He said this is an opportunity to open up to new ways of thinking about the performing arts when things are back to normal.
“It’s also an opportunity for us in the arts to rethink the way we make our art and the reason we make our art. COVID-19 can be a portal to reimagining a whole new future for the arts. This is an incredible moment in history. Every theatre in the world is dark,” Bernbaum said.
“When the lights go back on, we have a choice. Do we go back to doing the same thing the way we’ve always done it, or do we reimagine the way that we connect with our communities, our audience members, in a way that creates stronger, more relevant and more engaged art?”
He added it’s not just about moving performances online but instead to re-imagine how theatres can be connected with their communities.
Bernbaum is a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), where he is studying how theatre companies have the potential to strengthen cities by creating connected and engaged citizens.
He’s drawing on his previous works, including the co-creation of the 2020 documentary play Reasonable Doubt, which focused on the 2018 murder trial in the death of Colten Boushie.
Over 200 interviews conducted by Bernbaum were used in the play to present dialogues about relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan.
When completed, Bernbaum hopes his research will be used by arts organizations and cities to engage communities while uncovering new ways for theatre arts to build trust among citizens and promote responsible citizenship.
“Especially in the times we’re in right now, we’re seeing that community is more important than ever. And community is all about connection,” Bernbaum said.
“Whether it’s a hyper-local community like we have with our theatre company here in Saskatoon or a national community … what we gain from connecting with other people is exponentially valuable.”
“I’m looking forward to making connections with like-minded people who care about social justice and care about a better future for all people in this country.”
Bernbaum was recently awarded the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation doctoral scholarship, which goes to outstanding students undertaking social sciences or humanities research.
“It’s inspiring for me to have my work recognized in this way because my work is all about using the theatre to strengthen cities. … It tells me that the work that we’re doing with theatre arts right here in Saskatoon can be applicable all over the country and all over the world.”
He is one of 16 Canadian students awarded the $40,000/year, three-year scholarship as well as a travel allowance of up to $20,000 annually.
“Right now, because we are in the times we are, it’s all been virtual but we will gather together. I hope sooner than later.
“This is a very challenging time for many people and a huge shout out to all the medical professionals and frontline workers that are helping us get through COVID-19.”
Bernbaum also co-founded Saskatoon’s Sum Theatre, which offers free Theatre in the Park productions each summer.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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