How COVID-19 Has Impacted 4th Line Theatre

Kim Blackwell, Managing Artistic Director of 4th Line Theatre, shares how COVID-19 has impacted their season.

It was so unfathomable to imagine on March 8th of this year that the public reading we held at the Peterborough Museum and Archives would be the last in-person art presentation that 4th Line Theatre would be doing for the foreseeable future. We ended the public reading of D’Arcy Jenish’s new work The Tilco Strike and the audience present was so excited by the excerpt public reading we had presented. Everyone dispersed and I went off on a planned family vacation early in the morning of March 10th. And of course by March 12th the entire world had been turned upside down.  Things changed radically for the entire world, in almost an instant. 

For me, the initial stress was getting my family safely home from out of country and then doing the two-week isolation period was only the beginning of a stressful realization that the theatre, where I have spent the past 26 seasons would be altered drastically for the near future.  After that initial personal stress, it was time to regroup with the administrative staff and Board of Directors of the theatre and me wondering, “Is it possible that we might not have a 2020 summer season at 4th Line.” 

Since theatre was now closed, we were doing these meetings and musings online over Zoom. We were madly learning the technology and trying to keep in touch. The immediate focus of the theatre administration and the Board of Directors was the financial health of the organizations. We all know that eventually COVID-19 will end and people will be free to move around freely and meet in groups. And we have to ensure that our arts organization was still around to welcome the people back. There was a period of grieving I had to do, as I came to terms with the possibility that the theatre would not have all or part of its summer season. After 28 seasons of producing large-scale new Canadian plays, it caused me incredible sadness to imagine that the 29th season might not happen. As I came to terms with this very real possibility, so many other ideas of how to engage with our audiences started to percolate. 

At the heart of what we do at 4th Line Theatre, is an exploration of the relationship between art and audience. It is at the core of the art practice at 4th Line. For me, the idea of missing even one season of this delicate and important interaction was too much to imagine. And so we started to devise ideas for continuing to engage with our audiences remotely. Equally as important for me is to look to our artists, most of whom are now without work and think of how to engage them as well. 

We decided to start slowly, with a series of informal artist talks online in the month of May. We have a program at 4th Line entitled the Epic Women’s Directing project, which focuses on training and giving directing opportunities to women of all levels of directing experience. The program offers women directors the chance to work in the epic milieu of our theatre with large casts of actors in the outdoor setting. For several years, I have wanted to create a podcast series, talking to women theatre leaders about their lives, careers and artistic ethos. But like so many ideas you have as a leader of a busy arts organization – there was never enough time to set-up such a podcast series. And now suddenly we have nothing but time, so the idea of finally developing the series as a weekly live online chat was borne. We also wanted to try online readings of plays as an offering for our audiences. The challenge with readings, specifically of our plays, is that there are so many characters and actors in a typical 4th Line play. It would be a real challenge to do an online reading with say 25 actors. We wanted to try something smaller and so have gone with a one-woman show as our first offering. And we are also exploring an online development workshop for a script in development. We will be putting together 12 or 13 actors for a 1/2 day reading/workshop of our new Halloween play. 

We continue to look across the globe at what other theatre companies are doing online to engage theatre audiences for ideas which might be applicable to 4th Line. Many large companies have excellent video of their plays and are making them available online. We simply have never had the financial resources to pay for excellent quality video recordings of our productions. But it is interesting to imagine capturing our plays in this manner going forward. We will also be exploring online workshops for the general public including acting, directing and playwriting – to name only three. There are many possible electronic engagement activities we will be creating over the weeks and months to come, especially if our entire 2020 season is shuttered. 

The biggest challenge with creating online content is figuring out if there is a way to monetize the content. Presently, most artist content being offered online is being offered free of charge. I am not sure that audiences are interested in paywalls for our type of artistic content. It will be important to observe how it goes for the first companies who try to get audiences to pay for access to online content. For now, at 4th Line Theatre, we wait and watch the rest of the world for best practices and we dream of a time when we can congregate again in large groups.

Kim stands in front of closed box office

 

Gone Fishing with Lake of the Woods Brewing Company

A blog post about Community Collaboration by Denise Lysak (SPARC Guest Blogger)

Where the road ends is where this adventure begins.  Here in northwestern Ontario’s Sunset Country, 14, 522 islands and more than 100,000km of shoreline create the quintessential winterscape for finding the honey hole, fishing for perch, pike, crappie, whitefish, trout, small mouth bass, lake trout, walleye and reeling in the ever, elusive musky best enjoyed with catch and release. Warm sun rays and bright, blue skies are the perfect foil to cold, weather days opening every door to exploration and discovery. 

