File photo by ADVOCATE staff                                Prime Stock Theatre is hoping to stage a Bard on Bower adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing in August on the Bower Ponds stage. This photo shows a past production of Romeo and Juliet.

File photo by ADVOCATE staff Prime Stock Theatre is hoping to stage a Bard on Bower adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing in August on the Bower Ponds stage. This photo shows a past production of Romeo and Juliet.

Red Deer theatre groups must reimagine, reinvent themselves to survive during a pandemic

Bard on Bower hopes to return to the outdoor stage in mid-August

The Merry Wives of Wetaskiwin could entertain crowds at Bower Ponds in August — if Bard on Bower manages to relaunch in the era of COVID-19.

Even in a pandemic, “art happens,” says Thomas Usher, artistic director of Bard on Bower’s Prime Stock Theatre. It’s just harder to get it before live audiences.

Like many theatre directors, Usher is looking at postponing and re-imagining his planned season. To maintain safety for his cast, crew and audience members, Usher is pushing back his outdoor Shakespearean productions by a month to run from Aug. 20 to Sept. 7.

By then, he’s hoping public washrooms in Bower Ponds will be reopened, and a few more rules can be loosened up regarding public gatherings.

As with all spectator events, theatre groups are suffering from audience size limitations, physical distancing requirements — and even stipulations against singing, which medical experts believe can expel droplets.

Usher said it has to be a wait-and-see game for now.

But he hopes to audition for Bard on Bower productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor (Wetaskiwin) and Much Ado About Nothing next month.

Rehearsals could then start for the two main Bower Ponds productions, as well as smaller “Bard-in-the-Box” shows to run in community parks.

Will COVID-19 creep into the adapted Shakespearean scripts?

“I don’t see how you could work around it!” said Usher, with a chuckle.

After all, the actors will be standing at least six feet apart on stage, according to provincial guidelines.

Other local theatre troupes are also trying to work out how to reopen this fall.

Central Alberta Theatre is following recommendations of Theatre Alberta — which means looking to offer individual plays as the pandemic allows, instead of planning a whole season, said the CAT’s president, Craig Scott.

Dinner theatres fall under the same provincial rules as restaurants, and seating at 50 per cent capacity just wouldn’t be profitable, said Scott.

CAT can use savings to pay for Memorial Centre expenses this fall, if the large theatre doesn’t get enough rental business. But by January, the community theatre group wants to stage its first new play — and Scott even hopes it can happen before Christmas.

The big consideration is where to hold it.

The Nickle Studio is too small for physical distancing, while the Memorial Centre has cloth seats, which Scott said are cumbersome to have to spray down with disinfectant between shows.

He’s discussing using Festival Hall, next to the Memorial Centre, which has vinyl seating. CAT would need to bring in stage lights, but that, at least, is doable, said Scott.

Red Deer Players are hoping to finally open The Diary of Anne Frank in November at the Scott Block.

The play’s planned May run had to be cancelled. And whenever the Red Deer Public Library reopens its doors, the players also intend to launch two Breaking Cover play readings in the Snell Auditorium that were also cancelled this spring.

The group’s chair, Randall Trites, said the timing for Anne Frank will depend on the virus situation and the cast’s availability.

Tree House Youth Theatre will soon begin taking limited registrations for the fall. Youth will either rehearse a play, or a film, depending on what’s more feasible under provincial regulations, said the group’s artistic director, Albertus Koett.

The movie can be made at more of a distance, using Zoom and home video recording. Koett said it could be shown on the Tree House website, with viewers asked to make a donation, instead of paying for a ticket.

Right now, nothing can be set in stone, Koett added.

“I’m also thinking of a Plan C and a Plan D, just in case was have to instantly make adjustments…”

While Bull Skit Comedy organizers could not be reached on Tuesday, Ignition Theatre confirmed that it hopes to launch its planned production of The Drowning Girls in the spring of 2021. The play had to be cancelled this spring.

“With COVID-19 still a fluid situation, so too are our plans for the 2020-21 season,” said artistic director Matt Grue, who also hopes to resume a film shoot that had been planned for May.

But he noted there’s one important thing to consider: How comfortable will people be returning to theatres?

Grue believes theatre groups must gauge whether they will still have audiences before before investing in new productions.

“Further postponements and cancellations would cause irreparable financial consequences that we’d be unlikely to survive.”

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