• Andrew G. Cooper

The World is a Little Different this World Theatre Day

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

March 27th is World Theatre Day and usually this is a day that's filled with celebration but this year feels very, very different.

The times we're living in are unprecedented in my lifetime. News is coming out every day regarding the global COVID-19 pandemic and it's leaving me with whiplash. Though somehow I feel like I'm both overreacting and under-reacting to what's happening. I feel a overwhelmed but also somehow underwhelmed. Things seem so normal and yet so foreign. What does the world look like for me since the coronavirus came to Canada?

I've been working as the producer of Ghost River Theatre since January and it has been a dream job. I feel like I'm doing what I do best with a company whose aesthetic and values match my own. And just when I felt I was hitting my stride with the new company, everything changed. Everything changed very suddenly. The West Village Theatre, the venue that Ghost River Theatre operates out of and the building my office is in, shut down as of March 16,2020. Not only did this mean Mockus by George M. Johnson, the show I was working on with Jupiter Theatre, was postponed, it also meant I had nowhere to work. Since then, I've been working from home...and will be for the foreseeable future. I'm spending all day every day at home in my "cool" new home office. I'm spending a lot more time with my amazing partner (yay!), but a lot less time with the artists in my community.

I'm so, so thankful to even have employment still in these difficult and uncertain times. So many of my friends and colleagues, especially the artists, are facing so much uncertainty right now. So many people are out of work completely. Last week, all three of my dance studios shut their doors after the announcement from the provincial government that schools would be shutting down. At this point, even saying "last week" seems strange because it somehow feels like it's only been two days but at the same time it's been two months! After working on four theatre project simultaneously for months, my schedule suddenly became very open.

Like so many other theatre practitioners, I had many of my upcoming shows cancelled or delayed. And like many arts administrators, I had to make a tough call and deliver the news that we were going to postpone a show due to this crisis. It seems like the entire theatre community, both in Calgary and across the country, is hurting from this loss. We're in mourning. We're grieving. I can't think of a better word for it. This feels like grief. Grief for lost projects. Grief for lost time. Grief for lost art. It's for the audiences, it's for the artists, it's for the theatre.

It's definitely a different energy today than the typical World Theatre Day, but there's something else that I've been feeling recently that fills me with hope. It's resilience. It's the passion for the art.

People are coming up with new ways to share their art. Companies like the Met Opera are streaming daily. The National Theatre in London, UK is releasing their filmed productions while they're closed due to the pandemic. Nick Green, a playwright from Toronto, created the Social Distancing Festival, which is presenting and streaming works from all around the world. You can find Mockus from Jupiter Theatre and ONE from Ghost River Theatre as part of that festival as well. And fringe veteran Chase Padgett put together a collection of archived Canadian fringe shows because of the looming prospect of the fringe festivals closing this summer. And other artists are streaming art on Facebook Live, Instagram, and YouTube. Art is still being made and presented. New technologies are being explored. This is just the beginning. As Globe and Mail Theatre Critic J. Kelly Nestruck tweeted, "[Theatre] will make it through this pandemic too."

Theatre is about being human. The beauty, and now the curse, of theatre is that it literally and figuratively brings people together. People love theatre because it's live, because it happens between performers and audience members in the moment in the same room.

In a time of social distancing, theatre is more important than every before.

And when this is all over, I know that the community is going to come back stronger than ever before. Some theatres will have a better time than others with this. So if you have the means, please donate to your favourite theatre, wherever you are. I can guarantee you that they need the money and will greatly appreciate it right now.

This year, the message for World Theatre Day today came from Shahid Naveem, from Ajoka Theatre and Institue in Pakistan. He talked about how theatre-making, and theatre, is like a shrine. "Theatre-making can be a sacred act and the actors indeed can become the avatars of the roles they play. Theatre elevates the art of acting to a higher spiritual plane. Theatre has the potential of becoming a shrine and the shrine a performance space." This really resonated with me. I'm not a religious person, but I love how theatre brings people together and it helps us ascend out of our daily lives. It helps us to understand others. It's a beautiful thing and as much as I am grieving with the rest of the community, I'm trying to stay hopeful.

Earlier in the message, Naveem also said, "We sometimes say in jest; “bad times are a good time for theatre”. There is no dearth of challenges to be faced, contradictions to be exposed and status quo to be subverted." I have no doubt that after all of this, we will have a surge of new, creative, and transcendent works of theatre. This pandemic is going to be a critical moment in our history, and definitely in our lifetimes. I'm excited to see what happens once we bounce back from the loss we're currently facing.

So what am I doing while I'm at home? I'm writing a lot. I'm working on the musical I've been writing as well as two other scripts/projects. I'm using the extra time to take care of my body and my mental well-being. To help me stay connected with others, and to provide others with some entertainment, I also started doing something I've dubbed Manuscript Mondays. Every Monday during social distancing (we're currently at day eleven with no foreseeable end in sight) I will be reading excerpts from my plays through Facebook Live. Last Monday, I started with my first full-length play, The Untold Tales of the Brothers Grimm.The response so far has been incredibly encouraging and it's been lovely reconnecting with old friends and revisiting my old works.

So for now, I'm staying home. I'm planning ahead. I'm staying hopeful. I hope that you all are doing the same.

#ghostrivertheatre #worldtheatreday #covid19 #canadiantheatre #theuntoldtalesofthebrothersgrimm #manuscriptmondays #2020 #one #jupitertheatre #shahidnaveem #ajokatheatre #fringefestival #kellynestruck #socialdistancingfestival #nationaltheatre #metopera #chasepadgett #mockus #mocusbegeorgemjohnson


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