The long awaited return of live theatre has finally come to Peterborough with the Open Spaces Theatre Festival, running at outdoor venues in downtown Peterborough from Thursday, September 24th to Sunday, September 27th.
Open Spaces, in association with 4th Line Theatre, will bring four (plus one!) original productions to safely distanced audiences. Tickets are now on sale via 4th Line Theatre.
Christina Adams, the founder of the festival, was travelling in Australia when the pandemic hit. Like thousands of Canadian nationals across the globe, Adams was forced to cut her travels short and return home this spring.
Witnessing the utter havoc the pandemic has wrecked upon the arts and culture sector in Peterborough and the world over, Adams was inspired to do what she could to help.
“I was in theatre since I was about seven … It was a huge part of my life and I was watching the theatre suffer, like many industries, due to the pandemic,” recalls Adams.
“I just wanted to do something and give back a little bit to something that was so important in my life, especially if it means the local theatre community might be able to come out on the other side of this and continue to give to kids what it gave to me when I was younger.”
Adams brought her idea for a safe outdoor theatre festival to 4th Line Theatre’s managing artistic director, Kim Blackwell, who had the ability to help turn Adams’ dream into a reality.
“When Christina Adams reached out to me with the idea of doing something for artists and to bring theatre back to Peterborough, I thought it was a great idea,” says Blackwell. “4th Line Theatre is committed to supporting artists always and especially in this unpredictable time.”
The festival, which will feature four original performances on rotation throughout the weekend, with an extra performance featuring Linda Kash and her improv students on Thursday night only, will give all ticket proceeds (after taxes) directly to the participating artists. In addition to artists’ fees, a $2 donation from each ticket will be given to support the participating companies: The Theatre on King (TTOK), 4th Line Theatre, and Kash’s Peterborough Academy of Performing Arts (PAPA).
In addition to supporting individual artists and local theatre companies, the Open Spaces Theatre Festival prioritizes the safety of patrons and festival personnel alike. Perhaps more than most, Adams understands that safety is paramount.
“It’s a huge thing for me, living with a high-risk individual,” she explains. “That’s why we’ve thought of everything you can think of.”
Since March, Blackwell and the team at 4th Line Theatre — industry leaders when it comes to health and safety — have been working closely with provincial and national agencies as well as Peterborough Public Health to develop safety protocols, which have been extended to the Open Spaces Festival.
As a result, audiences can expect some extra precautions while attending the festival. Upon arrival, patrons will be screened via questionnaire, as is standard practice for entry into many public spaces these days. The outdoor festival also asks audience members to bring their own chairs and masks, which they will be required to wear only until they safely reach their distanced seating. Each venue will be equipped with sanitization stations.
Furthermore, all staff, volunteers, and off-stage artists will be donning PPE. Cast sizes have been kept small, and singing will be performed behind barriers. Also, tickets have been made refundable to encourage audience members with even the slightest hint of a symptom to do the right thing by staying home.
“Because this is an introduction back to live performances, we’re really emphasizing practising safety,” Adams says. “We want to make sure that everyone involved — patrons and personnel — knows that their health and safety is being looked after.”
With the Open Spaces Theatre Festival, theatre is coming back to Peterborough and it is coming back in full force. Programming for the festival consists of four original works, each performed on multiple dates, plus an additional PAPA performance on Thursday night only:
- Surviving Canada is an interactive comedy show about the hardships and culture shock of moving to Canada. International award-winning comedians Stephan Dyer and Juan Cajiao share their immigrant experience in a show that combines improv, stand-up, storytelling, and audience interaction. The play will be staged in the parking lot of Ashburnham Realty, at the corner of Hunter Street West and Water Streets in downtown Peterborough, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on September 24th and 25th, at 1:30 and 3 p.m. on September 26th, and at 12 and 4:30 p.m. on September 27th.
