Lights out PTE pulls the plug on first three shows of 2020-21; hopes to stage final two next year

Around the world, theatre seasons aren’t just being abbreviated. They’re being cancelled altogether in a bid to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic until the 2021-22 season.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/06/2020 (960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Around the world, theatre seasons aren’t just being abbreviated. They’re being cancelled altogether in a bid to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic until the 2021-22 season.

Winnipeg’s Prairie Theatre Exchange is not scrapping its season, but the company is facing the grim reality that the season announced in April can no longer go forward as planned.

So this week, artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones announced that PTE has officially cancelled the first three productions of its mainstage season: Bad Parent by Ins Choi, Both Alike in Dignity by Rick Chafe and Yvette Nolan, and Pathetic Fallacy by Anita Rochon, as well as its annual Robert Munsch-inspired family holiday show Mud Puddle, adapted by Alissa Watson.

Also gone are the smaller Leap Series shows, Nature vs. Nation by Aaron Collier and Nick Bottomley, and Broken Tailbone by Carmen Aguirre.

Thomas Morgan Jones, artistic director at Prairie Theatre Exchange, says pandemic restrictions would have allowed only 50 people to attend each showing. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

But there are rays of hope in the company’s decision to keep two previously announced shows on the schedule for 2021: The world première of Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy (March 10-28) and Outside Joke: The Improvised Musical (April 14-May 2).

PTE also announced one additional live show, a yet-untitled mainstage piece by Winnipeg musician and current affairs radio host Ismaila Alfa (May 19–June 6), in which a loving father attempts to explain the world to his two young daughters.

PTE is also branching out to the digital realm with a short play titled Katharsis, by Yvette Nolan, described as a “love letter to the theatre,” which will be streamed through PTE’s website, pte.mb.ca, on dates yet to be determined. One of the Leap plays, Nature vs. Nation — “a sonically lush and pulsing live electronic concert” — will also be livestreamed, although the dates have not been nailed down.

MTYP unveils scaled-down summer program

The Manitoba Theatre for Young People is cautiously opening its facilities for kids’ theatre classes this summer, both online and in person.

Online workshops for ages four and up will be offered as of June 23, with five-day online courses and limited capacity on-site camps both running from July 6 to Aug. 28. The online workshops include a selection of one-time offerings for ages 4-12 on Tuesday evenings in June and July. Weeklong online courses of 60 to 90 minutes per day will be available through July and August, for ages 7 to 19.

The Manitoba Theatre for Young People is cautiously opening its facilities for kids’ theatre classes this summer, both online and in person.

Online workshops for ages four and up will be offered as of June 23, with five-day online courses and limited capacity on-site camps both running from July 6 to Aug. 28. The online workshops include a selection of one-time offerings for ages 4-12 on Tuesday evenings in June and July. Weeklong online courses of 60 to 90 minutes per day will be available through July and August, for ages 7 to 19.

Limited in-person summer camps will be held on-site at MTYP’s headquarters at The Forks, Monday to Friday, for ages 9 to 19 through July and August. Camps include themes such as “Superheroes in the Spotlight” (July 6-10), “Halloween in July” (July 20-24) and “Improv Power!” (August 4-7).

“Back in March, we cancelled everything we had going, and we ended up losing our spring break camp at our spring session,” says MTYP theatre school director Kent Suss.

“We debated for a while whether we should cancel summer and we were looking around and seeing what other people were doing, and looking at the COVID curve whether it was flattening and what the government was about to release.

“The model we eventually came to was to run on-site camps within fairly strict guidelines,” Suss says. “I think the key moment was when we calculated how many people we could accommodate in our different studios with a sufficient amount of physical distancing.”

Applying that formula, the theatre realized it could fit 12 people into the rehearsal hall, Richardson Hall, while some of the smaller studios could only fit four people.

“So we said, ‘Let’s take advantage of the fact that we have a theatre and a rehearsal hall that are big enough that we could accommodate a certain number.'”

They came up with a number: eight students in each room and a couple of staffers.

“So with that model, we started to plan an on-site program,” Suss says.

Very young students who might not be able to handle the stresses of social distancing will still be able to participate in classes online, Suss says.

“We could have just shut down but the schools aren’t shutting down, the universities aren’t shutting down,” Suss says. “We don’t like that option of shutting down and not offering anything, and I guess we’re proceeding on the belief that our community wants us to do this.”

The full listing of MTYP summer programs is online here

As heartbreaking as the cancellations were, Jones remains upbeat about the company’s plan to move forward.

“It’s been a really wonderfully open and generous conversation with all the creators and the companies of those shows,” Jones says, speaking especially of Both Alike in Dignity, a world première about a couple that moves into the Wolseley neighbourhood of Winnipeg to discover the house next door is a low-income housing property for Indigenous families. Over an epic span of 17 years, the relationship between the neighbours evolves.

“Rick and Yvette’s play was going to be a very, very important play,” says Jones.

But to present the play in a socially distanced setting meant only 50 audience members would be allowed in PTE’s theatre, Jones says.

“In speaking with both Rick and Yvette, they wanted to make sure that when it could happen, it could happen in a way that was good for the play. They expressed the main theme of the play is community and it’s the neighbourhood really that is a character.”

The show also included a community feast that would have allowed audience members onstage, an impossibility in a pandemic. That too is the reason for the cancellation of the Leap series play Broken Tailbone, in which performer Carmen Aguirre gives the entire audience a Latin American dance lesson.

Kent Suss says MTYP debated cancelling summer classes, but decided the loosened restrictions would allow for a reduced-capacity session. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“The reason I was so excited to be bringing Carmen’s play was that it’s a giant dance party… it would’ve been 100 people crammed onto our stage.”

The shift in the schedule allowed Jones to add a new final show, which will be a quick response to the ongoing crisis pertaining to racial injustice. The piece is still being written by Alfa, “but we do know the framework of the story, the themes, and what he has to say,” Jones says. “It’s an important piece to be bringing to the stages as quickly as we can and I think Ismaila feels the same. The things that he really wants to speak to, community, culture, but also this time that we are living through, from his perspective as a Black man.”

The cancellations were painful, but the right thing to do, Jones says.

“All of our conversations keep coming back to safety,” he says. “We really did want to take the fall months to make sure that we have everything in place properly and will be able to welcome people back. That includes the audience, but it’s the artists as well.”

● ● ●

In an effort to keep artists working, PTE is committing to becoming a creation and training hub this fall by offering a month of workshops and classes for Winnipeg theatre artists, Jones says. “The facility will also be opened up to individual artist and group residencies to foster the development of new work.

“PTE is inviting the artists of Winnipeg to have a home at our theatre.”

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

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The Prairie Theatre Exchange box office will be closed for a while longer. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press files)
Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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