The COVID-19 pandemic can’t break the spirit of the Shawnigan Players.
The acting troupe normally holds an outdoor Shakespeare Festival every summer, but the health crisis left the organization unable to offer the same kind of performances its audiences are used to this year.
In March, the Shawnigan Players had been preparing to perform Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the festival this year and were disappointed to learn that, due to social distancing, they couldn’t have the standing-room-only audiences that the troupe had become accustomed to.
But the intrepid director Alex Gallacher and the Players decided to move forward and provide an innovative Shakespeare festival this year that is tailor-made for the new social realities of COVID-19.
Gallacher has modified the production of The Winter’s Tale to include selected scenes with smaller numbers of actors, and the play will be performed for socially-distanced audiences of up to 50 people only at Gem o’ the Isle Farm.
Gallacher said this year’s performance is being considered a sneak preview for the Shawnigan Players’ 10th annual Cowichan Valley Shakespeare Festival where it’s hoped that The Winter’s Tale can be performed in full next year.
“After we discovered in March that we might not be able to have a festival this year, we decided that we’d like to try something to let people know that we’re still here and have a production anyway,” he said.
“We rehearsed through Zoom until May and then we started getting together, while still appropriately distanced, to rehearse outdoors. We adapted well and the actors were happy just to get together and prepare for their performances. Now, with the blessing of the Island Health Authority, we are proud to present a unique and memorable community experience; a limited ‘pandemic edition’ festival in four performances on Aug. 8-9.”
Gallacher has chosen several key scenes from The Winter’s Tale to give the audience a generous taste of this extraordinary tale of love and loss, redemption and grace.
When King Leontes of Sicily suspects his wife Hermione of infidelity, he sets in motion a disastrous chain of events with devastating consequences.
Can time really heal all wounds, or will it take a miracle?
Impassioned royalty, fiery noblewomen, clownish country folk, a sly pickpocket, and a secret princess are among the characters the audience meets in this entrancing fable, which also features perhaps the most famous stage direction in English drama: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”
Gallacher said the sneak peek performance will end in a cliffhanger that will, hopefully, encourage audience members to attend the full showing of the play next year.
The special preview performance will feature special pandemic-safe staging, with modified blocking and reduced numbers of actors.
The audiences will be limited to 50 patrons in distanced “bubbles” of up to six people.
Seating is on the grass, so audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets to sit on.
Picnic lunches are welcome.
Each performance will be a little more than an hour long and will take place on Aug. 8 and 9 at 1 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.
Gallacher said admission is by donation.
“We’re all booked up right now for the four performances, but we have a waiting list in case spots open up and we encourage people to put themselves on the list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org,” he said.
“We’re sad that some people will not be able to see the show this year, but we hope they can come to the festival next year for the full performance.”