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The show must go on

Grenfell's graduating theatre students perform The Tempest online

Student Life

By Melanie Callahan

Grenfell Campus’s theatre production of The Tempest was set to take to the Fine Arts Theatre’s stage in early April.

A screen shot of the Grenfell Campus online production of The Tempest.
Photo: Submitted

Fourth-year students had prepared for months to present their graduating show. Everyone agreed that there had to be one, no matter what.

However, given the coronavirus pandemic, the performance would have to look different.

The theatre program builds to the final term – it is the students’ opportunity to visit and study at the Harlow Campus and then have a “final bow” during the end-of-program show, says the show’s director Prof. Alex Fallis.

“Luckily, we were finished our studies at the Harlow Campus before the pandemic, so the students had that full experience,” he said.

“However, I felt it was extremely important to find a way to let them have that final bow. While it is hard to say good-bye to the large community of the theatre program from your self-isolated house, this did give the whole community a chance to check in and support the graduates.”

‘New territory’

The students only had about a week to move from their original stage interpretation of Shakespeare’s first comedy to a live-streamed version.

The Tempest was presented through Zoom, via Grenfell’s Facebook page.

“I think this is perhaps where the theatre idea that “the show must go on” comes in.” –Prof. Alex Fallis

“I think this is perhaps where the theatre idea that “the show must go on” comes in,” said Prof. Fallis. “We all just recognized that we were in very new territory and tried to learn and make the best of it.”

When actor Andrew Halliday heard the production was being cancelled, he was devastated.

From left are Grenfell theatre students Alex Fullerton, Cameron Wilcox and Andrew Halliday.
Photo: Submitted

After four years of hard work, and potentially losing out on the chance of playing one of his favourite Shakespeare roles, Caliban, he says the prospect of an online production was “really disheartening.”

“Then I thought about it: We’ve worked on this degree to become actors, and sometimes that means the show must go on even if it doesn’t turn out as we intended it, so you have to make the most of what you have,” said Mr. Halliday, who is from New Glasgow, N.S.

“With one week of rehearsing over Zoom, I put on a frog hat and decided to enjoy the experience to the best of my ability, and the result ended up being a really fun experience, and the audience response proved the feeling was mutual.”

Using the live-conferencing platform for a theatrical production did not come without challenges.

Andrew Halliday improvised his Caliban costume.
Photo: Submitted

Because the students couldn’t use the costumes, props and lights they had planned for, they had to find their own costume pieces and props to use.

Students were also challenged with understanding the platform in a very short time, says technical director Beth Bradbury. Thankfully, the students were adaptable, flexible and enthusiastic.

“We had an idea of what we wanted the thing to look like, and then we needed to find the option that checked the most boxes,” said Ms. Bradbury. “After that, it was really up to Susan Jennings, our stage manger, to act as the gate keeper to manage who the audience was seeing and hearing.”

‘Resilient and dedicated’

In the end, the event was a success and provided students the opportunity to perform in a new way.

Prof. Fallis says the work was difficult but Shakespearean language made the story “very clear and powerful.”

“This showed that the work we had put in early in the term was really retained, and I thought that was extremely positive,” he said.

“It is also important for the students to get a chance to work with these new technologies and platforms, as they are inevitably going to become more prevalent and important to artistic work.”

It’s not easy being an artist in this trying time, says Mr. Halliday.

“We’re a resilient and dedicated breed,” he said. “As long as there’s an audience to appreciate our craft, we’ll continue to entertain to the best of our abilities through mediums like Zoom and YouTube until this all blows over. When it does, you’ll be sure to see us all again on stages and screens like nothing happened, because an artist’s work is never done.”

A livestream of The Tempest is available for viewing on Grenfell Campus’s Facebook page.

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