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Oct. 23, 2021 | Saturday
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COVID-19: Shaw on hiatus, but holding virtual rehearsals
Cast of Charley’s Aunt in a Zoom rehearsal. Top row: Kate Hennigar (assistant stage manager), Diane Konkin (stage manager), Claire Jullien, Rong Fu. Middle row: Peter Fernandes, Marla McLean, Tim Carroll (artistic director and director of Charley’s Aunt), Cameron Grant. Bottom row: Sarena Parmar, Rick Reid, Neil Barclay, Mike Nadajewski. Solo: Patrick Galligan. (Photo by Diane Konkin)

‘There’ll still be theatre. We’ll still be here, we’ll bounce back, but we want to make sure the community we serve bounces back, too,’ says artistic director Tim Carroll

The show does, indeed, go on.

The creative minds at the Shaw Festival are not about to let the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced cancellation of the first month of the new season stop them.

Thanks to enterprise and ingenuity, Shaw actors are holding virtual rehearsals, working with coaches online and preparing props and costumes at home.

“It’s been very inspiring to see how much everyone’s coming together, even apart,” Shaw artistic director Tim Carroll said in an interview Monday.

“Lots and lots of rehearsals are happening online and people getting together on Skype and talking through their plays.”

There was even a cast run-through of one of this season’s big shows, “Charley’s Aunt,” using the Zoom conferencing app.

“People are showing the most extraordinary kind of wartime resilience and spirit.”

Of course, there’s no telling when this season will start. It could be months away, but Carroll said the Shaw is planning for every eventuality, even if it means a truncated season.

In the meantime, he revealed the company is hoping to get “a little bit of content out” via Instagram and Facebook over the next week or so, “if we can sort out the necessary permissions.”

The Shaw, for now, is continuing to pay all staff and the idea for using technology grew out of the company’s desire to be able to “hit the ground running” once the season is able to resume.

The rehearsals initially started in small groups, keeping their social distance, but now the interaction is all being done remotely, said Carroll.

“There’s been an enormous amount of inventiveness from everyone in the company about how to carry on with the work of building things, making things, fixing things, designing things, planning things.”

While the season was about to launch in April when the plug was pulled last week, there was still plenty of work to do.

“There’s a huge amount that was going on both for the last few stages of the shows that were about to open, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Charley’s Aunt’ and ‘Prince Caspian,’ but also the second wave of shows, like ‘Playboy of the Western World’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ were well under way as well,” he said.

“In some cases, they were already on to the third wave of shows, like ‘Assassins,’ so the factories were humming at high capacity when the hammer fell.”

Having to rely on technology for virtual rehearsals is no substitute for having actors together in the same room, but the cast is adapting.

The run-through of “Charley’s Aunt” was “rather lovely,” Carroll said. “Of course, when you have a bunch of creative people like that you have all sorts of opportunities for them to get silly and inventive.”

Before the final act, he challenged the cast to see who would be the “champion of the camera,” which resulted in “people making strange flying entrances from offscreen and putting silly backgrounds up. One of the guys was playing the scene with his phone on which he had the head shot of the actress he was supposed to be playing the scene with. So, he was canoodling with her headshot on his phone.”

One difference for Carroll personally these days is he’s spent a lot more time than usual checking in on company members to make sure they’re OK.

But the biggest change for the artistic director is “I’m having to live in the present instead of the future. Normally, at this time of year I have rehearsals, which are a nice distraction for me from my main job, which is thinking about 2021. This has really forced me back into the present day” because there’s no point doing anything on 2021 until the current season is sorted out.

“This is just a time when there’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself. You just have to say there are people with bigger problems and our job is just to do whatever we can to keep people safe and get the country through this in the best shape it can be,” he said.

“And then … there’ll still be theatre. We’ll still be here, we’ll bounce back, but we want to make sure the community we serve bounces back, too.”