By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“Listen, life is valuable…. If it ends, you’d miss it. Remember that, but also forget about it. I’m done. Where’s my drink?”
The woman who delivers an impromptu Best Lady acceptance speech in Stewart Lemoine’s 2003 comedy The Margin of the Sky — and gets handed a glass of champagne for her pains — was on to something. Hold that thought.
There’s a certain wistful might-have-been attached to Thursday night. In the parallel universe where pandemics don’t exist, that’s when Teatro La Quindicina’s 38th season would have begun. With a revival of Evelyn Strange, a black comedy/ thriller of the Hitchcock persuasion set in New York and, in one crucial scene a box at the Metropolitan Opera. It would have been followed by Everybody Goes To Mitzi’s in July, a new Lemoine for the Fringe in August, and Fever-Land in September.
OK, the play can’t open. Neither can the Teatro summer season, postponed intact for a full year. But the appetite for celebration can’t be put on hold. Which is why Teatro is throwing an online gala instead, Thursday at 7:30 p.m. On a screen (very) near you, it’s party time — in honour of the un-launchable season, and the 60th birthday of Lemoine, Teatro’s founder and resident playwright.
The organizers of the variety bash are the trio of veteran Teatro artists who would have been directing three of the four productions in the 2020 Teatro season that will be reborn in 12 months as the 2021 season: Shannon Blanchet, Belinda Cornish, and Kate Ryan.
Says Blanchet, “it’s a chance to rally, to come together with our audience for an occasion … to connect and try and bring some joy and frivolity” at a time when they’re in short supply. When the Queen said ‘we’ll meet again’ in her hit COVID speech, Blanchet’s weren’t the only eyes to tear up.
“For the company, it’s a chance for reflection we don’t often have because we’re so busy getting a play together,” she says. “We know our audience…. We’re at the theatre with them. We’re in the box office, we’re at the concession every night.”
And an experiment in digital presence is useful too. “At heart there’s a vintage spirit to Teatro,” says actor-turned-director Blanchet, whose revival of Evelyn Strange will now open the 2021 season next May 27. “How do we retain that spirit in a different medium? This is a chance to explore how to expand our digital footprint.” She laughs. “I’m in ‘uncertain artist’ mode.… I’m used to thinking of my generation as ‘the kids’. But we’re distinctly mid-career. How will we adapt?”
The balance between tradition and legacy, and adaptation to the new are on her mind. And on that subject Evelyn Strange gives a pleasing configuration to Blanchet’s career. It was her professional acting debut out of U of A theatre school, and it will be her debut as a director.
Online productions, interviews, readings and the rest can’t replace the live in-person experience that’s at the heart of theatre, of course. “OK, they’re not theatre,” says Blanchet. “Accept that. You change the molecular content of the universe when people come together.” But the digital world is a frontier that has other possibilities, and Thursday’s house party is a moment for Teatro to explore them, she thinks.
Some 45 artists, from far and wide, have contributed to the evening in one way or another, reports Blanchet. We’ll see monologues and scenes from Lemoine’s own faves — Shockers Delight!, The Margin of the Sky, Whiplash Weekend!, The Exquisite Hour, The Oculist’s Holiday, Swiss Pajamas among them. And there’s a specially curated selection of two-hand scenes performed by COVID co-habitants, including Cornish and Mark Meer, Jenny McKillop and Garett Ross, Mat Busby and Jenna Dykes-Busby, Kristi Hansen and Sheldon Elter.
Music, which features prominently in the Lemoine canon, is part of the extravaganza: musical numbers from Jocelyn Ahlf, Andrea House, Ryan Sigurdson, and Sheri Somerville, with additional music by Erik Mortimer.
And there will be cocktails (made by you from instructions online), as befits a repertoire filled with classic drinks. Teatro, after all, is a company that for a couple of decades revived Lemoine’s Cocktails at Pam’s every five years. Blanchet remembers the opening night of the screwball comedy Whiplash Weekend!, in which she played a long-distance swimmer who toasts “here’s to you, Lake Ontario!” She lifted her glass, as she recalls, and found herself sipping Veuve Cliquot. “What a great way to open a show!”
There’s even “a surprise piece for Stewart,” says Blanchet. It’s a Zoom production of an early piece, shhh, “and he won’t see it coming!”
Stewart Lemoine’s Diamond Jubil-AEIIIII!
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Directed by: Shannon Blanchet, Belinda Cornish, Kate Ryan
Hosted by: Rachel Bowron
Starring: 45 Teatro ensemble actors, with surprise guests
When: Thursday 7:30, available for viewing through June 5.