Rural Arts Space: How Theatres Can Go the Distance

By Guest Blogger Rebecca Anne Bloom

 

Scrabble tiles spell Social Distancing on a brown background

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

“But there wasn’t the merest whiff about of the kind of magic that comes when the theatre darkens, the bottom of the curtain glows, the punters settle down, you take a deep breath… none of the person-to-person magic we put together with spit and glue and willpower.” ― Angela Carter, Wise Children

For many theatres in 2020, only the ghost light lit stages where previously stories had come to life. The auditoriums where cheerful and excited audiences once sat lay dormant, blanketed by darkness. Artistic teams, performers, and patrons waited with bated breath as the arts and the world were rattled by an invisible enemy. There appeared to be some home when at the start of March, the Ontario provincial government announced it was investing $25 million into the arts sector; however, many arts and culture spaces in rural or remote communities were excluded. This begs the question; how could theatres stay alive? If we ever come out of this pandemic, would there be any art spaces left?

Although there is a shroud of uncertainty, many rural arts spaces continued to unite and engage the community during a time of social distancing. Places like Theatre Orangeville, the Foster Festival and Westben switched to showcasing performances through online platforms. Artistic teams got creative, focused on ensuring the arts were kept alive and the members of their communities were nurtured with uplifting entertainment. To understand more about how members of the arts community continued to stay optimistic, I looked at the theatres in the City of Kawartha Lakes to learn how they fostered innovative ways to keep performing while ensuring patrons and artists were safe. I spoke with the Artistic Director of Globus Theatre in Bobcaygeon, Sarah Quick, and members of the Board of Directors at Lindsay Little Theatre, to see how rural theatres can still produce quality performances, regardless of social distancing protocols.

 

Winter photo of a large barn. The top of the barn is red, the bottom is cream. Into centre, just below the peak is a large sign that reads LAB. Below is a banner that reads Lakeview Arts Barn. there is snow on the ground

Photo by R. A. Bloom Creations & Photography

 

Globus Theatre @ the LAB

Situated just outside of the village of Bobcaygeon, sitting back from Pigeon Lake Road/Highway 17, is a big pink barn. Once a working cattle barn, the Lakeview Arts Barn, is a contemporary 150 seat black box theatre, with Globus Theatre as the theatre-in-residence. A professional summer theatre formed in 2003, Globus as produced over 10 world premieres and over 15 Canadian premieres. Their 17th season was set to be their largest one yet; however, it like many others was cancelled. As restrictions slowly shifted late in the summer, Artistic Director Sarah Quick and Artistic Producer James Barrett saw an opportunity to bring theatre to light once more.

“When we saw the possibility of opening for a smaller season, we immediately knew that we wanted to do something,” explained Sarah Quick. “The LAB is a versatile venue, with removable seating, 7,000 square feet of open floor space and high barn ceilings.” From a play reading series that showcased new Canadian comedies, to a live-streamed improvised soap opera, a festive comedy show to musical performances, Globus Theatre ensured that proper protocols were followed at all times. “We booked based on social circles, removed our curtains to ensure all our tables were 6 feet apart and even invested in a custom 12’x24’ vinyl curtain from Ontario Staging Ltd. to surround our stage.” Having experience with working on a budget, the artistic team knew having a season could be possible, within their parameters. What resulted was their fall Season Within Reason and a winter Sprinkling of a Season which featured dinner and socially distanced live programming for audiences of 50 patrons. This proved so popular with audiences; Globus is forging ahead with an extended summer season with limited audiences but not limited programming!

Lindsay Little Theatre

Tucked away on George St. in Lindsay is a small community theatre that has been in operation for over 50 years. At full capacity, the Lindsay Little Theatre’s (LLT) performance space seats 40 people, which proved to be a barrier for conducting shows during the pandemic. “It is almost impossible to provide quality shows with social distancing, meaning little or no revenue for community theatres but they still have their overheads,” explained Marion Bays, Director of Fundraising and Sponsorship. “To put on a production usually means royalty payments exceed what would be taken in at the door.” So, when the Board of Directors considered hosting theatre events, they knew they would have to get creative. Enter, the Pie Eyed Monk, which forged an amazing relationship with LLT. 

Finding a community partner was a key factor into re-opening for Lindsay Little Theatre. Local restaurant The Pie Eyed Monk was unable to continue catering for larger scale events like weddings. Joining forces to hold a COVID-19 safe dinner theatre experience in their second-floor event space was a win/win for both companies. What resulted was a successful 3 show run of Norm Foster one-acts, which left the audience wanting more. The theatre is excited to announce that another murder mystery dinner theatre event is currently in rehearsals. 

a script is on a table, the title of the golden coloured script is One Actmanship. A mask in a clear plastic bag and a paper sit above the script

Photo from Kathryn Woolridge-Condon from Lindsay Little Theatre

 

The Case for Rural Arts Spaces

We have seen that over the course of the year, many industries have taken a hit. For anyone wondering why the arts is so important, or why the members of performing art spaces work tirelessly to keep the doors stay open, the answer is simple: the community needs the arts. When asked why Globus Theatre chose to re-open during these unprecedented times, Sarah was quick to say: “our community looks to us to find out what to do. Not only could we answer the social needs of our patrons, but we also hired artists who had their livelihoods put on hold. It was amazing to offer work to performers who didn’t think they would be on a stage for some time.” A similar feeling was echoed from the board members of LLT. “We have loads of ways to see movies and TV shows these days, but really nothing beats the magic of a live show,” stated Logan Geryzmisch. LLT’s President Shannon Peters Bain agreed. “Our human heritage is storytelling, and where there are people there should be theatre. There are always actors and artists among a community and a need to explore society and history through dialogue.” Through the ingenuity of many passionate people, Globus Theatre and Lindsay Little Theatre were able to provide the Kawartha Lakes community and beyond what they desperately needed – hope.

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