Back In A Theatre
Updated: Mar 20
In 2021, theatres began to open up after a long closure due to the pandemic.
It has been one heck of a year, and one of the highlights for me was to be able to be back in a live audience to experience theatre again, even for a short period of time.
I wanted to release this piece over the holidays because I had a string of shows to see for my birthday, which due to Omicron, I ended up postponing. It was a bit of a bummer, but I say postponed because I will be back when I feel it’s safe.
So, maybe it ended up being a shorter in-person theatre season for me, it was still longer than I would have expected if you had told me that this time last year.
I am willing to take the win and am keeping my fingers crossed for next year!
But right now, I wanted to share my experience of coming back to the world of live theatre as an audience member.
I’m not going to talk too much about the shows themselves, because I really want to focus on the experience of being back in the audience.
I want to add that I love virtual theatre in so many ways and really think it should continue to be a part of the industry.
The last show I saw live before the pandemic was Girl From The North Country in October, 2019, which is a long time from August of this year, when I went back to the theatre when Mirvish productions reopened.
Blindness was one step away from completely live theatre. This story was presented as a soundscape and lighting installation, and the performance was prerecorded. It had a limited audience of fifty people, socially distanced, onstage at The Princess Of Wales Theatre. This was such an interesting way to experience a show and is truly one-of-a-kind.
I felt extremely safe at this event. Vaccine passports and negative COVID tests were checked at the door, and the lobby had stickers to stand on assigned by seat to keep everyone six feet apart while waiting. The audience was led row by row to their seats, and were led out the same way. While it was an incredible experience, and so thrilling to collectively witness art with an audience, I missed the exchange of energy between the audience and the performers onstage.
In September, I finally got to see a live, in person musical, which was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Talk Is Free Theatre presented Into The Woods: In Concert outdoors in Springwater Provincial Park. The audience was limited, and had plenty of space to spread out across the picnic benches at the outdoor venue. Vaccine passports were still checked, and audience members were screened. Cast members were a safe distance from the patrons attending. The energy exchange was gorgeous, everyone just seemed so happy to be there!
Outdoor shows are so special and really call back to the roots of this art form, but it was really amazing to experience it in a way which was site-specific.
My next outdoor show was later the same month, Mahagonny-Songspiel, also with Talk Is Free Theatre, performed on the balcony at the Bohemia Cafe. This production also had vaccine passports, limited and distanced audiences, and screening measures in place. It was chilling and exciting, and really had a wonderful feeling of community which I had missed a lot this last year.
In November, I went downtown to see another live and in person musical. This time, the audience was at full capacity and indoors. No Change In The Weather was sold out at The CAA Theatre, and was the first Mirvish show to open at full capacity post shutdown.
I won’t lie, this was completely daunting to me at the time. But everything was done carefully and methodically. Vaccine passports were checked and everyone was screened. The main difference from my other experiences was the amount of people. Waiting in the lobby was the hardest part, when everyone was crammed together it was hard to keep distance from other patrons. However, once I was seated, it was just fine, and very exciting to be side by side with other people who were as happy to be there as I was!
For me, that milestone was huge in getting me comfortable booking tickets to other productions. Seeing a large professional venue manage everything at full capacity and feeling safe, gave me so much hope that we could do this!
I was invited to see The Judas Kiss at Talk Is Free Theatre in December, which was indoors, distanced, and required vaccine passports. TIFT is always wonderfully thorough with screening and tracing, so I was so excited to go. While the smaller theatre was fairly full, everyone was instructed to keep at least a seat in between themselves and the other groups coming in.
The excitement and hope was bursting out of me, and then came this new variant and restrictions, and unfortunately, cancellations and postponements.
I had booked a theatre weekend for my birthday to see Jesus Christ Superstar and Come From Away at Mirvish. I was so excited, especially as I had been booked in to see CFA right before theatres shut down in 2020.
But with a new variant and case numbers on the rise, we chose to cancel, especially with my grandmother visiting. Less than a day after we postponed the trip, audiences were cut to half capacity, and as of now, JCS closed early, and CFA closed briefly over holiday, both for reasons related to COVID-19.
And these closures aren’t just happening here. While they have been happening since theatres reopened, there is an increase across the world right now. So what happens next?
Hopefully, we continue as we have been, with small closures as needed. But part of me wonders if changing how theatre seasons run around when the weather is warmer, or if limiting capacity is the way to go.
I don’t think anyone has the answers, but we can all agree that we want live theatre to keep thriving. I genuinely hope that as we enter the new year, it will continue to do so!
Things may be different now, but the show is going on the best it can.
It’s going to be a long and interesting road back to the way things were, but I can’t wait to be back in the audience to experience the journey forward.
Everyone is doing the best they can within their comfort zones right now, and as long as we keep doing that safely, we’ll get through it together.