Adventures in pandemic theatre: a mystery box, a romantic comedy, a (very) short film fest, and more

By Liz Nicholls,

Theatre’s strange, circuitous and sometimes wonderful route through the pandemic, chapter umpteen. Let me tell you about my week.

•For three days the mystery box sat on the dining room table, wrapped in silver. Light, but not too light. Not small but not big. A distinct rattle when surreptitiously shaken.

What could possibly be inside? No way of knowing till showtime last Saturday. Speculation is irresistible.

La Boîte Sensorielle/ SensoryBox/, Ghost River Theatre at L’UniThéâtre. Photo by Jaime Vedres Photography

That’s La Boîte Sensorielle, a Ghost River Theatre “production” delivered to your door by L’UniThéâtre, Edmonton’s hospitable francophone theatre. A particularly engaging companion (actor/ co-playwright Christopher Duthie), looks you right in the eye, intensely across your screen, and explains why you are giving him a gift in accepting this boîte — by being present at a time, for theatre artists, of absence.

That’s when hearing and touch take over from sight. You will be  masked, yes, but it’s with a blindfold, and Duthie’s easeful, genial instructions (in French) are in your ear. And after a Zoom-laden year, maybe it isn’t so surprising to discover, as I did, that it’s fun, and honestly kind of a relief to discard for a while the visual in favour of darkness, and a connection with a performer that feels more visceral. Is it that the visual has become the preserve of screens, and screens have their own tiring and predictable homogeneity?

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Co-created by Duthie and Ghost River artistic director Eric Rose, La Boîte Sensorielle is, in its own inspired way, custom-made just for you. Or put it this way: it directly gets you to be alert, and custom-make the experience for yourself. It’s a gift box of playful cues into your own past, memorable moments, lost sensations, odd points of connection with other people, little glimpses into your younger self, fragments of your pre-COVID-ian life. It’s an adventure into your own life.

“There’s no show without you,” said Rose in an interview with that you can read here. And that’s exactly right.

I can’t tell you more without spoiling the surprises, and skewing your own spontaneous responses. No rehearsing, kids: there’s delight to be had in playing along. La Boîte Sensorielle returns tonight through Saturday. Tickets:

A gift-wrapped box, fun! For me, it’s been a week of unusual theatrical responses to these trying times (and a week to be impressed again by the resourcefulness of theatre artists).

First Métis Man of Odessa, is a new romantic comedy by playwright Matthew MacKenzie (Bears, The Particulars, The Situation We Find Ourselves In Is This), premiering as part of Factory Theatre’s You Can’t Get There From Here Audio Series of podcasts. It’s the playwright’s real-life love story, a race against time and borders in which the obstacle to happiness, romantic union and fulfilment isn’t your beloved’s mom, or red hair, a bizarre hobby, dietary proclivities, or musical taste … but a global pandemic.

I haven’t tried either, but I suspect it’s probably more enjoyable to do your own root canal than travel by air these days. Who could have known the world, reputedly getting smaller, would actually be getting so vast? Matt, a Métis man of Toronto and Edmonton, and Masha, an award-winning theatre artist of Odessa, fall in love in the latter’s home town in Ukraine. A short parting of ways gets longer and crazier, thanks to COVID. Borders close; regulations multiply. Will Matt get back to Masha? Will their wedding happen (and will they be able to book a klezmer band in time?). Will Masha get to Canada before the birth of their son? Will a happy ending happen, and true love prevail over the shitstorm of the world?

It’s a breathless real-life romantic screwball, directed by Factory artistic director Nina Lee Aquino. Claude Lauzon and Christine Horne play Matt and Masha, the COVIDian Nick and Nora. Catch it (for free) at

•Don’t tell me you haven’t had time to “go” to the Play The Fool International Short Film Festival, devoted to clowning and physical comedy. You can see all 12 jury selections in their entirety in 24 minutes (23 actually, since one of the two-minute films actually wraps it up in 60 seconds). I wrote about this experience on the weekend (you can read about it here), and the oblique way clowns, who have an uncanny ability to live in the moment, address the times in which we live. It continues at

Please Remain Behind The Shield, by and starring Chris Dodd, SOUND OFF Festival. Photo supplied

•I caught Please Remain Behind The Shield at this year’s (all online) SOUND OFF festival of deaf theatre, now alas over. This new solo piece by the multi-talented deaf theatre artist Chris Dodd (SOUND OFF’s artistic director and founder) thinks about the disconnections of the pandemic as a daunting obstacle to language. The world has become even more alienating to deaf people when an alienating .

Dodd himself, an engaging and eminently likeable performer who uses an animated melange of ASL and integrated subtitles, to create a hopeful deaf protagonist whose access to the world, and tentative forays into friendship are shut down cruelly, bit by bit, in the age of distancing and masks.

It’s an eloquent show from Follow The Signs Theatre, a 20-year-old collaboration between Dodd and hearing director Ashley Wright. And it deserves a longer run, in other theatres. Check out the 12thnight interview with Dodd here.

Kristi Hansen and Sheldon Elter, Lady Macbeth and the Not Quite Dead, Musical Theatreworks. Screen capture.

•I’m coming late to this, but I really enjoyed Lady Macbeth And The Not Quite Dead, an original song cycle that is a collaboration between Vancouver’s Musical TheatreWorks and Shakespeare companies across the country (including our own Freewill Shakespeare Festival).

The setting is Lady M’s celebrating sleep-walking scene. And she conjures a selection of Shakespeare’s other women who, it turns out, aren’t quite dead after all (you look for pals where you can find them). Great premise, set forth by Tracey Power in the first song “Out Damn Spot!”. Twenty artists from everywhere in Canada were commissioned to write, perform, and video songs based on the fortunes of Kate, Juliet, and the rest of the female brigade.

The charismatic Tara Jackson gives us Cleopatra. And Freewill stars Kristi Hansen and Sheldon Elter, in matching “I’m A Good Woman” T-shirts, bring us Cleo’s put-upon attendants Iras and Charmian, a ditzy BFF duo laced to cellphone texting in an amusing song: “I am her and she is me…. We are girls of the same fortune/ though we are not of the same origin….”

The plan, apparently, is for a national show that will happen on a stage, an exciting prospect. Meanwhile, catch the video version at

p.s. Friday, the 2021 edition, all-online, of Rapid Fire Theatre‘s conflagration of great, crazy, and what-were-they-thinking ideas, starts. Check out the 12thnight preview here.


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