It’s better late than never for the Chemainus Theatre to be releasing a show schedule for 2022.
Under pre-COVID conditions this would normally be done the previous fall. But with so much uncertainty about whether there was even going to be a season again, sending any performances to the stage is a godsend for the theatre at this point.
“We’ve been waiting so long, it’s hard to believe,” said Randy Huber, the theatre’s managing director.
It’s been 25 months, in fact, since the Marvelous Wonderettes was pulled off the stage on March 13, 2020 before the end of its run at the outset of COVID. The theatre filled some of the gap with a Playbill Presents series in the dining room as restrictions allowed and recent forays onto the stage with Holiday Jubilation and Michael Clarke’s The Journey, but it’s been a long haul.
“It’s not going to be a cold start,” said Huber. “I think it would have been a shock to go from zero to highway speed.”
No one knows what lies ahead with any other variants of COVID and whether that might result in changes again, but “we’re optimistic for this coming season,” remarked Huber.
That said, the official season-opener will be The 39 Steps from April 22-May 22 followed by Classic Country Roads June 17-Aug. 21, Glory Sept. 16-Oct. 9, Dead Ringer Oct. 21-Nov. 13 and A Tiny Christmas Carol Dec. 2-23. The productions of 39 Steps and Glory were both on the calendar for 2020 before the season was shut down.
There will be some differences to the theatre experience, mainly in terms of the seating arrangement and the size of the casts for the shows.
“We’re taking a bit of a stepped approach,” added Huber.
For The 39 Steps, the back section will continue with socially distanced seating and the front part will have regular seats to ensure there’s an option for whatever makes people feel comfortable.
“It’ll be a bit of a hybrid,” Huber noted. “Lots are anxious to get right back in and others aren’t quite sure yet. It’s a safe experiment to welcome them back. We think that’s a good step.”
From the side of assembling casts and crew, “it’s been interesting watching different companies come back into production,” said Mark DuMez, the theatre’s artistic director. “Every company in Canada’s doing the same sort of thing, taking what they left behind in 2020 and what they worked on in 2021.”
Many peoples’ lives and circumstances in theatre have changed during the pandemic.
“The industry is sorting itself out is what we’re finding,” said DuMez.
Both Huber and DuMez acknowledged the donor and community support, with such things as the Return To Stage campaign, has been great while waiting in anticipation for the restart.
The $85,000 matching campaign has been eclipsed.
“It’s producing the seed money for us to gear back up and produce again,” Huber indicated.
The season itself offers a little something for everyone, with Dead Ringer added to the mix as a bonus show.
The 39 Steps was performed previously in Chemainus in 2011 and it was a wildly popular show.
“It’s something we wanted to bring back – Hitchcock meets hilarious,” said DuMez.
“The audience is ready to laugh,” reasoned Huber.
There are four actual performers in the show, combining to play numerous characters.
Classic Country Roads is a tribute/review style journey through bluegrass and gospel music to the early country icons and into rockabilly and the Bakersfield and Nashville sounds.
There will be about seven to eight different performers in that cast.
“Everything’s a little smaller than it was, but that’s part of the intimate charm,” explained DuMez.
Glory comes from Island playwright Tracey Power and she’ll be part of the creative team for the show. The story of a women’s hockey team has gone all over Canada and was last seen in Prince George.
“We’re looking forward to having that powerful women’s story on stage,” said DuMez.
Dead Ringer features popular performer Zach Stevenson, portraying not just Buddy Holly this time but others.
“He’s had this moniker from another Island paper, Dead Ringer for Dead Singers,” pointed out DuMez. “There’s such a chameleon quality to what he can do musically.”
As for A Tiny Christmas Carol, “it’s just a real intimate retelling,” observed DuMez.
Everyone knows the story, but it’s a classic worth seeing again and again in slightly different contexts.
“We have a small cast – small in numbers, big in heart, I’m sure,” noted DuMez.
Playbill Presents will continue with shows in the dining room as well.
“That’s a nice new nugget from this time down that we’ve been able to incorporate into the programming,” Huber indicated. “It nicely augments what we have on stage.”