BOW VALLEY – Overcoming adversity, much like the valiant characters being portrayed in the upcoming Canmore Summer Theatre Festival, was the constant whirlwind local performers were challenged with while putting together classic tales.
When confidence flickered and the productions were in doubt, the perseverance of all involved pulled through in what they hope brings some normalcy during difficult times.
The magic of Middle-earth’s The Hobbit and Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing will be available to watch in the comfort of one’s home from Aug. 14-30 as Pine Tree Players, DIY Theatre and Artists’ Collective Theatre go digital for its summer productions.
Getting to this point during a pandemic wasn’t easy, said Marcus Williams, who plays snooty bachelor Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing and wise elf lord Elrond in The Hobbit.
“It’s kind of crazy because once COVID hit, the directors rejigged their visions three times,” he said. “We all didn’t know what was going to happen and we pulled the show from the grave twice. It was a challenge to do that and the learning curve of ‘how are we going to do this?’ ”
With the evolving virus and all its uncertainties, the productions that were going to be live theatre earlier this year became an on-again, off-again endeavour with commitment to a single idea being too risky. Eventually, both productions settled on digital platforms and began their own twists on things.
The cast of Shakespeare’s comedy about “gender, power, maturity and reputation” embraced modern-technology for the production and all its glitches, dropped calls and slow streams. This version of Much Ado About Nothing is done entirely over Zoom, which is a video meeting platform that connects multiple screens in one room.
“Let’s not fight against Zoom … let’s encourage more technology and embrace the lag,” said director Kaleigh Richards. “It became a part of the design and helps to incorporate a younger perspective. It made sense to embrace Zoom and its struggles.”
Because Zoom works like a video call and shows the face and shoulders, the production had to hide its negatives and exemplify its positives.
“The use of language and tone in our voices is what we focused on and making sure the audience knows why we said it,” said Williams. “We’re going to do a Zoom dance, sort of a Tik Tok-esque dance to make things a little more interesting than a typical Zoom meeting.”
For The Hobbit, the tale of an unsuspecting adventure in search of an evil dragon’s precious treasures with the hobbit's companions, a long-bearded wizard and 13 dwarves, the backdrop is arguably more stimulating to the eye than the Zoom Room. Utilizing the peaks and natural beauty around Canmore with up to three cameras rolling at once to capture battle scenes being duked out at Millennium Park and the use Policeman’s Creek, among other filming locations to create the iconic Middle-earth scenery.
“When we switched to digital, we still wanted to keep as much of the movement and music as we could … and we still wanted to keep in the bigger battle elements and fantastical elements, so it was just about trying to figure out how to make that work on a small screen,” said director Shelby Nicole Reinitz. “Some of that movie magic really works to our advantage and some of it makes the process a little more difficult.”
Due to circumstances, sometimes the performers acted out a scene for the first time together and then were filming it a few moments later.
“This was a new experience for all of us,” said Círdan Monteith, who plays Bilbo, the unsuspecting hobbit, sneaky burglar and emerging adventurer. “It was lovely to be able to have that escape and that output for all of the feelings and all of the concerns that are happening and going through everyone’s minds right now. I just hope it can act like that for the people seeing it as much as it was for the people who were in it.”
Character costumes, right down to the hairy, oversized hobbit feet, were created in about three weeks. Canmore’s Entangled Puppetry created a puppet for Smaug, the evil, gold-hording dragon.
Members of the cast like Williams and Monteith grew up with The Hobbit and its sequel The Lord of the Rings. In fact, Monteith’s first name, Círdan, is inspired from a LOTR character. Her father, Gregg, playing the voice of Smaug, has had lots of time to perfect his version of the fire-breather’s speech.
“Him, me, my sister and my mother had read alouds of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and he had different voices for all of the characters,” Monteith said. “So he came in to [audition] and I read for Bilbo and he read for Smaug and he ended up getting casted and so did I. It was really fun, like a family moment.”
From a live theatre set-up, to its move to digital, cast and crew have gone on a journey of their own to finally arrive at the premiere. In a lot of ways, real life has mimicked art over the past few months.
"Bilbo going up against a dragon and being so resilient, it lends itself to our directors looking at the ever-changnig face of COVID-19," said Williams. "Reimagning their vision and still making sure we have still a chance to be ready and put on a show for the people of the Bow Valley."
Streaming on YouTube from Aug. 14-30, Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing kicks off the digital summer fest. This Friday's (Aug. 14) premiere at 7 p.m. is by invite only and costs $20 or more for an invitation.
From Aug. 22-30, J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale The Hobbit takes the screen. Its premiere on Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. is by invite only and minimum costs a $15 to view.
Donors will be emailed the link and a "talk back session" with the cast and crew will be held on Zoom following the premieres.