Calgary

Forest theatre delights Canmore play-goers during pandemic

Canmore's Conquest Theatre has been putting on shows for audiences in the Bow Valley for over 30 years, and its performers weren't about to let COVID-19 bring down the curtain — instead, they moved the productions from the playhouse to the forest.

Canmore's Conquest Theatre moves performances to woods rather than cancel season

Canmore's Conquest Theatre is putting on two one-act plays in a forest setting: Anton Chekhov's A Marriage Proposal and Alan Ayckbourn's A Talk in the Park.  (Supplied by Robert Briskie)

Canmore's Conquest Theatre has been putting on shows for audiences in the Bow Valley for over 30 years, and its performers are not about to let COVID-19 bring down the curtain.

Instead, they have moved productions from the playhouse to the forest.

Marjorie Sutton-Bridge, the artistic director and founder of Conquest Theatre, told The Homestretch that she had nearly resigned herself to the cancellation of the company's upcoming season.

The cast and crew had realized, she said, that they just couldn't do it anywhere.

But Sutton-Bridge, who lives on an acreage, looked out the window and had a thought: what if they performed on her property, with the woods as a backdrop?

"The others agreed," Sutton-Bridge said. "We chose two one-act plays, and this is how it happened."

Mountain streams, garden paths

Those one-act plays are two classics: Anton Chekhov's A Marriage Proposal and Alan Ayckbourn's A Talk in the Park

The first is to celebrate the famous Russian author, Sutton-Bridge said, while Ayckbourn's piece of theatre takes place in the outdoors, and is ideal for the natural landscape.

"It works perfectly with the rustic setting," Sutton-Bridge said.

"It's just grass, somewhat slightly uphill, so the audience can see the actors. We kept it as natural as possible, with trees all around. And we have some big old tree stumps that were lying around here, so we used those, and put planks on top for benches."

The space seats 50 guests comfortably at six feet apart. When theatregoers clear the garden path that leads to their seats, they are treated to a goody-bag of pre-packaged snacks and individual wine glasses for red, white, rosé or champagne, Sutton-Bridge said.

Those who arrive early can sit around a fire pit in the yard, wander by the mountain stream that flows through the acreage, or trek up a hill just off the property in a game of capture-the-flag. 

The winner is rewarded with a Russian vodka cocktail when they arrive back down.

While the land is a bit rugged, those with mobility issues can drive close to the seating; if the weather should turn, there are ponchos available, and a place to shelter the guests.

Gaining momentum

So far, Sutton-Bridge said, it has all exceeded their expectations.

As word of the forest theatre spread, the audiences — initially small — have grown to as many as 40 people.

The setting, meanwhile, enhances both the material and the experience.

"We thought we'd be playing to about three people. We've never done this before, so we didn't know if anybody would come," Sutton-Bridge said. 

"It was a bit sparse at first, but it is gaining momentum and we're looking at the website and it keeps going up and up … people have said, 'I don't know whether I like the setting more than the plays.'"

Tickets are $30 and available through Showpass. The productions run until Aug. 15.


With files from The Homestretch.

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