Despite pandemic, the show must go on for Rising Tide Theatre

Theatre companies across the world have chosen to remain closed for the season — even Broadway has not been immune to the pandemic — but a troupe in the idyllic town of Trinity is resisting trend.

Theatre company launches new season with smaller cast to meet physical distancing guidelines

Trinity is alive with artists of a variety of backgrounds coming together to work with Rising Tide Theatre on its 43rd season. The artists have formed a company bubble living and working in the idyllic town. (Submitted by Rising Tide Theatre)

Theatre companies across the world have chosen to remain closed for the season — even Broadway has not been immune to the pandemic — but a troupe in the idyllic town of Trinity is resisting the trend.

The Bonavista Peninsula town is alive with actors launching the 43rd season of Rising Tide Theatre, one of the few companies that remains open during the pandemic.

"When [founding member] Rick [Boland] and I wrote the [New Founde Land] Pageant and brought it here and started it in 1993, people said that we were crazy," said Donna Butt, the company's artistic director.

"So now in 2020 … we're trying to do theatre in the middle of COVID, so people still say I'm crazy! So little has changed."

This is what 42 years of scripting looks like. (Rising Tide Theatre/Facebook)

Running five shows during the unpredictable times of COVID-19 has not been an easy task for the company. Due to physical distancing restrictions, the company has had to downscale in its operation. A smaller cast and crew — playing multiple roles — has been hired to deliver the shows headlining the season over the course of the next several weeks.

Butt says there are usually about 45 people in the company, but right now they have about half that number.

"So we're all working really, really hard to bring all our talents to the table in every possible way that we can," she said.

Rising Tide Theatre formed in 1978 to bring to life "political plays that addressed controversial issues for Newfoundland and Labrador," according to its website. In 1993, during the height of the cod moratorium, the company established the New Founde Land Pageant in Trinity, hiring local Newfoundlanders to tell the stories of their place and culture. Earlier this month, the pageant opened to smaller, physically distant audiences.

For the first time in the 27 years of the New Founde Land Pageant's history, William Taverner, who surveyed much of Newfoundland's coast in the 18th centuray, was played as a woman, by Mallory Fisher, here with fellow cast member Devon Bryan. (Devon Bryan/Facebook)

Butt said uncertain and changing government guidelines due to the pandemic posed a challenge in planning the logistics. This year the company got approval to open and begin rehearsing nearly half a dozen shows just two weeks before the season was scheduled to begin.

"It's been quite a scramble but … I had people here, I had already planned other projects. So it was important to me that I be able to employ people and that we be able to share this summer together and share it with the audience," she said.

Butt said the arts are a bonding experience in the community, bringing joy, sadness and pain "right before you, speaking with you," but she recognizes that opening amid a pandemic might not be an option for every company. Precedence must be given to safety, sustainability and affordability to be able to operate in unprecedented circumstances, she said.

Looking starkly different from other years, audiences gather at a distance in Trinity to catch the New Founde Land pageant. (Submitted by Louise Moyres)

"The arts have never been afraid of challenge or change ever," said Butt. "And this is a good time to prove that we're not right now."

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Prajwala Dixit


Prajwala Dixit is a journalist, columnist, playwright and writer in St. John's.