- The 13th Sign Walks Into a Bar, a mini musical rom-com with an astrological twist written and directed by Alessandra Ferreri and produced by Cordwainer Productions, is about an aspiring star who enters a bar hoping to secure a spot for himself on their reputable open mic night — despite the fact that the barista insists there is no space for him on their long-standing roster. The play will be staged in the parking lot of The Theatre on King, at 171 King Street in downtown Peterborough, with performances at 6 p.m. on September 24th and 25th, at 12 and 4:30 p.m. on September 26th, and at 1:30 and 3 p.m. on September 27th.
- Daughter, Kim Blackwell’s debut work as a playwright starring Dani Breau and Peyton Le Barr with direction by Lindy Finlan, is an examination of family estrangement, the emotional cost of divorce, and the beauty of bread-making. The play explores love, loss, and the ultimate betrayal. The play will be staged in the parking lot of The Theatre on King, at 171 King Street in downtown Peterborough with performances at 7:30 p.m. on September 24th and 25th, at 1:30 and 3 p.m. on September 26th, and at 12 and 4:30 p.m. on September 27th.
- Vision at Patmos is a one-man play in which the aged apostle John tells the story of his exile by the Romans on the small Greek island of Patmos, and gives a condensed account of the dramatic vision he experienced there. Written following actor and playwright Mark Finnan’s visit to Patmos, the play offers some enlightening new insights into what is the most mysterious and misunderstood book in the bible. The play will be staged in the parking lot of Ashburnham Realty, at the corner of Hunter Street West and Water Streets in downtown Peterborough, with performances at 6 p.m. on September 24th and 25th, at 12 and 4:30 p.m. on September 26th, and at 1:30 and 3 p.m. on September 27th.
- PLAY ANYWAY, which will only be performed Thursday night, brings a presentation of improv by kids and teen students of PAPA, and is hosted by Linda Kash. Performances takes place at 6 and 7:30 p.m. on September 24th in Millennium Park in downtown Peterborough.
Pandemic notwithstanding, organizing a festival of this proportion is an ambitious task.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Adams, a first-time festival organizer. “I’ve always been on the acting side of the theatre; this is quite a different viewpoint. It’s been great to have 4th Line theatre’s support — I definitely could not have done it without them helping me and guiding me through it all.”
“Ryan Kerr and Kate Story at The Theatre on King, one of the venues, have been amazing,” she adds. “They were so good at reaching out and helping me, no matter what I ran into.”
Support for this festival has come from the entire local theatre community, not just the festival participants.
“In the Peterborough arts community, everyone is connected in some way,” says Adams. “Everyone really encourages each other. There’s always support, even from the theatre companies that weren’t able to participate. In one way or another, they’ve all helped out in their own ways.”
Indeed, there is an element of poetic justice in the Open Spaces Theatre Festival.
“Christina started working at 4th Line when she was eight years old, acting in Ryan Kerr’s play Attrition,” explains Blackwell. “That play was the first world premiere I ever directed and the lead character’s name was Maude — I named my daughter after her.”
“So now, almost 20 years later, 4th Line Theatre, Ryan’s The Theatre on King, me and Christina are all collaborating to bring live performance back to downtown Peterborough. It feels like somehow the circle has closed with beautiful symmetry.”
The “beautiful symmetry” that is the Open Spaces Theatre Festival has brought the theatre community together in a massive collaborative effort to safely bring live performance back to Peterborough audiences.
Show your support for the artists and companies involved in the festival, which runs from Thursday, September 24th to Sunday, September 27th, by purchasing tickets and gift certificates by phone at 705-932-4445 (toll free at 1-800-814-0055), online at 4thlinetheatre.on.ca, or at 4th Line Theatre’s box office at 4 Tupper Street in Millbrook.
Tickets are $17 each per performance or $60 for a festival pack. Patrons are asked to bring their own chairs and to wear masks until safely seated. Lunch box items, in partnership with Black Honey, will be available for $13 for patrons to enjoy before, after, or during the performances.
For updates, visit the Open Spaces Theatre Festival page on Facebook.