So… seen any good live theatre recently? Any theatre at all? No, me neither. And it could be a while before we do. So what is a theatre lover to do these days? Well there are some alternatives available, and one of them is coming up this Friday.
I’ve seen a few of the National Arts Centre’s #CanadaPerforms live streams and they were very good. If you look through the list of offerings you won’t be surprised to see that the majority are solo musical acts. There are some exceptions, and on Friday, April 17 the well-known Ottawa playwright and actor Pierre Brault is performing his solo show “Will Somers!”.
Apartment613 talked to Pierre Brault about the live stream event.
Apt613: Can you tell me about this Will Somers character you’re playing?
Pierre Brault: I have a number of solo shows that I could have done. But I figured that Will Somers would probably be the most uplifting. Will Somers was an actual person who was the court jester in the court of Henry the Eighth. And he continued all the way from Henry the Eighth through to his three monarch children. So he had a lot of staying power, which is rather unusual for jesters of the time.
There is very little biographical information about Will Somers but tons of biographical information about the Tudors. So it is a look at the lives of Henry VIII and his children, but seen through the more comedic eyes of his court fool. And it also gives you a bit of a look behind the scenes. So you’re not just looking at the kings and the queens but you’re looking at the fools and the cook and the executioners and what was going on in Tudor England during that period.
You’ve done a couple of different Will Somers shows in the past.
Yes, the first one dealt with just Henry VIII. The second one dealt with the other monarchs that Will served after. What I’m going to present is an abbreviated version of the first one.
The time slots are 45 minutes to an hour. So I’m taking out a couple of scenes and bringing it down to an hour from an hour and 20 minutes.
You’ve done quite a lot of standup comedy as well as theatre. I would think it’d be a challenge to play just to a camera given your experience. Have you ever done a live show without a live audience?
It’s funny you should say that because 25 years ago, when I was starting out here in Ottawa, I had a television show on McClean-Hunter, that became Rogers, and that was shot live. So we would do this live show on Sunday morning. And the only people who were watching were really young kids and drunks who were just coming down off their high on early Sunday morning. And I used to make industrial training videos and much of that was just walking in front of a camera and shooting my scene without an audience.
Everything I do and have done for the last 25 years is related to live performance. So if you can’t do that, then how do you use your art form, as it were? I think it’s going to change the environment completely. I think it’s going to be a whole new world when we come out of it.
And what is the production going to be like? Is it going to be live from your living room? And I assume it’s just you in the show?
Well, what’s exciting is that we are going to shoot it in the theatre. I’m bringing in my director, AL Connors. He’s going to be doing the technical direction and we’re going to shoot it at the Gladstone Theatre and send it out from there. So it will be on stage. Well the intention anyway, is to shoot it live on stage and just present it from The Gladstone. I figured it’s easier with The Gladstone because we know the theatre really well.
I’m assuming that most creative people are creating new works of art during this time of isolation. Are you writing anything new?
I am using the opportunity to work on a few things. But the reality is that we have no idea when all of this is going to change. Like even if they say, ‘Hey, the theatres are open again’ it doesn’t mean people are going to come to the theatres again. So we’re all sort of pivoting a bit, and figuring out, okay, well what do I do? Because everything I do and have done for the last 25 years is related to live performance. So if you can’t do that, then how do you use your art form, as it were? I think it’s going to change the environment completely. I think it’s going to be a whole new world when we come out of it.
Because the reality for us is that the most vulnerable people for the COVID-19 virus is our key demographic. The older population is really what’s supporting theatre in this town. And you know, when they’re not coming to this theatre, it makes a difference.
There are companies that are going to be able to keep presenting and some companies are gonna say, look, I can’t do this anymore. It’s too much money or it’s too dangerous. Because the reality for us is that the most vulnerable people for the COVID-19 virus is our key demographic. The older population is really what’s supporting theater in this town. And you know, when they’re not coming to this theater, it makes a difference.
This is what we do in the meantime. The Ottawa Arts Council is helping some people out. PAL Ottawa is helping some people out. The NAC with this initiative (#CanadaPerforms) is helping some people out. So, we’re all kind of looking after each other’s back. And we’ll see what happens when the sun comes up.
“Will Somers!” will be presented as part of #CanadaPerforms on Friday April 17th at 8pm. Previous Will Somers shows at The Gladstone have been reviewed by Apt613: “Will Somers : Keeping Your Head” and in January 2020 “Will Somers the Second: Last Will and Testament.”