Attending Alberta Theatre Projects’ family-friendly holiday shows has become a tradition for many Calgarians, but with COVID-19, producing a spectacular in-person live show is just not possible. Instead, the company will be beaming the Martha Cohen into theatre fans’ living rooms with this livestreamed workshop reading.
By Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
This year has been a tough one for many, but 2020 has been particularly difficult for the team at Alberta Theatre Projects. Not only has the company had to contend with COVID-19 and its inability to bring audiences into the beautiful Martha Cohen Theatre, but in late November Executive and Artistic Director Darcy Evans passed away after being diagnosed with cancer in March.
Evans’ passing is a huge blow for the Alberta Theatre Projects community. A bright star in the world of Canadian theatre, Evans joined Alberta Theatre Projects in June of 2018 and brought tremendous energy to the company through his artistic vision and directorial skills, as showcased in beloved shows like The New Canadian Curling Club, The Wedding Party and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. While this loss has deeply affected everyone at Alberta Theatre Projects, the company is going ahead with this week’s planned livestreamed workshop reading of a brand-new adaptation of The Wizard of Oz in tribute to Evans and his indelible impact on ATP and Calgary’s larger theatre community. As they say, the show must go on.
Attending Alberta Theatre Projects’ family-friendly holiday shows has become a tradition for many Calgarians, but with COVID-19, producing a spectacular in-person live show is just not possible. Instead, the company will be beaming the Martha Cohen into theatre fans’ living rooms with this livestreamed workshop reading performed by local Calgary actors including Elinor Holt, Daniel Fong, Kiana Wu, and Kevin Corey who will bring characters like Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion to life without the aid of costumes or props.
As part of Evans’ ongoing dedication to producing new work from Canadian playwrights, Alberta Theatre Projects commissioned the original script from Andrew Scanlon. Rather than taking his cues from the well-known musical versions of The Wizard of Oz (including the 1939 MGM film starring Judy Garland), Scanlon turned to L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 novel, eschewing the song and dance element in favour of a riveting narrative about adventure and self-discovery.
“The MGM movie that most people are familiar with is sort of sprawling with a huge cast,” Scanlon says. “What appealed to me about the novel is that it really is a story about friendship and a bond formed though a common goal. It’s a smaller more intimate story than the one we know from the MGM movie.”
The hope is to eventually turn the script into a full-fledged production, but for now Alberta Theatre Projects is giving theatre lovers a chance to experience Scanlon’s first draft and get a glimpse of the show in its infancy. The idea to present the play in this format came about after the success of Alberta Theatre Projects’ Playwrights Projects digital workshops that were held in the spring. The company’s management wanted to come up with virtual programming that captured that intimacy while appealing to the audiences that look forward to the annual holiday show. It was also important to create something that went beyond simply presenting a filmed version of a play performed in a theatre.
“What makes this unique compared to other live streaming that I’ve seen is that it gives you a behind-the-scenes view,” says Alberta Theatre Projects’ General Manager Kyle Russell. “You can look it at under the lens of The Wizard of Oz without singing or costumes or props, but it’s also a very early format of a playwright’s process in trying to build a really great play. Audiences will be able to compare and contrast what this performance looks like with what we will hopefully see on stage in a couple of years.”
While this production will be presented in its rawest form, it still will still have the magic and excitement that only comes with live theatre, thanks to the thoughtful direction of Haysam Kadri. Kadri is digging into the challenge of making the reading dramatic and exciting for audiences of all ages, while reminding audiences that they are indeed watching a performance from a theatre. All of the actors will be on the stage of an otherwise empty Martha Cohen Theatre and the cameras will capture some of the empty seats, the sides of the stage, and other elements of the space. Each of the five performances will also be streamed live to help create that in-the-moment magic of live theatre, albeit in a more stripped-down format.
“We really have to make it dynamic for the play to translate on film,” Kadri says. “It is such a pleasure to be able to just tell the story and to use the actors’ facilities, their voice, their bodies, their movement without the other elements that usually make up a production. It takes us back to the craft and the basics of storytelling.”
Alberta Theatre Projects’ livestream workshop reading of Andrew Scanlon’s adaptation of The Wizard of Oz will take place December 3 through 6, with two shows on Saturday December 5. Tickets can be purchased HERE.
Header Images: Tenaj Williams, Kiana Wu and Kevin Corey. Photos by Jeff Yee.