It’s been about six months since anyone has taken in a show put on by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company, but that’s about to change.
The venue will be among the first in the country to resume live performances, when it launches a one-actor play under strict new COVID-19 protocols on Thursday.
“It is a huge step towards normalcy, I have had people say to me, ‘All I need is to see a show, and I can’t wait to come and see something,'” said actor Ali Watson, who will play all 16 parts in No Child, which premieres Sept. 24.
In order to allow for more performances, the play has been double-cast, with Watson and actor Celia Aloma starring in alternating shows — each with their own stage managers and crews.
“I think its a really excellent distraction from COVID-19, especially because it’s not about COVID-19, which everything you see online and in person is about that,” Watson said.
The Arts Club and virtually all live performance venues were forced to close their doors in March, when the province issued an order against gatherings of more than 50 people.
The venue usually puts in 18 shows a year for about a quarter-million spectators, according to artistic director Ashlie Corcoran.
The pandemic forced them to cancel 25 scheduled shows, including performances well into 2021.
“It’s been a long, hard six months of being dark,” she said.
“To use our brains to start planning and building and creating instead of cancelling, it’s very much buoyed our spirits.”
Starting with No Child, which focuses on the efforts of a drama teacher in an inner-city New York school, the Arts Club is rolling out three one-actor plays.
Audience members will need to sign a declaration of health before entering. There will be no queueing up before the show, bathroom capacity will be limited, masks will be mandatory, and exiting the theatre will be controlled to ensure physical distancing.
The audience will also be capped at 50 people in a theatre that normally seats 300.
“Doing theatre for audiences of 50 will not economically sustain us, but we do feel it’s very important to be connecting, both with artists … and with the audience,” said Corcoran.
The Arts Club relies on ticket sales for about 80 per cent of its revenue, and Corcoran said it’s managed to survive so far through donations over the summer.
Darrel Dunlop, president of IATSE local 118, which represents workers in the live performance sector, said the pandemic has been devastating to his members.
With CERB ending, he’s worried about a “brain drain” of skilled workers into industries.
“A lot of the people, they’ve had to start looking for jobs in another sector,” he said.
But Dunlop is cautiously optimistic, citing creative ways productions have been finding to reopen safely under new pandemic protocols with smaller casts, crews and audiences.
“They’re actually going to be doing multiple shows in a day, and they’re actually going to be doing that with separate crews,” he said, meaning if someone becomes ill another crew can always sub in.
“Until there’s a time when you can actually put a full audience in, it will be different, the experience will be different. … We have to be patient and we have to be willing to accept the change.”