Places, curtains, lights?

A cast photo from Regina Little Theatre’s production of A Red Plaid Shirt. From left to right and top to bottom: Kep Spencer, Brenda Cheater, John Chaput and Darlene Barss. Four actors are wearing red plaid shirts while sitting on a couch holding workshop tools. Garett Harnish

Regina Little Theatre waits for the go-ahead

[The Carillon has become aware of recent allegations placed against Regina Little Theatre. The allegations are regarding a lack of transparency into board meeting minutes  regarding allegedly doctored photos. The story is ongoing and the Carillon will update as we learn more.]

It’s like a sprinter is training for a 100-metre dash. The announcer says, “Ready,” but there is no other command to start.

“We’ve got everything in place. We’ve been training for it. Let’s do it. But no, you can’t,” said John Chaput, Regina Little Theatre president.

Chaput has been with the volunteer-run theatre organization for a quarter of a century. He has been tracking the coronavirus since it came to Saskatchewan.

The theatre postponed multiple times putting on live shows because of the changing conditions.

The theatre is hoping to restart in 2021. Things were looking up in the fall when there were nearly no new COVID-19 cases reported in the province. The number of coronavirus cases started to rise. A vaccine was quickly released. Hopes were raised again. But then, variants of the virus began to emerge in different parts of the world. The theatre could be three days away from opening, and all of a sudden, something happens.

“And boom. Everything shuts down again. So you know, the uncertainty is not going to go away, but we have to prepare as if something good is going to happen and give us a break,” Chaput said.

One year ago, Chaput was the last character to exit from the last show called A Red Plaid Shirt. The next play, Helium, was set for April 2020. Rehearsals were in full swing. In mid-March, everything came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic.

Regina Little Theatre has been running continuously since 1926. It is the oldest English theatre operating in Canada. And they have no intention of losing that record.

“We’re very strongly motivated to maintain that, but there’s no way we’re going to do it if it means putting our actors, our crew, our volunteers, and the public at any kind of risk,” said Chaput.

The pandemic has forced the play selection committee to scrap the whole season initially planned. Plays cannot run more than two hours because holding intermissions are discouraged. Shorter productions are needed so audiences are not cooped up in the theatre for too long.

Actors have the added challenge of socially distancing for health reasons.

“You get into your character, and I have accidentally spit on other actors, and they have accidentally spit on me because we’re in close quarters […] It was a little unsanitary in the first place. Now, it could be deadly,” he said.

The Regina Performing Arts Centre had to temporarily lay off some staff, such as technicians because the space was not being used.

Over Christmas, the Regina Little Theatre organized Zoom calls for families to have with Santa. The theatre also performed a radio play. One of the theatre members, Devin Melnyk, wrote an adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The play called for 25 actors. Organizers set up partitions between audio booths. There was lots of disinfecting and sanitizing of equipment. About 400 people tuned in – some listeners were from as far away as Israel.

It was an experiment to see if the theatre could actually pull something like that off. And they did.

“We’re considering another venture like that in the near future. We’ve got to come up with some creative solutions to try to stay involved and keep the public in touch with us,” Chaput said.  

Other arts groups are suffering from the pandemic, too.

Ukrainian dance groups had to re-choreograph performances to maintain social distancing between dancers. Children and youth practiced but had no way to show off their skills. Videographers recorded their performances so the dancers’ parents could safely watch in their own homes.

Despite the delays, the Regina Little Theatre remains hopeful their show will go on.

Once the actors for the upcoming play called Writers’ Runaround are given the green light to perform, they only need a month of rehearsal time. The actors still meet virtually and rehearse their lines. Some of them likely know their lines by memory. The challenge for them is to keep the performance fresh – mostly if they have been rehearsing for more than 10 weeks.

Regina Little Theatre is hoping they can put on their first show in June if all goes well.

When the show is allowed to go ahead, organizers need to make sure the audience’s seating arrangement complies with the latest government regulations. Each audience member must provide phone numbers or email addresses in case contact tracing needs to be done if there is a report of one or more cases of the coronavirus being spread from that event. The theatre will restrict, or won’t allow, drinks or food to be served. Extra safety precautions need to be taken for ushers and volunteers taking tickets.

Regina Little Theatre has many volunteers willing to make the productions a reality. Other smaller community theatre groups in the province are not so fortunate because they have fewer resources. All community theatres miss doing theatre.

“[Smaller community groups are] tired of the uncertainty of having no idea when they’ll be able to perform again and under what kind of conditions they’ll have to do it. The whole province has been affected, and it’s hitting some people harder than others,” he said.

If there are further delays in putting on plays, the theatre is considering putting on a virtual performance. It takes about six weeks for the volunteer organization to prepare for opening night. All that preparation could be in vain if the restrictions are further extended.

Chaput says Hamlet would be a good analogy for the pandemic.

“Is something going to happen now? Except he just killed Polonius. And now we’re in a whole new situation,” he said.

“We may end up like the end of Hamlet with bodies strewn all over the floor. We’re trying to avoid that. No matter how great theatre it may be, we’re trying to avoid that.”

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