Countless industries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few have been hit quite as hard as live performance.
For nearly two years, stages within live theatre and music venues have remained almost exclusively dark, with livestreamed and pre-recorded events largely taking the lead since March 2020 until a time when performers and audiences could safely gather in the same space together once again.
Hamilton Theatre Inc – a local institution producing quality community theatre for 65 whole years – knows this pain all too well. Prior to the pandemic, they had a lineup of ambitious musicals slated for 2020, including the acclaimed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Duncan Sheik’s Tony Award-winning rock musical Spring Awakening.
Matilda just barely avoided being shut down by COVID-19 before completing its scheduled run through February 2020, but Spring Awakening had to be unceremoniously and indefinitely postponed as the immediate future of live performance began to look less and less certain by the day.
Flash forward to today, and there’s a bit more certainty in the air. As vaccination efforts continue to move along and the impacts of the pandemic appear to be softening, theatre companies like Hamilton Theatre Inc are looking to brighter days ahead and getting ready to welcome audiences back into their venues after an extended intermission.
In fact, HTI is wasting no time in getting performers back on stage and audiences back into the seats as they prepare to mount their 2021/2022 season beginning with the Welcome Back Showcase: a musical revue that celebrates a return to in-person theatre while looking back on the struggles of the past 20 months.
Created and directed by HTI veterans Tim Denis and Bree McLean-Roberts, the Welcome Back Showcase features a company of nearly two-dozen of HTI’s favourite performers as they interpret songs from some of the most popular Broadway musicals of the past 20 years including Rock of Ages, Fun Home, Heathers, The Book of Mormon, Once, Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day, American Idiot, and many others.
According to Denis and McLean-Roberts, the show was inspired by a seed of an idea to use established songs from contemporary musical theatre to both chart the struggle-filled journey of the pandemic as well as look to a brighter, more hopeful future; and bringing their show to life in the first place has come with its own unique set of challenges.
“We knew that coming out of the lockdown was not going to be a matter of ‘okay, let’s do a show.’ There were still rehearsal protocols and performance rules to follow, plus we had no idea what the public was thinking about buying tickets,” they say.
But audiences hungry to return to the theatre can be assured that the experience is poised to be as safe as possible, with HTI implementing multiple measures including contact tracing, requiring proof of vaccination for all audience members, and enforcing mask-wearing at all times during the performance.
The relatively awkward health & safety measures are well worth the cherished return to live performance, especially after 20 months where artists and audiences alike were almost completely deprived of it; and for Denis and McLean-Roberts, the chance to bring this comeback showcase to life right here in Hamilton feels particularly special.
“Hamilton is a very special place for the arts. Its diverse culture and socio-economic demographic give it a unique voice that you can’t find in other cities in this country,” they explain. “We are proud to be a part of such an ever growing, evolving, and all-encompassing place to create.”
The Welcome Back Showcase, which opens on Friday, November 19th and runs through to November 27th, is the first of two shows for HTI’s 2021/2022 season, the second of which will be their postponed production of Spring Awakening featuring an exciting cast of young local talent.
It’s been a long, hard road to get back to a point where in-person theatre is safely viable once again; and as Denis and McLean-Roberts readily tell me, the feeling of coming back is unmatched.
“Imagine driving in a car down a highway with the top down, wind in your hair, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Suddenly you enter a tunnel. You spend two years driving through that tunnel with nothing beside you, above you, or anywhere else for that matter; but you’re still moving forward. Finally, you come out the other side and can open the windows, roll back the top, and take in the world again. That’s what this has been like.”
If that palpable passion and excitement is any indication, HTI’s Welcome Back Showcase is bound to be a show you shouldn’t miss.
Hamilton Theatre Inc’s Welcome Back Showcase runs from November 19th-27th, 2021 at the HTI Studio Theatre at 140 MacNab Street North. More information and tickets are available on their website.
Images courtesy of Hamilton Theatre Inc.