When Kat McCormack took over as the artistic director for Eastern Front Theatre, the pandemic had already been raging for months, and like most artists, projects had all but dried up. It would be that lack of work that would become the impetus for McCormack to create the Halifax theatre company’s Micro Digital Creation Project.
“Like many of my brethren, I had been straight up unemployed for six months,” says McCormack. “That was very depressing, to say the least, and the number one reason I started the micro digitals project was to get as many artists working as possible, getting them paid.”
Hoping to get artists creating again, McCormack was also realistic. Recognizing changing attention spans, a tiny budget and a desire to not overload artists and audiences, McCormack decided the micro digital route was the solution.
“I thought 60 seconds was an interesting timeline that’s a little bit low stakes and allows you to take maybe some risks you wouldn’t take otherwise if you were doing a full-length play or production,” she says.
Putting the call out to artists across Atlantic Canada, McCormack received more than sixty submissions, of which she was able to offer funding to twenty projects. The selection process to narrow the field was not easy.
In search of a mix of emerging and established artists beyond just performers and writers, alongside a diversity in projects, the most important criteria would be those projects that would push the boundaries of what theatre could be.
“One of the questions I asked was how they could translate the essence of live theatre into a digital offering?” she says.
While the projects may seem small in scale at only 60 seconds each, McCormack saw a bigger picture for her organization.
“We’re the only company that has the mandate to support Atlantic Canadian artists and projects exclusively,” she explains. “So for me taking on Eastern Front was trying to figure out what do those artists want so that I can be offering it.”
Speaking directly with each applicant during the selection process, McCormack met many artists she did not know.
“I had a chance to ask them what kind of opportunities or experiences they felt they needed to expand their artistic practice,” she says. “That was eye-opening for me in terms of what people were asking for.”
From those conversations came a desire for more opportunities for collaboration between artists. It would be a big reason she encouraged the pairing of artists between provinces in what she called her Atlantic Canadian buddy system.
“I think what surprised me the most was how eager people were to work with each other,” she says. “They were really excited to work together, and a lot got together just to be sounding boards for each other.”
McCormack says those conversations with artists will also form the groundwork for future workshops, masterclasses and other initiatives offered by Eastern Front Theatre.
Several micro-projects are stepping stones for bigger things, including Drifting Amber’s Awakening, which is the beginning of a planned series. “This is a great low-stakes way for them to be paid to do that,” says McCormack.
Other examples are Kings & Queens, which blossomed into a complimentary music video, and Sara Tilley’s Lear is a smaller piece based on a full-length puppet production.
“So yes, quite a few of them are using these as first steps, and that’s really, really exciting to me,” says McCormack.
McCormack was also proud of the way each project tackled accessibility. “It was cool to see all the artists creatively integrate features like captions and described audio.”
Calling Atlantic Canadians some of the best storytellers globally, McCormack ultimately sees the Micro Digital Project as a way for audiences to see what people in our region are working on these days. And at just 60 seconds each, McCormack says if you don’t care for one, you’ve already seen it.
“Besides, I’m finding them very relatable, what with the pandemic being the overshadowing theme to all of them,” she concludes.
Eastern Front Theatre’s Micro Digital Project videos are released daily for free through May 18. Visit easternfronttheatre.com for more information.