Danny Saretsky and Regina Rios perform a scene from Unity 1918 during the Canadian College of Performing Arts production last November. (Andrew Barrett Photo/CCPA)

Life mimics art for Island students who performed play about Spanish flu pandemic

Performing arts students see parallels between story from Unity 1918 and current health crisis

As a pair of Vancouver Island performing arts students sit on the couch of a rented suite in isolation, they can’t help but think of similarities between the current COVID-19 pandemic and the subject matter in a play they acted in last fall.

Danny Saretsky, 22, and Regina Rios, 23, moved here to study at the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay. In November, they performed lead roles in the stage production of Unity 1918, a play by Kevin Kerr in which the Spanish flu disrupts the small community of Unity, Sask.

During a Zoom chat this week, Canadian College of Performing Arts students Danny Saretsky and Regina Rios talked with Oak Bay News reporter Travis Paterson about the similarites between the COVID-19 scenario and the story weaving through Unity 1918, in which they played lead roles last fall. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Saretsky, who played Stan, a new father recovering from losing his wife in childbirth. “It’s disturbingly parallel.”

In particular, it’s society’s reaction to the virus that stands out. The nation was still grieving the 56,638 Canadian military members who died in the First World War. To this day the number of people killed by the Spanish influenza ranges in estimate from 20 to 50 million people worldwide, about 55,000 people in Canada and 650,000 in the U.S. 

“[It’s kind of the same as] how people were [recently] exaggerating, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ while others stocked up on toilet paper,” said Rios, who played Sunna, a young Icelandic woman who becomes the town mortician.

Amid the chaos of death, in which there aren’t enough coffins for the dead, Sunna and Stan find romance.

In Unity, as it was back then, things were typically slower. But with the flu, things changed quickly day-to-day. The schools are closed. Physical contact is forbidden and there is a town curfew.

“Basically, all fun things were cancelled then, too,” Saretsky said. “The town people were quarreling with one another, not because of illness, but because of fear of illness.”

The actors even played out the same responses we’re seeing now, especially mistrust of people who travelled internationally.

“Even though people sought a human connection, travellers were met with a ‘please get away from me’ vibe,” Saretsky said.

“They didn’t really understand the flu,” Rios said. “The flu hit Regina [Sask.], so they knew it was coming in, but they didn’t know how it spread. They thought being downwind would spread it. It was being spread with the soldiers coming home from the war.”

READ ALSO: Celebrities urge Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

There were mass graves and misinformation.

When CCPA staged its final performance of Unity 1918 on Dec. 1, there was no sign of a global pandemic unfolding.

The two graduated in February and went their separate ways. Rios joined local troupe Story Theatre and was touring preschools with the show The Very First Circus. “Of course, going school to school was not ideal, so that was cancelled [early],” she said.

Saretsky was in the middle of a vacation tour with his father to the United States and Europe when they were forced to change their plans.

“We were in Boston when we made the decision to follow recommendations and come home,” Danny said.

Saretsky is scheduled to head to Vancouver this summer to intern at the annual Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Organizers plan to give an update April 6 on the status of the festival.

For now the two young actors are stuck, together at least, in an Airbnb suite until things change.

“We did jazzercise today, a ’90s jazzercise funk workout on YouTube,” Saretsky said.

“Support artists if you can, it’s a tough time for all of us,” added Rios.

reporter@oakbaynews.com



editor@mondaymag.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusLive theatre

Just Posted

Bride thankful ailing stepdad was able to walk her down the aisle

Ceremony held amidst pandemic in order to fulfill bride’s wish to have stepdad give her away

One in custody after two men stabbed in Victoria

Police arrest suspect morning after stabbings on Pandora Avenue

Island Sikh community donates 800 meals to frontline workers

Volunteers out handing out prepared meals to grateful Cowichan District Hospital workers

Mill Bay students petition for formal graduation

“We have a few realistic ideas in mind that could provide a safe and healthy grad celebration”

Province pays $4.08 million for hotel to house fire victims

Purchase will provide 41 units of affordable rental housing for those displaced by the fire.

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Inquest into death of Jocelyn George postponed due to COVID-19

Coroner’s inquest into 2016 death of Port Alberni woman was supposed to start July 6

ICET provides Qualicum Beach with $250K for East Village project

Town expects revitalization plan to attract more developments

Comox Valley RCMP impound six vehicles in six days in May

All drivers were found to be going at least 47 km/h over the speed limit

Person finds bag of drugs while out for walk in Langford

Police ask residents, drivers to check surveillance footage

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

Langford man arrested after fleeing a serious crash in Saanich

Other driver sustained non-life-threatening injuries, police say

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Most Read