The pandemic is forcing the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra to go digital — but several local theatre troupes are jumping through health-care hoops to present live entertainment this fall.
Cow Patti Theatre in Lacombe, as well as Red Deer’s Central Alberta Theatre and Tree House Youth Theatre, are all planning to give audiences a safe — and live — entertainment experience.
It’s taking a massive effort for Cow Patti to relaunch Norm Foster’s Lunenburg, a Maritime comedy cut short by the COVID-19 lockdown last March.
Among the requirements: Two actors and the show’s director must spend two weeks in a “bubble” at their homes in Ontario before flying in for the show, said Cow Patti’s artistic director, AnnaMarie Lea.
Audience members will be seated at fewer, appropriately distanced, tables, and have to wear masks whenever they leave their chairs.
As well, Lea has ditched the buffet option at the Lacombe Golf and Country Club. While some food can still be brought to tables by servers, theatre-only performances will also be available.
Cow Patti is already seeing some payoff, since most weekend tickets for the Nov. 14 to Dec. 13 comedy’s run are already sold out.
“We were all set to have our best season yet (before the pandemic)… Busloads of seniors were coming from all over Alberta,” recalled Lea.
Like many performing arts companies across Canada, Cow Patti was financially shaken by the lockdown, having paid upfront for shows that were supposed to run for weeks, but only had a few performances.
This fall’s remount of Lunenburg “is a labour of love to bring Cow Patti out of debt, and to bring some joy to the general public — as well as ourselves, as artists,” said Lea.
In Red Deer, Central Alberta Theatre’s production of the Christmas favourite, Miracle on 34th Street, is slated for a Dec. 18 and 19 run in the Memorial Centre.
Up to 100 masked audience members will be allowed to attend each performance in the 700-seat theatre, said director Craig Scott — so there will be room to socially distance.
With a cast of 18, Scott admitted that it helps to have an enormous stage.
Pandemic measures have been applied to the on-stage blocking: Scott said a scene in which a little girl sits on Santa’s lap is being rehearsed with masks — which have to come off during the actual performances, causing him some consternation.
Reducing the spread of COVID-19 “is a major concern,” he admitted.
“At the first rehearsal, I told all the actors: ‘You guys are now in a cohort… If you sniffle, if you sneeze, cough, have a stomach ache, or the flu… we do not want you here.’”
So far, “everybody is super-excited and can’t wait to get started,” he added.
Admission will be by donation and advanced bookings.
Plans are also underway for a Tree House Youth Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the Red Deer College’s seasonal offering, The Nutcracker (with dates to be announced).
Tree House’s December shows are already sold out because of new limits on audience capacity in the already-small Nickle Studio.
Artistic director Albertus Koett said the 20 audience members and young actors will be masked — with on-stage face coverings reflective of the plot.
Koett hopes to videotape performances for wider viewing opportunities.
A Red Deer College spokesperson said face coverings and physical distancing will apply to audience members, as well as dancers, at The Nutcracker, which is hosted at RDC and co-ordinated through the school of continuing education.
Ballet dancers will also perform in cohorts to limit their on-stage interactions.
Given all of the COVID-19 precautions and protocols, the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra is playing it safe by setting aside live concerts for the fall and winter season. It is instead planning to present seven videotaped musical events.
Dates are still up in the air, but music director Claude Lapalme describes chamber concerts — some geared towards adults and some towards children.
Even creating digital entertainment has challenges — Lapalme said discussions with the musician’s union and the orchestra’s board are going slower because they can’t happen face to face.
He’s also searching for a visually interesting space — “so (video) viewers feel they are at a concert, not just seeing us play in some studio space.”
Protocols around horn playing, because of the expelled air, have to be met, “but we can always integrate the winds in later,” he added.
The first video should be available for viewing before Christmas — at no charge.
Lapalme said the orchestra is surviving this pandemic season on government grants, sponsorships and small fees charged to hold subscribers’ seats for a year.