This is a challenging year for theatre – understatement at its finest. COVID-19 has theatre companies everywhere rocked to our core, as shows are postponed, restructured, and cancelled. Companies are trying to figure out how to pay the bills, maintain public interest, keep their members engaged and active. Riverfront Theatre Company has been facing these challenges as well.
Today is May 17th. On this day in 2019, we opened Mary Poppins. EVERY year, May is a hectic, exciting, stressful month as we work to open our last play of the season.
Today we were supposed to be loading Beauty and the Beast into The Olde Walkerville Theatre. Instead, our rehearsal space at Paulin Memorial Church has stood empty for two months. Our set construction was barely underway before things came to an abrupt halt with COVID. Now, our rehearsals limp along on Zoom, and we hope – hope hard – to be able to get together this fall, and bring it to the stage in November, instead.
But we’ve got over 50 kids who have been rocked by this and other things they’ve been forced to give up, and we’ve wanted to keep working for them. So today is a different date for them – their deadline to send in their final videos for our new YouTube production, The Show Must Go Online, from Beat to Beat Press. It’s not the same, but it’s a project we’ve been able to pour some of our energy into, and which has given us an ongoing reason to come together and something to present this spring. We’ll be opening that for a watch party on Friday, May 29th at 7 p.m.
In other news, work is underway for our February 2021 Senior project, an original production called No Complaints. Taking Will Bowen’s Complaint Free World into the realm of theatre, we’ve begun writing a play about a group of drama students who bring too much interpersonal drama, complaints and bickering into their rehearsals for King Lear, until their teacher and director demands that change happen or the production will be cancelled. Their solution on how to bring harmony into rehearsal and into the production is novel and heartwarming.
We are honoured at Riverfront Theatre Company to have been selected for a grant in Round One of the City of Windsor ACHF grants, for this production of No Complaints. Our plan is to spend the summer writing it, and then workshopping it with our Seniors to get a final product, which Will Bowen will then receive to review before we proceed with rehearsals.
In preparing for this production, we will, once again, present our students with our recurring “Introduction to Shakespeare” unit. We’ve presented this material several times to our changing membership over the years. Repeatedly, our students’ feedback tells us that they enter into our projects nervous and biased against Shakespeare, expecting the worst. They fear it will be incomprehensible, alien, boring – and over and over again, they confess that their Shakespeare experiences with Riverfront have been some of their favourites. Last season, after our mini-Shakespeare festival, Where There’s a Will ended, one of our Seniors, Danillo, came to me and said, “I was so afraid of doing Shakespeare before this. I loved it. Can we do more next year?” Danillo’s going to love No Complaints, and I think the rest of the company will learn and grow a lot as they help us weave the story of King Lear into a new RTC producton. We have no doubts that we will provide a richly entertaining, educational and uplifting experience for our audiences as well.
Because this is a straight play, we expect that we can get it started even if we can’t meet in person yet in September as we usually do. We are genuinely hoping to be able to present it to audiences in February 2021.
In final news, we are about to work at getting e-scripts for our planned 2021 spring musical, The Secret Garden, out and into the hands of our company to allow them to begin to know the story and prepare for that show as well. This delightful musical, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel comes to us through arrangement with Pioneer Drama. Book by Tim Kelly, Music and lyrics by the late and much beloved Bill Francoeur.
We can’t meet in person. Rehearsals look totally different. It’s been challenging, and sometimes discouraging. It’s emotional, losing our May musical at The Olde Walkerville Theatre this month. It’s a strain on our Riverfront “penguins” to be separated from one another. But we’re figuring out how to huddle together and support one another, even with the current limitations we are facing. We are finding new projects, sustaining others, and continuing with our plans to go forward. We are Riverfront. We’re committed to our kids, we’re committed to this programme and our community. We have lots of irons in the fire. We look forward to what lies ahead, and we look forward to sharing the fruit of our labours with our community.