The shift to online keeps theatre productions alive

by | Dec 17, 2020 | A&E

Online theatre productions gave Emily Templeman the chance to continue doing what she loved during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was definitely an adjustment,” Templeman said. “At the beginning, I think a lot of us were mourning the loss of being able to do it live and in-person. But there was a lot that we still gained from it.”

Templeman recently graduated from Randolph College for the Performing Arts and performed in both a play and a musical produced for a virtual audience.

“We did it all pre-recorded,” Templeman said. “We played with the idea of doing it live, but because of Wi-Fi issues, or a lot of people were living with roommates who are sometimes loud, I think that was the right choice for us.”

Templeman said rehearsing over Zoom calls meant that she couldn’t be in the same space with other actors, but the big difference came while performing.

“We didn’t have that energy exchange between the performers and the audience. People would watch and send us messages afterwards. So, it’s still really nice to have that connection,” Templeman said.

Ryan Galvez, a final-year Theatre Arts and Performance student at Centennial College, performed a script specifically written for a virtual performance.

“It was a lot harder actually because normally we would be in the studios, but we were restricted to using smaller spaces, either our bedrooms or living rooms,” Galvez said.

Galvez recalled that there were slight hiccups during the performance of She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms. The main obstacle was that some people had poor Wi-Fi, so some would appear frozen on the screen or would be lagging behind the other players.

Galvez also said the cast had to improvise and make their own costumes.

“For this show, we had to use whatever we had,” Galvez said. “I had a black t-shirt with Game of Thrones on it, I had my bathrobe that I was using because I was playing a devil.”

The closure of theatre venues had Tarragon Theatre explore radio dramas, which they named Tarragon Acoustic.

Richard Rose, artistic director of Tarragon, came up with the idea from an audience survey conducted in April. The overall response was that patrons and subscribers wanted something to replace not being in the theatre.

“I thought, let’s do audio dramas, taking some of the plays from the past and revisiting them, as well as a couple of future plays,” Rose said.

The advantage of moving to audio dramas was that audiences could listen to the plays anytime they wanted to.

Andrea Vagianos, Tarragon’s managing director, said Tarragon Acoustic is a good alternative to provide a classic retelling of plays in a contemporary way.

“It gives us the opportunity to connect with our patrons and subscribers,” Vagianos said. “The recordings also provide gigs for the actors.”

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, assistant artistic director of Tarragon, who is directing a show slated for the next Tarragon Acoustic date, said PlayME Podcast had developed “a really good system for recording remotely.”

“It definitely feels less free and less easy than a rehearsal process when you’re all together, but once they start acting, that feels normal,” Lancaster said.

“Seeing the lights go down and being in a dark theatre is what we want,” Vagianos said.