Photo of ice fishing hut on frozen lake Photo Courtesy of Tom Thomson Photography

Collaborations are central in the creation of arts and cultural activities in rural and remote communities.  As an arts practitioner, I am no stranger how performing arts organizations and artists of all disciplines can at times exist in silos and for good reasons. There is always a project to develop, there is always funding to be sourced, and there are always reports to be filed. The very idea of making room for a “collaboration” can be daunting.  But when you do, amazing outcomes are just a few “more” steps away. This collaboration is between the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, as the hosts of the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency program and Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, a local and regional craft brewing company that acts in spirited ways to carve out new opportunities.

Image of group of people looking out of a windowPhoto Courtesy of Shawn Bailey

Out here the crisp and cool ales, lagers and stouts are brought to you by Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, a local, craft brewery named after the fabled, and very same Lake of the Woods that you find yourself walking on. Yes, it is springtime and we invite you to find your true north on this hard water heaven, before it all melts away.  Party kegs of Forgotten Lake Blueberry Ale, Sultana Gold, and Lakeside are the perfect pairing for hearty bread bowls filled with hot and smoky chili.  Crafting these cultural experiences by encouraging collegial conversations around open campfires – best enjoyed with food and drink are community builders and leaders. They have names and families. They are serious entrepreneurs, thoughtful professors, aspiring students and what they all have in common is an inspired love and passion for Lake of the Woods – connecting people to nature. 

Adding colour to the icy white canvas are people of all shapes and sizes, covered from head to toe, with pom pom toques and Sorel boots. Giving shades of grey to the art at play are black sleighs filled with the essentials: orange ice fishing bait minnow scoop, Canadian Tire 5-gallon pails, augers, HotHands hand warmers, 2-litre milk cartons filled with minnows in cold water, mittens, scarves, and parkas. 

Pack your coolers, start the snow machines, and blaze a trail across the frozen water heaven that is Lake of the Woods in winter and spring. What better place to gather than in an ice-hut, crafted with pride and passion by Faculty of Architecture students from the University of Manitoba, under the tutelage of Professors Sinclair, Bailey, and Aquino. Digging deep and doing the work propelling the vision forward with the design/ build are the leaders of tomorrow, students from ED3 / AMP (Aquino) and ED4 (Boreal). Setting the stage for this partnership were Taras Manzie and Dee Lysak, from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company carrying out the progressive social impact investing policies of a craft brewery battling for the heart and soul of beer enthusiasts everywhere. 

Group of snowmobilers on lake

The Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls has teamed up with Lake of the Woods Brewing Company to re-imagine the use of the tiny ice-huts – and, in this way the tiny structures are of benefit to artists from near and far away. The tiny shelters will serve a dual purpose and in the summertime, artists participating in the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency, hosted by the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, will use them as glamping quarters.  These tiny shelters provide accommodation for the artist-in-residency program and in this capacity, fulfill a much-needed niche market.  Since 2016, nineteen professional and practicing artists have been a part of the Bridge & Falls Creative Residency.  This multi-disciplinary program has invited, through a merit-based open call for applications, performing arts, playwrights, poets, and potters (just to name a few) to further develop their art form. 

The Bridge & Falls Creative Residency has invited three artists to participate in the summer series in 2020.  They are chosen by a jury, following an open call for applications. These same artists will use tiny studios, during the day to advance their respective portfolios, and in the evening the TINY ICE HUTS will provide shelter and sleeping quarters. As a small Township in rural and remote northwestern Ontario, and I am sure this is true for many others, there is not infinite dollars to advance every programming goal.  Collaborations can play a pivotal role in determining if a project moves from the proverbial “page to the stage”.  The Bridge & Falls Creative Residency program is stronger because of the support and in-kind sponsorship (use of the tiny ice huts as shelter studios) of the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.  

Glamping in the tiny ice huts is meant to create a symbiotic relationship with the great outdoors. This is the nexus where art and architecture meet. To learn more about the multi-disciplinary, self-guided artist-in-residency program, please visit createinsnnf.ca

Professor Aquino adds, “the structures address the small in architecture. The project responds to the practical, experiential, and social dimensions of ice fishing on the Lake of the Woods. These propositions explored the possibilities of architecture within the context and program of ice fishing, adding new values that included the following design criteria: Gathering, Lightness, Recycling, the Simple, Branding, Maintenance, and Twinship or the conversation between the two huts as both different structures but resembling in nature and aesthetic appearance – two born as one. The projects focused on the full experience of ice fishing and the wholeness of the winter including the winter light, the ice, the atmosphere, the cold, the social life and the body.” 

Collaborations, both figuratively and literally create new trails to explore.   Collaborations serve to strengthen arts and cultural programming and I hope this inspires you to forge new partnerships and to build new external alliances that help to move your project forward.  

