on sale since November 2020, but the organization is suspending seat allocation until performance dates end. It is currently selling its indoor performances at 25-30% of capacity, in hopes of being able to sell more seats as the province reopens.
The Shaw Company started rehearsing online in March and moved outside with 10 people or less when the province entered Stage 1. “We actually created seven different rehearsal spaces across all of our. grounds and campuses, ”Jennings said. “The locals wrote to me to say, ‘Oh, I heard the jazz musicians warming up yesterday’ or ‘I was walking my dog and saw everyone outside, and it just turned me up. moral, ”Jennings said.
The Stratford season features six plays and six musical theater cabarets, which also end in early October. The productions will be presented under two exterior canopies with the exception of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” starring Martha Henry, which will perform at the Studio Theater from August 10th. All Stratford shows will be 90 minutes or less, again with the exception of “Three Tall Women,” which will be performed in two parts. There are currently 100 seats on sale per outdoor show and 25 seats per indoor show, with the hopes that that number will increase when the province moves to Stage 3.
While many rehearsals are taking place outside, Tomson Highway’s “The Rez Sisters” company is working in a rehearsal space in the new Tom Patterson Theater. Stratford Chief Executive Officer Anita Gaffney says it is “exciting” for these artists and the entire organization to know that this long-awaited new facility is finally up and running.
Stratford is quickly testing company members twice a week and constantly updating an 80-page COVID security document to keep up with changing regulations. He also posted a pledge of care on his website. As at Shaw, Stratford will ask members of the public to wear masks during performances – this is not a current government requirement, but both organizations believe it will make theater goers and company members feel more comfortable. A plexiglass shield has been built between the stage and the audience under the glass roof of the Festival Theater, where the cabarets will be performed.
Tickets for Stratford’s 2021 season went on sale this week for members and are available to the general public on July 12.
Mirvish Productions’ first step into the performance business is’ Blindness’, a 75 minute sound installation at physical distance for up to 50 spectators, who will be seated on stage at the Princess of Wales Theater. The unusual production was originally created by Donmar Warehouse Theater in London last year and stars British actress Juliet Stevenson voicing Simon Stephens’ adaptation of José Saramago’s novel about a global pandemic in which almost everyone is losing their sight.
While the show is not a commercial endeavor on Mirvish’s part – it will cost more money to produce than it can fetch at the box office – Karastamatis said the programming felt right to him: “It seems appropriate that this is the first theatrical experience after the COVID situation has been tamed in one way or another and it is not very risky to attend. ”
Karastamatis acknowledges that the intense subject “won’t be for everyone”, but there is a “limited audience that wants to look at this, in a very theatrical way”.
Beyond “Blindness,” Mirvish hopes to bring back shows by the end of fall. Since many of the productions he presents are US tours, the fact that the border remains mostly closed is an obstacle to making definitive plans.
While keeping an eye out for other Toronto organizations such as Massey Hall and the National Ballet, which sell tickets to shows in November, Karastamis says Mirvish “wants to be a little more careful.” Selling tickets to shows that may need to be rescheduled is “risky in terms of expenses and also in terms of building public confidence,” he said.
Mirvish has announced that the long-awaited Canadian premiere of the hit play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” will premiere in May 2022 at the Ed Mirvish Theater.
Soulpepper Theater will announce its 2021-22 season in September, executive director Emma Stenning said, including “extraordinary, wonderful and curious things happening online and possibly outside” later in 2021, and a full indoor programming returning to the Distillery Young Center. Neighborhood in early 2022.
Likewise, the Tarragon and Factory theaters plan to start live in-person performances in January 2022, Tarragon is offering à la carte season tickets on sale until September 17 and plans to go on sale single tickets at fall, said the director. director Andrea Vagianos. Factory outgoing artistic director Nina Lee Aquino said the season announcement would be imminent in July; there may be events for small audiences in the fall, such as play readings.
A little more daringly, Crow’s Theater artistic director Chris Abraham says his company will be back indoors “in early fall” with a lineup announced in late summer. “Part of the strategy around this late announcement is that we wait and wait and wait and try to figure out what the conditions will be around the rally: numbers, health and safety restrictions, etc.” Abraham said.
TO Live, which operates three major venues in Toronto and North York – the Meridian Hall, the Meridian Center and the St. Lawrence Center for the Arts – is co-producing an intimate live concert by singer / songwriter Feist called “Multitudes.” which will be played in the fall at Meridian Hall in front of 150 spectators.
Like many performing arts organizations in Toronto, TO Live uses the # Lights-On venue reopening guide run by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts. TO Live also uses GBAC STAR installation accreditation, which helps organizations develop a comprehensive cleaning, disinfection and epidemic prevention system; a filtering and temperature control system for anyone entering their buildings; and upgrades to air handling systems.
For its part, Canadian Stage is extending its High Park programming, which usually ends on Labor Day, until early October and possibly later. And like every other theaters in Ontario, it is awaiting clarification from the government on what might be required, from vaccine credentials to COVID testing to building modifications. Esteves echoed many in the theater industry as he said, “We are planning a return to theatrical production in the 2021-2022 season, when that is secure.”