Laura and Samara spend their days as non-profit unicorns and fill every spare minute exploring the world of musical theatre as BFFs (that’s Broadway Friends Forever). Follow @bffs613 on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
If you’re like us, you’ve been bummed, but not surprised, at all of the event postponements and cancellations in the last few weeks. As we try to #plankthecurve, we still couldn’t help but be saddened when we heard that one of the things we were most looking forward to this summer was also added to the list of postponements—A Company of Fools’ Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park tour of The Tempest.
Normally, they tour a show around dozens of local and rural parks throughout the capital and Eastern Ontario, bringing Shakespeare to local communities, as they did with last summer’s tour of Romeo + Juliet. The tour normally lasts seven weeks, from June through August, and reaches more than 9,000 patrons every year—nearly half of whom report that they are only able to see theatre once a year. They also partner with more than 20 community associations across Eastern Ontario, who plan free community events surrounding the production.
While they will do their best to bring the show back when they can, they couldn’t pass up an opportunity to celebrate William Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23—even if it is virtually—with a little teaser of the show. A Company of Fools has teamed up with the Ottawa Public Library to bring their cast together online for a live reading of Act 1 of The Tempest, directed and adapted by Ray Hogg.
We spoke with Nick Leno, Artistic Director for A Company of Fools, about the change in plans and what to expect.
Apt613: Tell us a bit about your decision to cancel your 2020 Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park tour of The Tempest?
Nick Leno: Unfortunately it was becoming very apparent that we were unable to provide a safe experience for our staff and patrons due to the spread of COVID-19, so we’ve postponed for now. We are hoping to execute a two-week tour in early September 2020, if things get better. People have been incredibly supportive and understanding since we announced it earlier in the month.
How else do you think COVID-19 has impacted Ottawa’s local art scene?
It’s unfortunate that this had to happen at all, but I think in the summer especially is when in Ottawa a lot of our local artists—across all disciplines—really see a plethora of employment and presentation opportunities. Ottawa is a town that loves its summer festivals, so this season is going to have a big impact on our artists, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s going to be a hard time for a lot of them. But theatre artists are very, very good at making something from nothing, and I think that is something that we will see come out of this. I think all of us are going to need to take some time to figure out how to work with some new tools, how our medium is shifting—at least for now—to take place partially online. But I have real faith in the resilience of Ottawa artists to continue to make something from nothing. I’m trying to look at it optimistically but at the same time acknowledging it’s going to be hard for a lot of people. We’re also seeing the community come together and support each other. There’s an initiative going around for microgrants for artists, and Apt613’s residencies, and the CBC has a creative relief fund, so there is some cool banding together to support each other that is happening. I think we’re going to see some cool things come out of this.
Theatre artists are very, very good at making something from nothing, and I think that is something that we will see come out of this. I think all of us are going to need to take some time to figure out how to work with some new tools, how our medium is shifting—at least for now—to take place partially online. But I have real faith in the resilience of Ottawa artists to continue to make something from nothing.
What role does art play in our day-to-day lives?
We felt it was important when making the decision to postpone to talk to our many stakeholders, all 37 of them, and it was a real reminder that this show is more than just a play—it’s a chance for your community to come together, it’s the highlight of a lot of people’s summer, and we’ve become a part of these various communities and who and what they are. So, while the decision to postpone was heartbreaking, it also really reminded me of how big a role community plays in what we do and how bringing people together regardless of where you live, who you are, or what your income is, it’s an opportunity so you can come together and you can enjoy some theatre right in your backyard. We’re all looking for ways to socialize and that’s part of what we do in the summer, we provide a way for you to socialize with your neighbours and your community, and so how do we continue to offer a way to do that in a virtual setting? So this livestream with Ottawa Public Library is going to be a first step in that experiment.
How did this online opportunity with Ottawa Public Library and the reading of The Tempest come up?
We’ve been talking with them since the winter about involving them in the tour more, maybe having their Bookmobile at some of the shows, and some programming down the line next winter with them as a venue. Ottawa Public Library has also programmed us via educational workshops in the past. There was already some foundation there, so when the announcement went out about our tour they reached out to us about doing some kind of online 30-minute performance on Shakespeare’s birthday, and we realized we should read aloud part of the show that we had to postpone.
Tell us more about the livestream reading?
Well, first off, it is live—it’s not pre-recorded—so you do have to tune in at 1pm on April 23. We’re excited because we’re inviting people into our process of creating the show at a very early point. Some of our designs are in approval stages, but they haven’t been built yet. The actors will only have about three and a half hours of rehearsal—whereas normally they’d rehearse for a month before we tour—so we’re really going to be seeing their gut reaction to the text and the interpretation of their characters. We’re reading aloud Act I and a little bit of Act II, and myself, the director and the designers have been working on visuals to put up on the screen while the actors read. When I go into schools to teach Shakespeare, my big mantra is that Shakespeare is meant to be seen on the stage, not read on the page. So when we decided to do this, we thought that we’ve got to practice what we preach. So there will be visuals based on the set design renderings that we have and all of the costume design renderings that will hopefully help our audience understand who’s “on stage,” who’s speaking, and what we think at this stage the production is going to look like. It’s exciting for the public to go along this journey with us of creating this show and seeing the designs now, and how they’ll change when they’re built, once we’ve rehearsed, just seeing these really early interpretations. We’re also doing a live Q&A with everyone afterwards. This is an opportunity to engage our patrons in a way that we haven’t before.
Are there ways to support A Company of Fools during this pandemic?
We are accepting donations and any donation over $25 gets a charitable tax receipt, and the website lists other donor benefits. If people are in a position where they can support us, and you want to see us out there as part of your community again, then, by all means, please do so. I do know a lot of people are in a rough spot right now though and aren’t in a position to make a monetary donation, so—and I mean this sincerely—we are accepting Shakespeare memes as a means of support. There is something to be said about humour and levity during this time so please send them my way and I’ll share them on our social. I can’t issue tax receipts for memes—the CRA won’t let me—but I think it’s important to note there are a lot of ways to support us in addition to joining in on the livestream. We really appreciate everyone who has supported us already.
A Company of Fools’ reading of The Tempest (Act One) takes place on Thursday, April 23 at 1pm. The livestream will run 30 minutes including a live Q&A.