Having moved out of doors last year to continue performing its plays, Stratford-based Here For Now Theatre is expanding on the concept this summer.
Known for productions centering on complex female protagonists, the group will be doing what it can to keep live theatre going through whatever public health measures are in place.
Fiona Mongillo, the theatre company’s artistic director, said Here For Now will be again making use of space outside the Bruce Hotel, looking to build on what turned out to be a successful transition last summer.
“We ended up producing a full-length theatre season with six different projects that were primarily new projects that ended up being a great success. We had intimate socially distance audiences outside – we started with a maximum of 25 people,” she explained.
To reduce any unnecessary interactions among theatregoers, people from the same household would be sat together in their own section, distanced from others.
Following last year’s summer season, the troupe decided to become a not-for-profit organization and have committed to female-centric productions. Setting up for the 2021 season, Mongillo and associate director Siobhan O’Malley started working full-time hours to create a “much larger festival with the same vision.”
This year’s festival will see the Bruce Hotel, which has now sponsored Here For Now, provide the team with access to the parking lot and a canopy, theatrical infrastructure and an outdoor stage from which to perform.
On the agenda for this year are eight world-premiere productions and a reading series that includes poetry as well as a free children’s show for families in the community.
“What we did was we listened to pitches from local artists throughout the year. And then based our choices on how well the productions fit with our mandate… the merit of the artists, and also that the project would involve very few artists, because we wanted to make sure that we’re keeping each group of artists very, very small,” explained Mongillo, adding that “it’s very bare bones. We’ll have a director and we’ll have generally two or three performers, max. It just keeps the risk really low in terms of COVID to keep the groups really small. And then everybody rehearses in their little individual spots, so the groups don’t interact with each other and it’s just another way to keep everybody safe.”
World premieres include Goldfish (written and directed by Steve Ross and features John Dolan and Laura Condlin), Kroehler Girls (directed by Severn Thompson featuring Kelly Mcintosh, Stacy Smith, and Andy Pogson), The Tracks (directed by Monique Lund-featuring Kale Penny and Lauren Bowler), Post Alice by Taylor Marie Graham, Janet and Louise by Deanna Kruger, In Search of Catharsis by Jessica B. Hill, The Wonder of it All by Mark Weatherley (directed by Sean McKenna featuring Monique Lund and Mark Weatherly), and So, how’s it been? Songs and Stories from our Town co-created by Liza Balkan and Paul Shilton.
“We decided to do all world-premiere productions this year because we really wanted to hire as many local artists as possible,” she said. “We really wanted to use a lot of those artists, as many artists as we possibly could in the process of creating theatre. So, we brought on board the playwrights and the directors and the actors – everybody is local.”
The parameters set by Here For Now Theatre for creating such a small-scale production have been a good creative challenge, said Mongillo.
“I really wanted all of the plays for the festival to be born out of this moment, not because they’re necessarily going to be about COVID-19 but because they’re going to reflect what we’ve been going through collectively on various levels. I think in a way, sometimes when you put some confines in, you end up with creativity that blossoms. It’s actually been very conducive to the writers and to the creative process.”
As with other groups, the Here For Now’s plans for the season are subject to ever-changing public health restrictions. In the event of continued lockdowns, however, the organization has no plans to take its shows virtual, instead it’ll wait until they can be performed in-person again.
Mongillo encourages anyone interested in this season’s performances to sign up for the mailing list. Tickets will be made available for purchase online or in-person at a box office following social distancing measures after the lifting of the provincial stay-at-home order. Donations can also be made to the theatre via the website.