At a time of year usually reserved for getting ready for annual play festivals, the theatre department at Cape Breton University had to completely change course this year to keep theatre alive and relevant for 2021.
“It’s been really interesting in a lot of ways,” said Todd Hiscock, CBU's first creative arts co-ordinator who also runs the theatre department. “It’s making us think about how to do theatre in different ways, how to offer theatre in different ways and I know all theatres are trying to do similar things. (It means) new ways of producing plays in an online format so it becomes an exciting product.
“It’s not easy and it’s stretched everybody.”
If this had been a normal year, Hiscock would be in the midst of the 50th annual Season of Plays and preparing for the Elizabeth Boardmore One Act Play Festival, the Youth Theatre Festival and the Cape Breton High School Theatre Festival. But thanks to COVID-19 and all the restrictions surrounding it, theatre at CBU this season will be pretty much limited to virtual events and special podcasts.
“We are part of a bigger institution which sets the guidelines for activity on campus,” said Hiscock. “As part of that institution, we have to follow those guidelines. So the university has decided that the university is essentially closed to the public so we aren’t able to produce any live plays at all on stage for an audience so the next option we have is to do things online.”
A new play, “Donair, The Musical,” written by Paul MacDougall, will be turned into three podcasts that people will be able to listen to online.
“We’ve been workshopping the play over the last couple of years through various organizations with the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre and through the Boardmore and trying to develop a script — so we’ve managed to do that and then we got Duncan Wells on board to write all of the music and all the songs for the show,” said Hiscock.
“They are complete and the music has been recorded. We’ve been trying to rehearse it at the university but they have been moving back and forth in terms of their restrictions there so we’ve decided to give up on the idea of presenting the play live for an audience and we’re going to be doing it as a three-part podcast. We’re going to be moving into the recording studio at CBU in the next couple of weeks and record all of the vocals for the music for all of the songs and then we’re going to record all of the dialogue and then we’re hoping in middle to late March to be able to have the show up online and presented as a three-part podcast.”
The second show, “You Are Here,” is written by playwright Daniel MacIvor who is also the university’s new artist-in-residence. Plans are to record the play as a sort of radio drama or podcast which will be offered from the middle of March into April.
As well, MacIvor’s workshop sessions will also move online although if protocols change, adjustments may be made at that time. For now, sessions will be held on Jan. 29-30 for “The Situation We Find Ourselves In Is This,” a piece on dying and dramaturgy done with Alberta playwright Matthew MacKenzie; “Toward A Solo Moment” workshop series in the development of a solo performance which will run from Feb. 15-27; "Why Am I (?) Hamlet” on March 20, which is a deep dive into Shakespeare’s most famous play that will be turned into a 20-minute film and “Listening: Bridging Indigenous and Settler Dramaturgy,” which will examine the challenges of when settler goal-based achievement narrative meets the woven stories of Indigenous land-based dramaturgy and other questions during a live-streamed conversation moderated by MacIvor.
Despite the problems caused by the pandemic, MacIvor says he’s impressed by Hiscock and the efforts he’s made to adapt to the changing times.
“Considering we’re doing theatre with no people, which is fascinating, I’m very happy with it,” said MacIvor.
Elizabeth Patterson is the culture reporter at the Cape Breton Post.