HomeNewsNanaimo Fringe actors return to physical performances after year of digital

Nanaimo Fringe actors return to physical performances after year of digital

After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the theatre industry last year, actors are breathing in a breath of old, yet fresh, air, as the Nanaimo Fringe Festival returns to the live stage. 

A cast photo of ‘Built Different,’ with Connor Donovan Runnings (middle) and Chris Carter (rightmost).

“We did a couple shows [digitally at the Fringe] and it was different because there’s no audience,” said Chris Carter, stage manager for ‘Built Different.’ “You still have to bring that energy out. Compared to some of the other shows we had an audience here, and that made the energy a lot more [lively]. That’s the biggest challenge I think.”

The Fringe had to go digital last year, and while it was a success, it left many artists missing the sight and sound of the audience.

“It was just different because you couldn’t see the people who were watching it,” said Connor Donovan Runnings, writer and actor for ‘Built Different.’ “You didn’t really know who they were, so it’s nice to just be back in a theater and be able to see everybody’s faces.”

Though the Fringe’s theatres have limited seats to comply with COVID restrictions, Running’s sentiment of relief in seeing audiences was echoed by other actors as well. Shauna Baird, lead actor for ‘The Great Might-Have-Been,’ said the COVID gap for actors was ‘brutal.’

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Shauna Baird (middle left) and David Heyman (rightmost) in the Port Theatre after a preformance of ‘The Great Might-Have-Been.’

“The work that we traditionally pivot to wasn’t available, we did a lot of stuff online that was, you know, rehearsed readings that were sent out,” said Baird. “I mean everybody tried to pivot— and just tried to survive— I have friends who had 72 concerts canceled and were driving for Uber Eats and it was tough on artists because we were the first to close and the last to open.”

David Heyman, the writer for ‘The Great Might-Have-Been,’ says that his previous play last year was digital. While he was satisfied with it as a video, it was distinctly different from live theatre.

“There’s a magic that happens on the stage because it’s live. It’s in the moment right and there’s- you get energy from the audience and the audience gets energy from you,” Heyman stated. “There’s an exchange. It’s a beautiful moment. When people are lost in the story they’ve forgotten they’re sitting in the theater, they’re actually in Canada in 1892, or Rome, or whatever. They’ve forgotten where they are in the moment and they’ve been transported by their imagination somewhere else. And it’s a beautiful moment especially when it happens live. There’s some great actors here.”

Marya Folinsbee, lead actor and writer of Domesticated Disputes.

For others, such as actor and writer for Domesticated Disputes’ Marya Folinsbee, she said the pandemic was a ‘brief relief from over-commitment,’ and the tenacity of others in the industry was inspiring.

“A whole year without live theater and without community gathering and without…” Folinsbee trailed off. “I thought it was amazing how the arts pivoted and I saw lots of stuff online and I also got to connect with artists from across the world. I took some classes with people who are teaching in the UK or in the US or elsewhere. So I was moved by the resilience.”

The pandemic especially affected ‘A Conversation in the Night’s artistic director, Dan Pouglas, who was prevented from doing his play at all the previous year.

“I was gonna do the show for one of my own festivals as a fundraiser last year but due to COVID and the uncertainty of everything, I had to shut the show down,” said Pouglas. “I also had the chance to perform last year at the Fringe, but it wasn’t exactly the format that I wanted to be so I waited an extra year. We did it this year, so it was great.”

From left to right; Ravah Clermont, Dan Pouglas, and Damon Mitchell after a performance of ‘A Conversation in the Night.’

According to Ravah Clermont, one of the two actors in ‘A Conversation in the Night’, the decision to wait a year was ‘interesting.’

“We kind of talked about it and decided that it would be best to just wait for a live audience to have that feeling,” said Clermont. “The feeling of it being open and just having people watching this conversation in person. The dynamic just makes more sense that way so we decided to wait and unfortunately during that wait we had to find a new actor, we found Damon and he’s awesome so it’s been fun. Like relearning the character with another actor.”

Damon Mitchell, the other actor, was originally an assistant stage manager. However, he stepped up to the role.

“Apart from film projects I did with Dan, it affected the acting career pretty hard. It was not a fun year and I’m sure everyone can say the same.” 

For the full interviews with the actors, writers, and artists, detailing their inspirations, draws, and other struggles, click play on the following audio files.

Built Different’s Connor Donovan Runnings and Chris Carter:

The Great Might-Have-Been’s David Heyman and Shauna Baird:

Domesticated Disputes’ Marya Folinsbee:

A Conversation in the Night’s Dan Pouglas, Ravah Clermont, and Damon Mitchell:

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