Adapting theatre to COVID times

Studio Theatre’s Chrysothemis finds new, artistic solutions to social distancing and physical contact

Erik Einsiedel - 30 November 2020

Studio Theatre’s Chrysothemis (by playwright Meg Braem) is finally being reimagined and presented for audiences, albeit digitally, after being cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year, mere weeks before its world premiere.

To revive the show in compliance with enhanced public health measures, the cast and crew had to overcome many new and unusual challenges.

As actors can no longer be closer than two meters from each other, scenes that required touching, close contact, or even fighting had to be re-staged. Even a dining table had to be elongated to allow characters to sit around it while properly distanced from each other.

Props can no longer be passed directly between actors, so they need to find reasons to lay objects down for others to pick up. In fact, each actor now has their own props table backstage, whereas before there would be one main props table for everyone.

Even costume handling and maintenance has taken on strict protocols, as technicians have new protocols for managing everything from who touches each costume, to when and how it gets washed. Actors have learned how to manage complex costumes and quick changes on their own, with no one able to physically help them anymore.

Chrysothemis is the first Studio Theatre production to be staged during the ongoing pandemic, and is laying a strong foundation for future productions in the Department of Drama.

“It’s been teamwork to get to a set of acceptable protocols, and now it’s a bigger team working at putting them into practice,” says Chrysothemis director Jan Selman. “It’s really a demonstration project. We’re finding lots of possibilities that we’ll be passing on to other people as they design and conceive their own shows.”

One advantage Chrysothemis has is in its playwright, Meg Braem, who wrote the play during her three years as the UAlberta Lee Playwright in Residence. Although Braem has since moved back home to Calgary, she made herself available to adjust the script to allow for more adaptability under the new conditions.

“Jan will ask me to look at parts of the script to see if I can add some lines just to make it feasible under these protocols,” Braem explains. “But the credit must be given to Jan, the actors and the crew. The ability for this show to continue is because of their creative problem solving in the face of constant challenges.”

Although attendance for live in-person performances will not be available, Chrysothemis will instead be live-streamed on December 5 at 7:30 p.m. MST. Additionally, a digitally recorded, edited version will be made available for a limited time from December 12, 2020 to January 1, 2021.

This will be the first time in Studio Theatre history that a production will be made available in a digital version of any kind.

Launching alongside Chrysothemis is a new website — Dramaturgy: Dig Deeper — that provides additional ways to engage with Department of Drama productions. Visitors can learn more about each production from photos, videos, interviews with the cast and crew, and articles about the history and context of the production. Visitors can also share their thoughts about the productions, and engage in discussions with each other. Chrysothemis is the first production to be featured on the new Dramaturgy: Dig Deeper website.

Chrysothemis is the winner of the 2020 Alberta Playwriting Competition. To reserve your live-stream or digital tickets, please email or call the Studio Theatre Box Office at 780-492-2495.