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After a bumpy pandemic, Kelowna theatre groups are ready for the spotlight

Innovation allowed these theatres to survive the pandemic, now they are planning their return to normal
(Richard Knight)

Actors are nothing if not innovators, and nothing made this clearer than how they dealt with the pandemic.

Public health orders made it impossible for theatres to stay open in any capacity and forced actors, set designers and lovers of the arts everywhere to find different ways to express their creativity.

Each theatre dealt with this curveball differently. Some closed, some adapted and others battened down the hatches and waited out the storm, biding their time until they could make a safe return to the stage.

Pete MacLeod chose the latter. He founded MadFox theatre in 2019 and after selling out their inaugural production, the up-and-coming theatre company announced their sophomore production, Hamlet, set to open in March 2021.

When it was clear the pandemic would stick a wrench in these plans, MadFox began to consider alternative ways to put on the show.

“Everyone was antsy to make the production work,” MacLeod said when asked if he had considered filming the show. “[But] we are theatre people, we [would’ve] had to become filmmakers.”

Ultimately, MadFox decided their production was meant for the stage and postponed it until early 2022.

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Their collaborators on this project, the Kelowna Shakespeare Society, deiced to try something different. Stephen Jeffreys, their President, has been involved in the Kelowna Theatre Scene since he landed in Kelowna in 1985.

When the pandemic hit and the Kelowna Shakespeare Society postponed their 2020 summer production, the Many Wives Of Windsor, Stephen stepped into the world of film with a new project.

He recruited members of the same households to perform Shakespeare scenes in a covid safe environment, with just one videographer present at the shoot. While their 2021 production was cancelled as well, Jeffreys plans to take these clips and combine them into a 60-minute movie for a future showing.

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For some small theatre groups, video production — specifically live streaming — has become a big asset. And no one in Kelowna has harnessed this power quite like New Vintage Theatre.

New Vintage has put on nine different productions over the course of the pandemic, running the gamut from radio plays to children’s theatre to cabarets.

Certain productions had a small enough cast to allow the actors to remove their masks and invite their families to watch the show, maintaining two meters of space between each actor. However, most productions were pre-recorded and distributed via Youtube.

Jaden Walton was at the helm behind the scenes of many of these productions. After working as an actor, sound director and crew member at the Kelowna Senior Secondary theatre program, Walton began studying technical theatre at the University of Victoria in the fall of 2020. While unable to attend his first year of post-secondary in person, Walton took advantage of online school to take on the role of summer stage technician at New Vintage Theatre.

The theatre’s most recent show, the teen production of The Wizard of Oz directed by Ryan Grenier and stage-managed by Walton, ran from July 5 to 16.

“That was the first normal production I’ve been in in a really long time,” said Walton, speaking about the show that ran without mask mandates in place. “It was just an amazing experience not to have to worry about everything as you are doing stuff; you can just get right to the point with everything.”

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New Vintage hopes to bring large-scale theatre back to the Okanagan with the Kelowna Fringe Festival from Sept. 15 to 19.

“A fringe festival, in my terms, is just a big community theatre scene,” Walton said.

The fringe festival will be operated out of the Rotary Center For the Arts. It will feature performances from 18 companies across the city, providing a unique opportunity for small performers to garner a big audience. A random lottery selects performers and 100 per cent of the ticket sales are distributed evenly among the chosen artists.

While all dealt with the pandemic in vastly different ways, there seems to be one thing most creatives can agree on: the best way to support the arts is to go into the community and get involved.

Whether that’s as a board member, as an actor, or just buying a ticket, it takes a village to put on a play.

“If you are not participating, buy a ticket,” Christine Daley, president of Theatre Kelowna urges. “Take in a free concert from Festivals Kelowna; just support local entertainment.”


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(Richard Knight)

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