Stages Theatre Festival goes online for a second year

Avery Jean Brennan's dramedy is one of over a dozen shows looking for audiences at this year's Eastern Front Theatre festival of new works.

Playwright Avery Jean Brennan (left) with co-star Sansom Marchand (right) in No Country for They/Them, part of this year's Stages Theatre Festival.
Playwright Avery Jean Brennan (left) with co-star Sansom Marchand (right) in No Country for They/Them, part of this year's Stages Theatre Festival.

It is year two into the pandemic, and the second time Eastern Front Theatre (EFT) will present its Stages Theatre Festival online.

“I’m just excited that it’s happening,” says EFT’s artistic director Kat McCormack. “We had a Plan A which was for audiences, a Plan B for public filming and Plan C with everybody at home on their computer.”

I think people are now much keener and excited to adapt to online work and have acquired the skills to play around more with digital mediums. – Kat McCormack

Given the recent COVID-19 restrictions, Plan C ultimately won the day for this annual festival of new works.

“I’m just thrilled that everyone is still so excited to be a part of this and everyone is taking this as an exciting opportunity to adapt their work into something beyond the old Zoom call,” says McCormack.

Over eight days in June, this year’s Stages Theatre Festival will feature live performances. According to McCormack, though, even the small number of recorded shows will be “a little bit live.”

A case in point is the latest iteration of Peter Sarty’s Journey to the Zone, which received its premiere at the recently completed 2021 Mayworks Festival.

“I just saw a glimpse of what they’re working on yesterday, and the performers will be live lip-synching to their work,” says McCormack. “And then there’s a projection designer elsewhere who is turning them into digital beings.”

While this year’s festival marks McCormack’s first year as the artistic head of the Halifax theatre company, she participated last year as a performer and has seen a lot of growth from artists who had to adapt to the realities of performing online.

“I don’t think people were ready then as they are now,” she says. “I think people are now much keener and excited to adapt to online work and have acquired the skills to play around more with digital mediums.”

Taking place June 4-11, McCormack’s goal was not only to ensure this year’s festival actually took place but to make it widely accessible by offering tiered pricing starting at just $15.

“It’s really important to me that if people want to see theatre, they should be able to see theatre,” she says. “So, even if you only wanted to take in one show, you’re still actually getting a great deal.”

McCormack doubles down on making this year’s festival financially accessible by saying that if someone can’t afford the set prices, they can send her an email, and she will work something out. “The big thing is I want is audiences for these artists,” she says.

One of the shows vying for eyeballs this year is a reading of Avery Jean Brennan’s dramedy No Country for They/Thems.

Set at a Halloween party, No Country for They/Thems is the story of two transgender best friends. “It is an examination and exploration of their friendship, their love for one another and the differences in their experiences of erasure and hyper-visibility,” explains Brennan.

For cisgender audiences, I want them to see a demonstration of trans joy and love and get to know our experiences at a deeper level than just what is assumed is our pain and what is difficult for us in the world. – Avery Jean Brennan

Calling it first and foremost a love letter to people in the queer and transgender community they are close to, Brennan says those friendships helped to inform the characters that are in the show and how they interact. They also consciously decided to focus their narrative on specific characters after seeing a gap in how transgender and non-binary characters are typically represented.

“I wanted to create a narrative where the only characters we see are people who are non-binary assigned male at birth and have very specifically feminine or masculine expression, and how we can explore and embrace that as well,” they say.

An obvious play on the title from the Coen Brother’s 2007 film No Country for Old Men, Brennan says they don’t want to give away too much of the play’s connection to the Oscar-winning movie.

“I can’t say a lot more about that without heavy spoilers, but it also deals in the level of erasure and hyper-visibility where there is virtually no room in the world for people like us,” they say.

While careful to say they do not represent the entire transgender community, Brennan does say No Country for They/Thems is an opportunity for the community to see themselves represented in a new way and for those on the outside of that community to gain a better understanding.

“Here is a story we haven’t been able to see or to explore very publicly and I hope that they can see themselves in it,” they say.

“For cisgender audiences, I want them to see a demonstration of trans joy and love and get to know our experiences at a deeper level than just what is assumed is our pain and what is difficult for us in the world.”

The 2021 Eastern Front Theatre Stages Theatre Festival takes place online from June 4 through June 11. Visit easternfrontheatre.com for tickets and information.

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