While theatre groups around the world are pivoting to online performances during the pandemic, Halifax’s Eastern Front Theatre is giving audiences a different perspective at this year’s STAGES Theatre Festival.
Rather than attempting to adapt a theatrical production to a digital format, STAGES will offer audiences a behind-the-scenes look at many of the shows originally scheduled for this year’s Festival.
“None of the companies at this year’s STAGES had created shows they felt were suitable to go online,” says Eastern Front’s interim general manager Elsa Pihl. “Instead, we opted for a different angle with each company talking about an element of their show.”
As an example, Pihl points to the That’s Us production of Monster in which actor Taylor Olson plays twelve different characters. Rather than present the show online, Olson and director Julia Schultz will lead a discussion on how they seamlessly create each of the distinct characters.
“It is a neat way to give you the behind-the-scenes version of how they have created the play, and it takes you to a place that maybe you wouldn’t get to go normally,” says Pihl.
In Old Words / New Stakes, members of the Surplus Production Unit will take audiences through some of the set design’s secrets for its production of A Timed Speed Read of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial Transcript.
“They will go through some of the fun set design elements they have incorporated to make their show a success,” says Pihl. “Again, things you wouldn’t normally get to be part of if you are just watching the show.”
In another example, members of LizCo Creative will invite audiences into an open rehearsal of their new play, UNCONFINED.
“They will talk through the play, read some of the monologues and then have a full question and answer so people can see the process of writing a play, starring in a play, and putting on a world premiere,” says Pihl
Re-imaging things entirely for this year’s Festival is the New Pants Project, which was to present their new work How the Light Lies. In this new format, audiences will receive poems in the mail and have an opportunity to read and interact with them during the virtual session.
“It is a cool way to interact with people and send them things in the mail and then record their reading it,” says Pihl.
With all of the shows at this year’s Festival being presented free-of-charge, Pihl’s expectation is it will help build future audiences.
“Hopefully, we will create some buzz around the shows for when they do get a live performance, but also get some buzz going for theatre in general right now,” she says.
Pihl remains hopeful that many of the shows originally scheduled for this year will be part of the Festival in 2021.
“We will invite them to come back if they would like to, but there is no pressure,” she says. “It gives people the option to continue to create, and if we do end up doing the full live festival next year, we may have some plays returning or some new content as well.”
This year’s re-imagined Festival is also a proving ground for the future. “We’re hoping this year will be successful so we can continue to offer this behind-the-scenes view and live performances,” says Pihl.
The 2020 STAGES Theatre Festival will take place entirely online on Wednesdays and Friday evenings until August 21. While all performances are free to attend, registration is required. Visit easternfronttheatre.com for more information.