The interior of the iconic Lyric Theatre in Swift Current is still dark and silent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the non-profit organization is reaching out to the community with a new digital stage initiative and an appeal for financial support.
The public health restrictions during the pandemic have a dramatic impact on venues that bring people together to celebrate the arts.
“All of the performing arts organizations are faced with the same dilemma,” Lyric Theatre Artistic and Executive Director Gordon McCall said. “We depend on people gathering in an interactive, live manner with the stage. So, we're no exception. We're faced with a situation and looking at how we will adapt in the future.”
The Lyric Theatre has been closed since March 14 and all events have been postponed until further notice, but planning has continued to deal with the current situation and to prepare for the future.
“We're doing a lot of thinking about that and discussion and trying to learn from this experience,” he said. “It's not all negative. We're going to learn some interactive skills that we may not have ever encountered before or thought we would ever have to use, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but we do have a challenge ahead of us in terms of re-gathering.”
Over the next few weeks, the theatre’s core programming will be making a comeback in a digital format through an initiative known as the Lyric Digital Stage.
“We're going to our strength,” he said. “We are creative people and we are using our imaginations and our human resources and our digital resources.”
The premiere of the Lyric Digital Stage on YouTube took place on May 3. It featured a presentation of Write Out Loud, the theatre’s literary program. Four Saskatchewan authors read from their works during the nearly hour-long show.
The featured authors during the inaugural digital Write Out Loud were Swift Current writers Diane Miller and Jessica Williams, as well as Gail Bowen from Regina and Dwayne Brenna from Saskatoon.
Write Out Loud will continue on the Lyric Digital Stage on May 9 at 7 p.m. when another flight of four authors with share their words with viewers.
Open Stage, a popular event at the Lyric Theatre featuring talented local musicians, will make its debut on the theatre’s digital stage on May 8 at 7 p.m. Several musicians will entertain viewers with their songs and different artists will showcase their music during upcoming performances.
The Lyric Digital Stage will also present Youth Talent Night and Postcards at the Speed of Light in coming weeks.
Youth Talent Night has been another popular event at the Lyric Theatre for many years. It provides children and youth an opportunity to perform live on stage, and in the new format they will be able to showcase their musical talents with viewers through this online show.
Postcards at the Speed of Light will be a fun experience for viewers and an interesting challenge for participants, who will do lightning-fast presentations of personal stories and adventures. Every presentation will consist of 22 images that will each appear on the screen for only 22 seconds, and the challenge for a presenter is to keep up with the slides.
According to McCall there has been a tremendous response from those who have been approached to participate in the theatre’s new digital format.
“When we put out the word through Terry Toews and her Write Out Loud committee for the authors, we had our first flight of people in hours and people were sending me videos,” he said. “So yes, a lot of excitement, and the same with the musicians.”
He felt the positive response is a reflection of a need for some reprieve from the pandemic, and the Lyric Digital Stage can play a role to provide participants and viewers with a break from the situation.
“I think what it’s doing is responding to a need that we all have to have a normalcy,” he said. “We can dwell on the disorientation of this whole experience and then there comes a point that we have to have something that we recognize and that we participate in.”
The Lyric Theatre had to postpone this year’s Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival to July 2021, but McCall is planning to introduce interactive Shakespeare readings to the Lyric Digital Stage.
“That will be the equivalent of Zoom meetings,” he said. “I'm going to ask people in the community to participate in some interactive fashion with that, obviously in honour or a tip of the hat to our Great Southwest Shakespeare Festival.”
The intention is that the roll-out of the Lyric Digital Stage will provide viewers with online entertainment every weekend during the pandemic.
“Now how long we can continue it, we won't know until we do it,” he said. “It's part of the excitement of it. We're stepping into unknown territory and that's always exciting to say let's see how this goes and we'll adapt as we go.”
At the same time, planning has already started for the Lyric Theatre’s new season after the pandemic. It will be called the sunshine season.
“We're looking at this as a dark period that's going to be followed by sunshine,” he said. “’Eventually we'll come out from under the dark cloud and we want to be there ready with some really positive experiences for our audiences.”
The upcoming season will include a stage performance of some Robert Munsch stories, which will be called Munsch-A-Palooza.
“Each year we're bringing to life stories of Robert Munsch that we haven't brought to life in the past season,” he said. “So that will be the same thing this season, and that is just such a positive family experience that we're really excited about.”
The new season will be an opportunity to present the world premiere of Burn Rubber, Dolly by local playwright Wendy Lockman. This play was scheduled to be performed in March, but the Lyric Theatre was closed five days before opening night. McCall is also planning to have another play during the new sunshine season.
“We're bringing definitely another play that I'm working on, searching for this play that will be a very, very positive, uplifting and fun experience for the audience,” he said.
The start date of a new season after the pandemic is completely unknown at the moment. It will be a challenge for the theatre to re-open while there are still public health restrictions in place that limit the size of audiences and require physical distancing. He emphasized the health of the community will be their number one priority when a decision is taking on re-opening the theatre.
“It's really a matter of finding ways to adapt in the coming months and then eventually I do believe we'll be past it, but we just can't say that it's as soon as we'd all liked,” he said.
In the meantime, the Lyric Theatre is making an appeal to the community for some financial support to assist them to get through this challenging time without any box office income.
“The majority of our revenues to keep our operation happening comes from box office and naturally we don't have any box office at the moment and we don't really know when that will return,” he said. “So we're asking people if they could in any way assist us, it would so much be appreciated.”
An amount of $20 is suggested as a donation to the Lyric Theatre, but they will welcome any amount, big or small.
“People already started to do this,” he said. “Our heartfelt thanks to everyone in the community who is doing so. With the $20, as those begin to add up, we can actually raise a reasonable amount of money to help us stay alive and come back strong.”
To provide financial support to the theatre, send a cheque or money order to The Lyric Theatre, P.O. Box 1143, Swift Current, S9H 3X3, or send e-transfers to: email@example.com
There will be regular updates and information about upcoming Lyric Digital Stage performances on the Lyric Theatre Facebook page.