"Our industry is based on anywhere from 150-450 people gathering in a room to watch a live performance. We’ve had to find ways to fill that void with some fun." - Neptune Theatre artistic director Jeremy Webb on his internet chat show Off The Leash. Photo by Stoo Metz.

Artists around the world are finding new ways to connect and engage with audiences during this time of physical distancing. With stages dark, many are taking to the internet with everything from virtual concerts to musical theatre.

Another example comes via Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb who is doing four shows a week on the company’s Facebook page. But rather than performing or directing Shakespeare and Sondheim, Webb will be speaking with guests every Tuesday through Friday nights in Off The Leash with Jeremy Webb.

Beyond realizing Webb’s life-long dream to be a talk show host, he is using Off The Leash as an opportunity to remain in contact with Neptune’s audiences. “The idea is all the guests will have some sort of connection or even memories as an audience member at Neptune,” he says. “But the real hope is the guests I book are people you want to connect with as a viewer.”

On April 7, Webb welcomed Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Nicole Power, two of the stars of the CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience. Both have appeared on Neptune stages in the past. “Nicole was in five or six shows early on in her career, so she has real memories of Neptune and Paul was in the stage version of Kim’s Convenience when it came through here about three years ago,” he says.

On April 8, there will be a special matinee broadcast at 2:00 pm with faculty and students from the Neptune Theatre School. At 8:00 pm that same night, Webb will be joined by actors Avery Jean and Breton Lalama, who appeared this past season in Neptune productions of Peter Pan and Pleasureville.

April 9 will see a reunion of cast members Sarah English, Allister MacDonald and Wayne Burns from Neptune’s 2018 production Shakespeare in Love. The week wraps on April 10 with theatre artists Sarah Richardson, Richie Wilcox and Lara Lewis.

A complete list of upcoming guests is available on the Neptune Theatre website.

“It’s ironic that everyone talks about getting through this together while we’re all self-isolating. As theatre professionals that is the weirdest thing because we feed off other artists and our audiences on a daily basis. It is the actor’s worst nightmare.” – Jeremy Webb

While Webb is on the phone to talk about his internet chat show, it is difficult not to talk about the future for our city’s largest professional theatre company.

“Like everyone else in the world, we’re watching the news daily and keeping abreast of the situation. We’re trying to work out what we can do and when we can do it,” says Webb.

Those plans not only include what will happen in the coming months but also in the company’s ability to deliver its season closer, Billy Elliott the Musical.

“Neptune’s administration is very deep into making plans at a time when plans are very difficult to make,” he says. “The hope and desire are that Billy Elliott will find a place in a revamped lineup over the next little while and we will make sure that everyone knows what that will look like as soon as we can go public with that decision.”

But while acknowledging the blow to Neptune and so many others, Webb also puts it in perspective.

“There is no doubt that Neptune was devastated, but people are sick, dying, hurting and losing loved ones,” he says. “We’re all going through a collective traumatic experience and the need of our community for storytelling, entertainment, the ability to gather together and experience live arts and culture will prevail.”

Off The Leash with Jeremey Webb streams live on the Neptune Theatre Facebook page Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 pm. Past episodes can be viewed on-demand at neptunetheatre.com.