Thom with By Grand Central Station dancers, Alexandra Garrido & Carol-Ann Bohrn
On June 18, we announced that Prairie Theatre Exchange will begin its live theatre season at Portage Place, in Winnipeg, on Treaty 1 territory, in March of 2021.
Our decision to cancel six productions has been devastating. The biggest factor in our decision has been safety as it relates to time. Even when health authorities tell us we can reopen, the ethical question becomes should we? Our General Manager Tracey and I spend every moment of each day balancing scenarios, questions and finally, ethics. How do we care for the stories that have been entrusted to us? How do we care for our community of artists? How do we care for our audience? How do we, ethically, safely, and responsibly reopen our facility? How do we ensure that in PTE’s 48th season that the company is able to continue for another 48 years and beyond?
We believe that we need the fall to make sure that we have every protocol in place, every question answered that can be, every scenario considered before we welcome artists and audiences together at PTE. If physical distancing remains necessary into the New Year, our seating capacity will decrease from 323 seats to 50. It will be a different experience for all of us, but we look forward to the day we can reopen with great anticipation.
When we announced our season in mid-April, we knew it was optimistic to think that the season could play out as planned. Honestly, it also felt realistic given the information that we had available to us. A lot has changed, and we recognize that it will continue to change. In many ways, we are happy we did announce so that our community and the country could see the artists and plays that were to be programmed.
We want to honour those whose stories have been cancelled due to the pandemic. They are listed here in the order that they would have appeared in the season(s).
Sharon Bajer (The Gingerbread Girl)
The artists and companies at the Festival of New Works
Ins Choi and Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (Bad Parent)
Aaron Collier, Nick Bottomley, and HEIST (Nature vs Nation)
Rick Chafe and Yvette Nolan (Both Alike in Dignity)
Alissa Watson and Robert Munsch (Mud Puddle)
Anita Rochon and the Chop Theatre (Pathetic Fallacy)
Carmen Aguirre and Nightswimming Theatre (Broken Tailbone)
It is also important to acknowledge the brilliant actors, stage managers, designers, technicians, crafts people, and production staff who would have been collaborators, bringing these stories to life.
I have so much love for each of these plays and artists. If we are able to share these stories in the future, we will. I want more than anything to simply state that these voices will appear in our next season, but there is still too much that is unknown. In a way, PTE is in a state of crisis. Until we are on the other side of the crisis, it is impossible to plan for future seasons. We are confident, though, that this crisis will pass and that we will adapt, grow, and thrive.
This is the difficult news, but today is also a hopeful day. We have news to share that inspires and drives us. News about what we can do, what we hope to do.
We are dedicating ourselves to becoming a creation and training hub this Fall. We plan to offer one full month of training opportunities for Winnipeg theatres artists. These classes will be created for artists to train and hone their tools during this time, to practice their craft. Recognizing the financial impact on our community during COVID-19, we are removing all barriers to accessing this training by making all classes “Pay What You Can”. We will also be opening our facility to individual artist and group residencies to foster the development of new work. In addition to this, we have increased our new play development budget so that we can continue to commission and workshop projects toward production in future seasons.
These initiatives are aimed at ensuring that when artists are able to return to rehearsal halls and stages, that we (our imaginations, bodies, minds, and hearts) will be prepared. PTE is dedicating ourselves to the artists of Winnipeg and inviting them all to have a home at our theatre. More specific information will be available soon.
In the fall of 2020, we will engage with digital arts. Our first planned project will be Katharsis, a newly commissioned short play written by Yvette Nolan. It will be created for, and filmed in, our empty theatre. This project is a love letter to the theatre itself, a marking of this period when our theatre is in waiting. Next, we will present a livestream of the previously announced Nature vs Nation by Aaron Collier, Nick Bottomley, and HEIST. HEIST is creating a new version of this work specifically for a digital platform and our season. What a gift to be able to share the work of these extraordinary Maritime artists and their theatrical rave.
Our first live production will be our previously-announced world premiere of Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy. Following this, also as announced, will be Winnipeg’s Outside Joke. Our third production is a newly-commissioned work by Winnipeg musician and current affairs radio host Ismaila Alfa.
The pandemic and the protests of the past few weeks have asked us, invited us, and challenged us to pause. To reflect. To listen. To learn. To unlearn. To rethink. And to act. Our 2020-2021 season will not be as we planned it. Too much has changed. The world is different now. And we must change, too. In this moment, these moments, we are being challenged to reconsider our relevance so that when we return we can do so with a moral, ethical, political, equitable and philosophical focus that will drive us responsibly forward into the future.
Theatre is still alive. It lives in the hearts, minds and inspirations of the people, the artists, that give it life. It is also alive in the hearts, minds, and memories of our audiences. Looking forward, we don’t know what is to come. We do know that we will tell stories on our stage again. All of us at PTE are open, nimble, adaptive, and prepared for what comes next, whatever that may be and wherever it may lead us. We are ready for change. We look forward to what is possible. We are resolute that when we can return safely, that our space will be even more charged than ever before. The idea of gathering together again has an electricity to it, a magnetism that pulls us forward.
To the artists of Winnipeg, we will be here for you in every and any way we can.
To the audiences of Winnipeg, we will continue to reach out and give you every opportunity to engage with new stories.
To all our supporters, every phone call, email, and donation has meant the world to us. Thank you, endlessly.
Theatre, live theatre, has never been more critical to our society. We will gather as a community again. And we will celebrate stories, together.