Fish on iceIce fishing - numerous perch on ice beside hole

There is a new trail to explore and the invitation is only a click away. Follow Lake of the Woods Brewing Company as it heralds in a new era of impactful change. This little biggish brewery is proud to be Ontario’s northernmost brewery and how it creates and carves out authentic experiences in rural and remote places is commendable. So, in the spirit of cultural spaces the twin ice huts deliver on both the practical and philosophical levels. If you have never GONE FISHING on the ice, I encourage you to do so. And, if you are an artist, of any discipline, looking to further develop your art form, please consider the opportunity to join us, here in rural and remote northwestern Ontario in the summer of 2021. We can’t wait to say “hello”!

Postscript. Your next cultural experience is just a click away, to learn please visit www.lowbrewco.com

 

New Date for Symposium 2020

SPARC Symposium 2020 poster

 

Important News Regarding SPARC Symposium 2020

It is with an overabundance of caution and concern for public safety that the SPARC Steering Committee and the SPARC Symposium Host Committee have decided to reschedule the SPARC Symposium 2020 due to the ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus).

While we are disappointed, we feel that our responsibility for the safety of our communities, attendees, volunteers, presenters and staff is of paramount importance. We hope that by rescheduling to a later date will help put attendees minds at ease, and create a renewed

environment to share, explore and celebrate performing arts in rural communities.

The rescheduled date for the SPARC Symposium 2020 will be October 22 – 25, 2020 at the Gathering Place by the Grand in Six Nations, ON. We hope that you can join us. If you have any questions, please contact the SPARC Symposium Coordinator at sparc@gatheringplacebythegrand.ca.

More information about the Symposium, including presenters and registration, can be found atwww.sparcperformingarts.com.

SPARC looks forward to celebrating with you in October 2020, as we work to connect creators, presenters, producers, and animators to sustain and grow the performing arts in rural and remote communities.

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Finding the Moments You Seek, Whatever That May Be

A blog post about the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival by Denise Lysak (SPARC Guest Blogger)

“This is my one small step, this is my walk on the moon,” are lyrics from Walk on the Moon by Great Big Sea and words that bring us back to earlier days – when the world had it sights on outer space and the wonders of planets, stars and solar systems far, far away. Discovery and exploration and the nature of science helped define a generation of thinkers, engineers, astronauts and so much more. People on planet Earth, in lounges and sitting rooms everywhere, huddled together as spaceships touched down on orbiting globes and for many, those first images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and uttering the words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, are moments in time forever etched in our individual and collective memories.

Image of crowd sitting on lawn chairs

I have been lucky enough to channel that same spirited energy, drive, and zeal for discovery while curating the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival for the past seven years. I do not do this alone and it all started with a bold resolution by Mayor & Council of the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. They have been our biggest fans and strongest advocates from day one. And, I would be remiss if I did not mention by name, a few key players: Wanda Kabel, Jeff Port, Mike Salvador, Jerry O’ Leary, Bill Thompson, Phil Hudson, Bill Stunden, Scott Cottam, Maureen Hanson, Bob Irvine, and Heather Gropp. They have all been instrumental in making the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival infinitely more possible. This cast of characters all pulls in the same direction and sets the stage for the return of the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in Nestor Falls, Ontario, Canada on August 21st and August 22nd, 2020.

I also trust that this blog will highlight how the Festival is a microcosm that exists within an ecosystem that has a much larger context and higher purpose. The Moose n’ Fiddle is but one outdoor summer music festival – a small dot in rural and remote northwestern Ontario and if you google “moose and fiddle” you will find it amongst a sea of others. In that good company, we proudly rest.

Who puts this festival on its feet? Who ensures its financial health? The short answer is the Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls. But there are others. The list of stakeholders continues to grow, as does the reach and profile of this “cool little festival at the lake”. Our supporters, donors and sponsors return year after year. The Festival has a healthy ratio of earned revenues (>50%) to government grants (30%) to donors/ sponsors (20%) and this helps ensure its viability. Creative economies and cultural tourism contribute to the greater good and not just on the weekend of the Festival itself: The ripple effects can be felt days, weeks, months and even years later. Here is one shining illustration of that tenet: One of the very first musical acts that we booked at the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival was the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir. In the very beginning, they did not have merchandise to sell to a now loyal and growing fanbase. In their third appearance at the Moose n’ Fiddle, they had some branded clothing, underwear to be exact, and we have endearing pictures of adoring fans wearing them as headbands and as outerwear. In their fourth appearance, the Fu Fu Chi Chi Choir had boxes of EPs with them. It was a testament to their capacity to grow, to market, to promote, to brand…alongside of their incredible and unwavering talent. And, now here in 2020, they are part of #CBCMusic Spotlight Search. The video that is attached to their spotlight search is “Chekov’s Dog” and it is a crowd pleaser at the Moose n’ Fiddle and I am sure it will fast become even more famous now that it is on CBC. The Festival is a driving force that helps artists like the 10 that comprise the Fu Fu Chi Choir exist on a different plane.

