Burnt Theatre offer a way for couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day

Actor Cheyanne Lemaigre, sitting on a chair next to a music stand and a microphone in a recording studio. Submitted by Burnt Thicket Theatre

Tied in Knots series explores challenges of relationships

If couples are looking for a pandemic-friendly way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, they can tune into Burnt Thicket Theatre’s new Tied in Knots audio drama podcast about the challenges of marriage in the 21st century. The series starts February 12, with a new play being released every second week afterwards.

The plays explore couples’ stories at different stages of their relationships, from engagements, post-engagements, and broken engagements to late, middle-aged couples who are wanting to rekindle their relationship.

“It’s a pretty good variety in there,” said theatre director Stephen Waldschmidt.

He says the theatre was considering and planning to do audio dramas before the COVID-19 hit. The original plan was to have a series, but with fewer plays in it.

“Once the pandemic hit and we got our heads back on straight, we’ve figured this is actually one of the best ways that we can be creating new work, given all of the public health restrictions. So it was kind of a happy coincidence,” says Waldschmidt.

Before production or planning started, the director said he talked with audio drama producers from North America and the United Kingdom to pick their brains to find out what they learned in terms of best practices.

When they were auditioning and casting roles for the first few plays, actors used Zoom to try out for the parts. They also held virtual rehearsals via Zoom.

As part of his research, Waldschmidt listened to audio plays in which actors performed in their own spaces or homes. There was the option of mailing actors each small high-end USB microphones so they could record their pieces with some pillows to help deaden the sound. But he could hear a big difference between the performances, which could detract from the quality of the recording.

So, the theatre wanted to bring actors into the theatre physically to record all the performances in local studios. By recording all the actors in a similar environment, the production would be more consistent and cohesive in terms of sound quality. That meant recording each actor separately in different recording studios in Saskatoon (to adhere to pandemic safety precautions). They wanted to create a record in which the audience felt like the actors were physically in the same room rather than in different places.

Also, there were benefits for recording actors separately.

“We can isolate each audio channel in terms of recording. Tim Bratton, our recording engineer and also the sound designer can also be listening and talking with the actors [about their performances]. It’s kind of like a bit of a hybrid where we’re trying to record as close to a live performance as possible,” he said.

Recording the audio plays was like shooting a movie, minus the visuals.

“It’s like the old time radio theatre where instead of having all the actors live on microphones and a foley artist making all the sound effects, live in a radio studio, we’re kind of creating that, but trying to keep the sense of live performance as much as possible,” Waldschmid said.

Not being able to perform these plays live has some drawbacks, like not being able to do a dry run to gauge what kinds of tweaks are needed to make to fine-tune the performance. Waldschimdt says the theatre may get some feedback from some listeners before they make the final edits on the audio recording. And once the changes are made, then the plays will be released online.

As for how the theatre company came up with plays, there was a competition, called Tied in Knots, held a few years ago about the challenges of marriage. The three winning plays went through a dramaturgy script development process. The original intent was to produce the plays in a live setting, like a coffee shop environment over Valentine’s Day weekend. These plays never materialized. So when Burnt Thicket Theatre was thinking about developing audio dramas, these three plays came to mind. So, more playwrights were added to the series, which runs until March.

“We’re inviting people to listen, with their beloved, to these plays. Whether they have their own device in their own ear and hit play at the same time or if they’re in the same room listening together, we’re inviting people to listen to them together. We’re even suggesting people for the first audio drama, maybe take a walk together to your favourite coffee shop while you listen,” he said.

He hopes that by encouraging people to listen to audio plays together that it fosters social connection, good communication, and conversation between couples. One of the advantages of a live performance is the conservation that it sparks between friends and fellow theatregoers.

“A good story always invites reflection and a kind of sharing of the experience with others,” he said.

Waldschmidt says the Burnt Thicket Theatre has been adapting to the pandemic. They live-streamed their Christmas variety show in 2020 in which about 300 people tuned in. He thinks more people will tune into the Tied in Knots series because they are shorter pieces than the variety show. Also, he thinks more people will tune in from not only Saskatoon, but also other parts of the province since the audio play is accessible from most apps.

The first play is called The Kindling Box, which is a café romance by Jeany Van Meltebeke. A married couple tries to rekindle their passion based on their therapist’s advice. This comedy shows how that couple tries different exercises to reignite the flame in their relationship. Josehua Beaudry, Angela Christie and Cheyenne Lemaigre perform in this audio play.

People can find the play on the theatre’s website www.burntthicket.com , or through Google Play, iTunes and other podcast apps. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged and appreciated.

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