This morning I received a phone call from Reverend Bobby Angel.
The insidious evangelistic preacher from the play Gimme That Prime Time Religion, last staged at 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook in August 2015, brought down the fist and fury of the almighty in a fiery sermon about the purity of the soul in the troubled times we live in.
It was passionate, persuasive and, at times, frightening to be sitting on the other end of the phone with one of local theatre icon Rob Winslow’s most vivacious and intense characters.
No, COVID isolation hasn’t made me start imagining conversations with theatrical characters from summers past. The phone call was part of 4th Line Theatre’s new @ Home Monologue Series.
With the tagline “It’s 4th Line Calling”, the series is the latest project by managing artist director Kim Blackwell and her team to keep the 4th Line Theatre experience alive despite losing its 2020 season to the pandemic.
Friends and patrons to 4th Line Theatre can call the box office and choose between 27 selected monologues from a wide range of 4th Line shows, and a participating actor will phone the patron at an agreed-upon time to perform the chosen piece — at no charge. A unique way to keep performance arts alive, the result is a very personal theatrical experience.
While theatres around the world have been forced to close their doors and dim their stage lights, Kim and her staff have been hard at work creating events and content to keep 4th Line Theatre thriving despite daunting restrictions and mass closures.
“There was a grief and shock period around the end of March and everybody was working from home,” Kim recalls. “But after Easter I held a staff meeting about what we could do, and that’s where we started to come up with the artist talks, the play readings and, when we found out that we had summer students, we thought about what we could be doing with them.”
While creating online artist talks and play readings, Kim read a story that inspired her to arrange the 4th Line telephone monologues, which are sponsored by the outdoor theatre company’s long-time supporter Nexicom.
“A friend of mine sent me an article about a phone-in monologue series that was being done by a theatre in Massachusetts,” she explains. “So that’s where the idea of taking all the 4th Line plays and doing something like that came from.”
“A lot of older patrons aren’t always tech savvy to Zoom and online technology in terms of interacting, so this phone call is an ability to have an intimate conversation with an actor after the monologue.”
Shifting through the entire 29-year history of 4th Line programming, Kim put together a selection of 27 monologues for callers to choose from, including scenes from 4th Line classics like Cavan Blazers, Dr. Bernardo’s Children, and Crow Hill: The Telephone Play, as well as newer highly acclaimed shows like The Bad Luck Bank Robbers and Who Killed Snow White?.
“We picked over 50 pages of dialogue from all our shows over the years, and I whittled it down to 27 monologues,” Kim says. “I promised our general manager Lindy Finlan that I’d stick to only 20, but 27 was the best I could do. I tried to pick a wide variety of monologues, as well as ones that would work over the phone without a lot of explanation.”
All the monologues are directed by Kim Blackwell and are performed by Paul Braunstein, Tom McCamus, Chick Reid, Robert Winslow, Maude Rose Craig, Lindy Finlan, Tom Keat, Sara Mountenay, Madison Sheward, and Riley Tutert. Participants can choose from the list of monologues at 4thlinetheatre.on.ca/monologue-series and there is no charge for the performance.
“People can book as many as they want,” Kim says. “They an experience all 27 if they want to.”
The telephone monologue series is only the latest virtual event presented by 4th Line this summer, as the local performance company continues to find innovative ways to keep connected to the community throughout the summer.
Last Friday (July 3), 4th Line staff invited the public back to the Winslow farm in Millbrook for their first-ever outdoor farmers’ market, which gave people a chance to come to the theatre space and connect with the staff and community as Ontario slowly reopens.
“What was exciting about our first farmers’ market was that a lot of the people who came out were our audience members who are missing the theatre,” tells Kim. “It was a chance for them to come out and talk to us, and we are able to let them sit at the picnic tables and have coffee and water. It’s just a chance for people to be out in that space. Part of our success is how much our audience love the Winslow farm.”
The farmers’ market will continue on Fridays throughout the summer, and 4th Line plans to create more intimate outdoor events for people to come to the farm.
“We are hoping to do more things,” Kim reveals. “We’ve been talking about doing yoga and meditative walks out at the farm in August, and I think we will be proceeding with those plans.”
Kim will also continue her online business and arts, including a breakfast talk with Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien this Friday (July 10) and Andre Pyle of the Pyle Group next Friday (July 17). Then, through August, Kim will be hosting another three artist talks, whose guests are still being confirmed.
Although most theatre groups are still navigating the current situation, 4th Line Theatre is already creating content and finding ways to connect, perform, and entertain — and even prepare for the future when in-person theatre can resume. New shows have been written and will be workshopped throughout the summer.
The monologue series is an innovative and intimate experience that allows 4th Line’s public to revisit some of their favourite shows, have a taste of the ones that they missed, and to quench their thirst for the live theatre they are missing.
For more information on 4th Line’s Monologue Series, visit 4thlinetheatre.on.ca/monologue-series and phone the box office at 705-932-4445 (toll free at 800-814-0055) to book a performance.
Meanwhile, for information on all of 4th Line Theatre’s continuing summer programming, visit 4thlinetheatre.on.ca.