What does theatre look like amid COVID-19? For the folks at Vancouver’s Boca del Lupo, performing via Zoom or Facebook Live didn’t quite hit the mark.
Instead, artistic director Sherry J.Yoon and artistic producer Jay Dodge devised two small-scale shows to form a live, interactive connection—within social distancing parameters, of course.
One, Red Phone, takes the form of a scripted conversation between two strangers in separate phone booths. The other, Plays2Perform@Home, finds box set of scripts by a Canadian playwright arriving at your door, to be acted out by the members of your own “bubble”.
“In a way, we’re in a business that’s the exact opposite of social distancing,” says Yoon, from the group’s office space on Granville Island. “The gravity of it right now is, as we look into the future, we know we’re in a pretty serious time. How to infuse it with creativity is where we want to be.”
“We wanted to make something that could exist beyond COVID times, but also had that sense of tangibility—essentially be in-person and doing something together in the same time and place,” adds Dodge, stressing there’s a role for digital work right now, too.
Boca del Lupo came up with the two-show series after dealing with the fallout of COVID restrictions, including the shutdown of its planned Iron Peggy tour and axing the solo-performance series that it had under way on Granville Island. “We cancelled six events in 60 days,” Yoon reports.
When the pair got their heads above water, they found themselves uniquely positioned to find live ways to create theatre amid pandemic restrictions. The company could draw on its experience staging the small-scale Micro Performance Series and interactive shows. It also had access to small, storefront Granville Island spaces, like the Fishbowl. And Boca del Lupo could turn for help on hygiene and other protocols to its technology director, Carey Dodge, who sits on the performing-arts standing committee of ActSafe, the body charting out new health and distancing measures for the arts sector.
The two-person Red Phone, which dates back to 2016 and has been performed in theatre lobbies and public spaces across the country, seemed ready-made for socially distanced theatrical connection. In the piece, two audience members each enter a handcrafted, fully enclosed phone booth outfitted with a vintage red phone and a teleprompter. They then engage in a five-minute, thought-provoking conversation written by a Canadian writer—an act that somehow bridges anonymity and intimacy.
In this iteration, the two booths will sit at the Fishbowl, with free admission, open to walk-ups or online booking at bocadellupo.com/ three days a week. Red Phone scripts are written by the likes of Hiro Kanagawa, Keith Barker, Karen Hines, Ivan Coyote, and Jay Dodge himself.
As for Plays2Perform@Home, it can be ordered online and delivered to your home (“like takeout or mail-order theatre,” Dodge says) or picked up from the Fishbowl. Valerie Thai, head designer and art director of Adbusters, has helped create the artful look of the boutique box set of scripts.
“We were thinking of it as a gift—something they can hold on to in their hands and remember what they love about live performances,” Yoon says.
“Each character will have its own script, and you can perform it on a picnic blanket or around a campfire,” Dodge adds. “You can perform these plays in what in our world would be called a cold read, or, depending on how big your bubble is, could go with it and trade characters and try different personas on.”
The first four playwrights contributing scripts are Kanagawa, Hines, Jovanni Sy, and Leanna Brodie, each tackling a wildly different genre. As an example, Dodge describes Hines’s script as “a cottage-country serio-comic dream thriller”.
In the case of either show, don’t expect the writers to reflect on the pandemic or social isolation in any literal way. Yoon and Dodge sought a way to free them of pressures to directly address the problems of our times.
“It’s an ability for artists to be creating and be creative without big answers or solutions for the global pandemic, but in some way respond to the many things erupting in the world,” Yoon says. “It’s an opportunity to be creative without having all the answers.”
Red Phone runs at the Fishbowl from Thursday to Saturday from July 1 to August 22, 1 to 5 p.m.; Plays2Perform@Home can be preordered now at bocadellupo.com/ and will be available between the same dates.