As we get set to hum, sing and dance along with eight genre crushing acts – we honour the sometimes lonely world of the traveling musician. And, as we come back from the atmospheric highs, way beyond the clouds and touch down on terra firma – we are once again surrounded by the natural beauty and the great outdoors that is the eastern shores of Lake of the Woods. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival all happens under a canopy of towering white and red pines and along the water’s edge: a wilderness jewel where uniquely, Canadian crafters, wild life, loyal audiences, and spectacular musicians come together to stay and play awhile.

Before we hear the first notes sung by the opening act act, take a look around to see some familiar faces. The Moose n Fiddle brings and keeps the idea of crafters-of-all-sorts front and centre. The Black Oven Pizza Truck (Vermilion Bay, ON), Gropps’ Meats, and Iron & Clay from Sioux Narrows are back this year, bringing incredibly tasty wood-fired pizza, tempting street eats, and some of the best tea, coffee and sweet treats, on this side of the 49th parallel, to the back woods in Nestor Falls. And, our friends from Women’s Shelter Saakaate House (Kenora) return to share craft beer that is always, fresh, local and handcrafted from Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, with some ciders and coolers to keep everyone happy and refreshed. We will partner, once again, with Leaning Tree Arts Council as they assemble an incredible array of local and regional crafters – some new to the Festival and some old friends. With the food trucks, craft beer tent, and Artisans Village we wrap the Festival experience with the care and commitment that comes from artists who have spent years mastering their craft.

We curate the Festival with local and regional crafters of all sorts. From the potters to the felters to the pizza makers and the craft beer enthusiasts. In this way, the Festival matters to the region, to the landscape that is rural and remote northwestern Ontario. We have dedicated volunteers coming back year after year, we have artists asking to perform, we have sponsors who are willing to give back and make a difference, we have community organizations who share of their time and expertise and in return, they share in the profits and proceeds from the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. Local shops, resorts, lodges, restaurants, and taprooms  stay open longer in the all too often too short tourist season and this in turn makes them more resilient, stronger, productive and profitable.

Keeping it all real are the musicians that have traveled from near and far to create this “cool little Festival” that is a little FOLK, a little INDIE, a little JAZZ, and a whole lot of fiddlin’ fun! Hello, to Sierra Noble, Little Miss Higgins, Black River Drifters, Siouxperboat, Belle Plaine, The Mad Trappers, Sarah Jane Scouten, Fred Penner, and The Slocan Ramblers.

Group of women holding letters that spell fufuchichi

Wait, there’s more! What makes the Moose n Fiddle really stand alone in the busy Festival scene? Here you can bring your Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), your cooler and your camping trailer! You can fish off a dock in the morning, enjoy the Festival all afternoon, and as the sun sets know that at the summer’s end, you have been a part of something bigger – something that happens in this great country, from sea, to sea, to shining sea. The audiences have grown with the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival. From its very first year, the numbers have climbed upwards, in a true trajectory…from just shy of 300 in 2014 all the way to north of 1,100 in 2019. Each and every Festival-goer has their own story to tell. From the man who abandons his hunting party to sit a spell and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Moose n’ Fiddle to the family of three (four if you include Daisy, their golden retriever) who have come each and every year, never missing a beat. This same family of four now brings their whole block of friends (thirty something strong) from Winnipeg, Manitoba to camp for a week at beautiful Caliper Lake Provincial Park and take in the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival at the week’s end. Now, that is a nod to audience development.

Moose n' Fiddle Music Festival poster

Everything starts somewhere. And, the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival started out with three prodigious phone calls: the first went to Jessee Havey (at that time she was with the folk band, The Duhks), the second call went to Taras Manzie (President & CEO of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company who came on board as the first sponsor of the Festival and this little, biggish craft beer company is still with us today), and the third call went to Daniel Jordan with Red Moon Road. We have had the good luck to programme Red Moon Road (and some of their friends) for three of the seven festivals and they truly are supernovas.

Festivals are a curious thing. So many moving parts, from extraordinary stage managers and box office mavens (Kara, Brooke, Jess) to emcees (Patrick Kane and Woody Linton – are the two that move the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival from the opening act to the closing act), to supporters, sponsors, and funders, to volunteers – now numbering more than 40 strong. Not too long ago, we invited artists and audiences to come as strangers and now I am happy to say… they return and leave as friends. The Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival in 2019, was reviewed by Roots Music Canada. It was a highlight of the Festival and the dispatches by Heather Kitching (Managing Editor) can be read here. On that note, I will sign off with a call to action – to come and see for yourself – what the Moose n’ Fiddle Music Festival is all about. There is so much to explore and experience, to inspire the moment you seek. Whatever that may be. To learn more, visit moosenfiddle.ca

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