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The play’s the thing, even if it’s digital

Is the future of live performance digital? If so, the Elora Community Theatre (ECT) has a leg up on the competition.

Imagine a world where you can fit an unlimited capacity of patrons into a single playhouse or auditorium with the help of the internet and conference video software like Zoom. Once perhaps a technological dream, it’s now the reality of things.

As with all live venues, ECT’s playhouse was forced to close under the coronavirus-induced state of emergency in the province. The protracted shutdown prompted the group to adapt, said president Deb Stanson.

“We all have to get our theatre fix – I guess that’s the best way to put it.”

With a mass influx of support and a push from the community to move things to the digital format, Stanson and company were happy to oblige, dealing with the complications of the internet.

The first digitally run theatre performance for ECT was A Midsummer Night’S Dream. The classic Shakespeare production brought attention not only locally but nationally and internationally as well. “We had people from Australia, from England. We had schools contacting us from the United States, from New Jersey from California, wanting first off to make sure that the content was appropriate for students, but to use it as part of the curriculum,” said Stanson, joking that it was too bad ECT didn’t get paid for it.

With 6,700 streams, the idea of payment for performances like these isn’t farfetched. For example, music festivals are switching to a virtual experience that requires a low-cost ticket to be one of those who get to experience the festival. Many musicians have also begun hosting paid streams, a move away from Facebook Live and Instagram live where anyone can access the material for free. If theatre companies are able to bring in revenue and unprecedented amounts of streams, the need for a physical location may disappear.

Stanson is  currently directing a production of Charlotte Brontë’s play Jane Eyre, the group’s second digital offering. Thomas Hischak has adapted the play, and Stanson is excited to see what the public will think of the production. It’s the second time she’s worked with a Hischak production, the first being a successful version of Little Women a few years back.

While the 23-member cast is standard for the play, directing so many people via online connections is anything but run of the mill, she notes.

“As a director, I’m finding it’s not the best way, but only because I’m a people person and I love the physicality of being with the actors. So that part of it being on Zoom sometimes just doesn’t cut it,” said Stanson. “And I find it difficult to direct because you’re dealing with, from a body perspective, from basically waist up.

“It’s been kind of fun to get the actors to sort of think of being on screen as opposed to being on stage.”

In addition to the disconnected feeling of Zoom, there are also difficulties with internet connectivity, especially in rural areas like Elora.

Sunday (July 5) at 7:30 is the first showing of the production of Jane Eyre, which can be watched  online. More information can be found at ECT’s website.

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