RiseMTL: ‘Fences’ connects audiences and artists with new “Online Convos”


#RiseMTL is Montreal Theatre Hub’s new journalistic series featuring creative community initiatives for artistic and social activity in response to COVID-19.

With all known Montreal English theatre productions this spring now cancelled or postponed in view of unprecedented global events, local companies and creators have been doused with the question of the importance of the arts mid and post-crisis.

At the Centaur Theatre Company, whose joint 2020 season closer of August Wilson’s Fences with Black Theatre Workshop is among the hundreds of shows suspended in the city, the vital community pulse finds a beat with an inaugural series of virtual initiatives to incite creative exchange in times of physical distancing.

With their co-production’s sudden halt, “We wanted to find an authentic way to stay connected to our audience,” begins Centaur Artistic and Executive Director Eda Holmes. “Even though we did not get to make the show, the creative team had already done so much work, and we thought it would be compelling for our audience to hear a bit about that.”

To that effect, two of the Centaur’s existing “Enrich Your Experience” activities programmed around their mainstage offerings – namely, the Pre-Show Convo and Saturday Salons – have been adapted to the digital realm to comprise an all-new Online Convo series.

“These initiatives are meant to keep contact with the community, and to give a bit of a breath from all of the things happening around us while underlining the importance of artistic engagement.” explains Mike Payette, Director of Fences and Artistic Director of Geordie Theatre. “It also allows us to have really dynamic conversations with audience and inviting them into the world of what we do.”

Payette meets Holmes for the first Online Convo on April 30th, in which they will talk about the making of the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece. Interactive in its format, viewers will be able to send the hosts their questions and have them answered live during the broadcast.

Subsequently, the first livestreamed edition of Saturday Salon will take place on May 9th, in which both Eda and Mike will then also be joined by Quincy Armorer, Black Theatre Workshop’s Artistic Director and lead actor in the show. The chat (which also has a built-in Q&A section) will “give a behind-the-scenes look at the work we do and all that it takes to bring a play all the way from programming through rehearsals and into performance,” shares Armorer.

Eda Holmes and Quincy Armorer (Image courtesy of Centaur Theatre)

On how their respective creative work processes – and the ultimate artist-audience relationship and experience of theatre – will be informed and transformed by the current world developments, the Fences team reflects.

“There is no way to know that now exactly but having time to think about things deeply – which is one of the plusses of all of this social distancing – is always an asset when you are making art,” considers Holmes.

Their individual acknowledgement of their uncertainty and elevated awareness – particularly in response to isolation – is collectively echoed.

“It’s hard to say, but one of the things I am most conscious about right now is human contact – and the lack of it,” articulates Armorer. “I can’t imagine being in the rehearsal process and not being aware, in a different way, of how physically close the characters get to one another and about what it means when we touch each other – either cordially, intimately or even violently. It’s definitely going to resonate in a different way.”

Payette agrees and adds that the artistry will “likely change in many ways. But I don’t know what specifically. The way we see theatre will inevitably shift; it will be heightened as it always is during times of global concern. We will look at physical proximity differently and we can anticipate the notions of isolation to be that much more prevalent.”

Fences Director Mike Payette

With the cancellation of the Centaur/BTW production (and with no rescheduled staging for the time being), the Online Convo extends an essential thread of social connectivity and engagement with the arts.

Quincy upholds the relevance of the initiative. “What the current crisis has shown us is that we needed community and togetherness now more than ever. All across the world, people have been turning to the arts for humour, connection and solidarity. We need it. We want our audiences to know that we are still here for them in every way that we can be.”

“We can all recognize how important it is to find levity during these times.  There is so much uncertainty in the world about when this will end, but it will at some point,” Mike reminds us. “If nothing else, we have the opportunity to reflect on just how much the arts impact our everyday lives. When we return, we will remember how art helped carry us through; giving us space to remain imaginative and creative, be reflective of our world, and share in community even through crisis.”

Eda thoughtfully concludes: “This is such an unprecedented moment with so much activity arrested in mid-stream. Theatre is one of the most social of all activities and we were longing to find ways to express all the thoughts and emotions that we were all having. Knowing that you are not alone is one of the most important aspects of this whole crisis and these online conversations are a way to remind not just our audience but each other as artists that we are truly in this together.”

LIVE Online Convo: April 30th @ 7pm EST

How does a director take a play from the page to the stage? Join Director Mike Payette in conversation with Centaur’s A&E Director, Eda Holmes.

LIVE Saturday Salon: May 9th @ 2pm EST

Eda Holmes in conversation with Fences Director, Mike Payette, and leading actor, Quincy Armorer.

All Online Convo events are livestreamed from Centaur’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Viewers can send their questions to the panel in advance by emailing sales@centaurtheatre.com

For more information about the Online Convos initiative, visit: centaurtheatre.com/online-convos-fences

#RiseMTL by Montreal Theatre Hub
Are you or do you know of someone who has started a creative community initiative in response to COVID-19? We’d love to feature it as part of our #RiseMTL series. E-mail us at info@montrealtheatrehub.com

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