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Sage Theatre’s IGNITE! Emerging Arts Festival inspires quick creativity due to coronavirus

Sage Theatre has IGNITEd creative adaptations within the hearts of Calgary artists.

The IGNITE! Emerging Arts Festival will be online this year and will run from June 10-13.

Most of the shows were made to be stage performances, but with social distancing orders in effect, these could not go on as planned.

Many artists worried that they wouldn’t be able to produce their piece because of this.

“I was like ‘oh it’s never going to happen now,’ and they [said] ‘no, we’re still doing it, we’re still going to figure it out,’” said Charlotte Hurdman, the project lead for The Silence.

“I’m really glad that they chose to go through with the festival,”

Re:New features socially distanced dancers with articles of clothing for dance partners.

Hurdman had originally submitted a 40-page script for a staged show, but she had to change that to adapt to an online format. Her production is now a short film, with 12 pages of script.

It’s a film that deals with the process of coping with trauma, and is staged solely in a bathtub.

Another production went from a staged show to a three-episode web series – which meant it needed more script.

Chantel Dixon, who produces Anonymous, also worked to incorporate themes that were relevant to the times.

Her show deals with addiction and support groups, but now within the context of isolation – characters now meet online through a video conference app, and spend copious amounts of time cooped up at home.

Live shows had to adapt

For other shows, this dramatic changed posed other significant challenges.

Live shows that are meant to have audience interaction had to find a way around the lack of a physical crowd.

The festival features one improv show: The Giggles, headed by Christian Daly with Vagabond from the University of Calgary.

Five improvisers had to learn how to produce a live show through Zoom. They’re each going to stream from their own homes, interacting with each other and the virtual audience.

“You’ve just got to give people more space, and sometimes it does bring down the pacing, but you’ve got to find that rhythm” Daly said.

“It’s a lot more soloistic.”

They had originally planned to include a musical element, but that had to be cut due to technically-related issues with the music and Zoom.

But like other artists, Daly and his troupe weren’t discouraged. They’ll be putting on their family friendly improv show three times throughout the festival.

The Banana Conundrum is a one-man show about the challenges of acting outside your race, and it will be live streamed to allow for audience engagement

Complete format switch for some productions

While the online shift modified some productions, others changed formats altogether.

Psychotic Bitch, produced by Maezy Dennie, went from a staged show to an auditory experience.

Her show, which is an intimate look into mental health, was originally meant to take place on stage in a ‘hospital.’ She could have done a socially-distanced or filmed show, but she decided to do something different.

“I wanted [the production] to have a more intimate feeling about it,” said Dennie.

The audio file she created, with the help of actors around the city, is meant to mimic what an auditory psychotic episode could be like. Listeners are invited to experience it in a number of different ways, to create their individual experience.

This also mimics the fact that no two psychotic episodes are the same. Though the audio may be consistent, each listener will likely react differently.

A move for mental health awareness

Dennie was inspired by her own struggles with psychosis and mental health. She hopes this piece can help reduce stigma and increase understanding for individuals with these experiences.

“It’s important for people to experience how other people might see the world,” Dennie said.

“You never know who [is dealing with] psychosis. It’s actually a really high percentage.”

Three people out of every 100 will experience some type of a psychotic episode in their life, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

To adapt to being unable to collaborate in person, she had actors record their pieces themselves which she later complied together. To add to the authenticity of the experience, the submissions were largely unscripted – inspired by their personal fears and struggles.

“If I wrote the script, everything would be biased with my [experiences],” Dennie said.

Escape room production

While these productions all adhere to some form of theatrics, two pieces in the IGNITE! Festival are entirely unique.

Bryan Sandberg produced Good People, a completely online investigative experience.

“[The production] kind of is functionally similar to an escape room,” he said.

Audience members will be directed to a landing page, where limitations and loose instructions are given. They will then sort through a series of articles, videos, and podcasts to uncover the truth of the story.

All online pieces have been crafted by Sandberg.

Like other pieces in the festival, Good People follows a heavy and intimate topic – the suicide of a 14-year old homosexual boy. It’s inspired by Sandberg’s own struggle with suicidal thoughts, as well as his online search to learn about his homosexual identity when he was younger.

Production at your door

Another production, Elegant Animal, involves a care package delivered to participant’s front doors.

Produced by Stuart McDougall, it’s operated as a “socially distanced self-care creation,” as explained on the Sage Theater website.

It combines storytelling, nature, and reflection as a way for audience members to reflect on healing and caring for yourself.

To fully experience the packaged production, audience members need access to a bathtub, an oven, and a bed.

Throughout this pay-what-you-can festival, participants and audience members are treated to one of kind experiences. The best part is that most of it can be done from home.

To check out the festival, go to the Sage Theatre website.