Here’s how live theatre is slowly coming back to Calgary this holiday season

After a year and a half of live theatre taking a hit due to COVID-19, Calgary productions are up and running this Christmas season — with many doing both live and online shows.

Companies like StoryBook Theatre started an online television initiative this summer as a way to keep entertaining their family audiences.

But now they’re ready to welcome an audience back — at 50 per cent capacity.

JP Thibodeau, artistic producer of StoryBook Theatre, says its holiday show, The Sound of Music: In Concert, will be available for streaming online and in-person this year from Nov. 26 to Dec. 19.

“We did make a conscious choice this year to, rather than do a full-scale holiday production like we would normally do, to do The Sound of Music In Concert,” he said.

“But even with that, you know, we’re still doing full costumes and full staging.”

Tickets for the in-person show have sold out, but Thibodeau says the online format helps with those who want to catch the production and are still leery about COVID-19.

“I see the family hunger to do something together over the holidays,” he said. “So it’s interesting to watch this evolve because people are ready to head back, but there’s still a large group of people that aren’t ready.”

Challenge of COVID-19

The producer, who is also involved with directing other shows, says every company is doing what seems to fit best during COVID times.

“I don’t think there is a blanket generalization to make in the theatre world because everyone’s doing different things and factoring what makes sense for their audience,” he said.

“It’s a lot of things to consider that as a theater producer you’d never normally think about.”

Thibodeau will also direct Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s show Naughty but Nice, which is available online Dec. 3 to 19.

“People still want to do things over the holidays, but they want to do it in a safe way … and I think the show offers everything you’re looking for in a fun and kind of relaxed way that they don’t have to run up to the theater,” he said.

But to make viewers still feel like they are at a live production, it was filmed with a studio audience.

Joe Slabe, artistic director of Forte Musical Theatre, compared it to a Saturday Night Live sketch with live audience interaction.

“Just to hear the laughter, you know, because you really lose perspective as a performer, you know, especially in comedy without that feedback from from people,” he said.

Clare Preuss, artistic director at Downstage, is also getting ready for one of its first live productions since March 2020.

“I can feel that people are wanting to come back and people are wanting to engage. So it’s very exciting that locally here we’ve got so many productions … and it’s really great to just kind of see people back in the theatre and kind of easing their way back into this world of live entertainment.” 

The production is on Dec. 9 and 10 at Arts Commons. It is centred around climate change and includes a variety of short plays commissioned by Climate Change Theatre Action.

“I always think that, you know, the holiday season is a nice time of year to think about the community and us together as people on the planet and how we can give to each other. And I mean what better thing can we give the future of of the planet?”

She adds hat while shows won’t be the exact same as they were before COVID times, she appreciates still being able to put something on. 

“If we can invest in maybe a little bit of discomfort of sitting with a mask on for a while … we’re also investing in the sense of coming together and live theater and what it means to be in community,” she said.

Other shows to catch

Here are other productions in the city that will be available for in-person performances this season:

  • A Christmas Carol — Rosebud Mercantile and Opera House from Nov. 12 to Dec. 23.
  • Making Treaty 7 presents Time Stands Still — The Grand from Nov. 18 to Nov. 28.
  • Christmastide: Music and Stories of the Coming Light — BMO Studio Stage from Nov. 26 to Dec. 18.
  • All I Want for Christmas — Lunchbox Theatre from Nov. 30 to Dec. 19.
  • A Christmas Carol — Max Bell Theatre at Arts Commons from Nov. 30 to Dec. 24.
  • Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker — Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium from Dec. 10 to Dec. 24.
  • Anastasia — Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium from Jan. 4 to Jan. 9.

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