Vancouver theatre companies salvage the fall season with ingenuity

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      The fall 2020 theatre season is unlike any in recent memory. After cancelling summer productions when provincial Health Ministry guidelines made it unfeasible or impossible to continue, theatre companies had several months to model a reduced season or decide whether or not they would even make the attempt.

      Happily for diehard theatregoers, there are some live productions in the pipeline this fall, albeit with restricted audience sizes and pandemic protocols in force. Some companies are experimenting with virtual programs, and at least one is trying out some streamed audio-only efforts that recall the early days of radio drama. Check websites for ticketing, streaming, and other details.

      The Arts Club will present solo plays by (left to right) Nilaja Sun, Anosh Irani, and Ginna Hoben.

      Arts Club Theatre Company

      The Arts Club, more than a half-century old, is one of Vancouver’s biggest performing-arts organizations, drawing a quarter-million people a year to its three stages. This fall, it will mount three live one-person productions (with both live and recorded online options), all limited to audiences of 50, and you can also browse video archives, watch live performances by individual artists, and participate in theatre workshops.

      The three plays take place on the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre and the Granville Island Stage (and, yes, there will be a Christmas production). New York City playwright Nilaja Sun’s one-woman play One Child… kicks off the live trio at the BMO Theatre Centre from September 24 to November 8. The production—about a substitute drama teacher’s experiences with at-risk students in a hardscrabble high school in NYC’s Bronx borough—will rotate between leads Celia Aloma and Ali Watson for its duration.

      Anosh Irani’s Buffoon is up next, and it, too, is a one-person show, with Kayvon Khoshkam and Andrew McNee splitting the duties for both matinee and evening performances. The production, mixing laughs with tragedy, concerns a boy born of circus performers who grows up learning to clown and eventually becomes a “true buffoon”. It plays at Granville Island from October 22 to December 6.

      Finally, The Twelve Dates of Christmas takes the stage at the BMO Theatre Centre from November 19 to January 3, 2021. Billed as “a fun, flirty alternative to holiday conventions”, the play stars Genevieve Fleming and Melissa Oei taking turns as Mary, a jilted woman returning to the dating scene in a series of seasonal encounters.

      Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre will be embracing the longest day of the year with music and stories to welcome the returning light in Solstice Greetings.

      Firehall Arts Centre

      The Firehall, housed in a 114-year-old brick fire station in the Downtown Eastside, will present live productions, limited to 50 audience members, as part of its Salon/Saloon series. First up is a one-man show, Allan Morgan’s I Walked the Line, about the actor-playwright’s real-life 132-day stint on the picket lines with the B.C. Nurses’ Union. This Bread and Roses Theatre production runs from October 15 to 25.

      Up next, from November 4 to 7, is a Firehall/Vancouver Moving Theatre coproduction of In the Beginning, Rosemary Georgeson and Donna Spencer’s examination of the original, Indigenous residents of what we today call Vancouver. It is followed by the world premiere of a Firehall/Search Party coproduction, The Amaryllis, which runs from November 12 to 22 and explores the quirky dynamics of a sister-brother voice actor–agent team. Lastly, Solstice Greetings returns for the third year of its fall-to-winter segue of songs, stories, and “seasonal greetings”, from December 10 to 12 and December 17 to 19.

      Veda Hille premiered her Little Volcano solo show at this year's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
      Matt Reznek

      The Cultch

      East Van’s beloved Cultch is going digital this fall, starting with the September 23 to October 3 return of the TRANSFORM Cabaret Festival, the Urban Ink/Cultch copresentation of unique Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaborations in theatre, burlesque, drag, comedy, circus, and music. Vancouver institution Veda Hille, with Theatre Replacement, takes charge next, from October 22 to 25, with Little Volcano, a storytelling and musical voyage through the life of the talented singer-pianist.

      Hille, the Cultch’s “pandemic artist-in-residence”, returns with the popular musical revue do you want what I have got? a craigslist cantata from November 19 to 22, along with a local cast. This remounting features the original songs as well as a “new perspective” on physical distancing based on real-life Craigslist ads.

      A yearly family fave, East Van Panto, will provide the bulk of the season (and seasonal) finale with Panto Come Home!, from December 17 to January 3, 2021.

      Hille and Panto standouts Donna Soares, Dawn Petten, Amanda Sum, and writer Mark Chavez will fashion a “brand-new holiday extravaganza” out of the best of seven years’ worth of the beloved and silly homage to the venerable English holiday stage tradition.

      Studio 58 is using this Emily Cooper image to promote its web series pilot.
      Emily Cooper illustration

      Studio 58

      Langara College’s professional-theatre training program is devoting its fall semester/season to digital presentations only. The draw for impecunious students and Studio 58 fans alike is the fact that all offerings are free.

      The Doll’s House Project, livestreaming from October 4 to 10, involves an ensemble cast in a “stripped down staging with just voices, bodies in motion, and music” based on Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House and Ingmar Bergman’s stage adaptation, Nora. Next up is the 20th annual appearance of the Risky Nights Series of fourth-termers putting on a complete production, this time a project called fort, from October 22 to 25. It will be live on Zoom, with the audience participating in “a communal construction of their own personal fortified spaces”.

      Final-term students team up with Langara film-art grads to create a web-series pilot every year, and this latest offering (coming in November, with dates to be announced) is called The Watch, described as a “mockumentary style comedy involving a rag-tag collection of citizens who come together to form a neighbourhood watch group”.

      Then, on November 20, a voice-only Podcast Showcase will air, created by students collaborating with an illustrator, playwright, and voice actor to produce short dramatic scripts. And finally, an “enhanced radio play” titled Theatre: The Play will livestream from November 24 to 29.

      Vancouver's arts community is suffering as a result of the pandemic. If you're able to make a donation to any of the first three theatre companies mentioned in this article or to the Langara Foundation, please click the links above. Thank you.