Calgary artists are quickly adapting their practice in light of COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 has forced artists to adapt their productions and plans for the future, but they're not discouraged

Mackenzie McDonald as "Duke" in Chantel Dixon's production Anonymous for the IGNITE! Emerging Arts Festival | YOUTUBE

Playwrights are continuing to create using digital mediums – filming from afar and using clever editing to stitch together pieces through the coronavirus pandemic.

Social distancing requirements have made theatre productions impossible. Artists can no longer meet to rehearse, let alone perform their piece in front of an audience.

But that hasn’t stopped Calgary creators. Many of them have just switched mediums.

Chantel Dixon, a local playwright, submitted her first production to the IGNITE! Emerging Arts Festival as a live stage show.

When the festival moved online due to COVID-19, she was given the choice to postpone the show or adapt it to the new format.

Instead of waiting to produce her original vision, Dixon took hold of the new opportunity.

“I thought it was a really good opportunity to kind of explore the world that we live in today,” Dixon said.

“And what a COVID-19 reality would mean for the characters in Anonymous.

The IGNITE! Festival poster for Dixon’s production Anonymous.

Her live show had now become a three-part web series, and the format allowed her to dive into the lives of her characters. By adding about 60 new pages of script in about two weeks, her show now follows the struggle of alcoholism and being involved in support groups via video phone calls.

Filming the show became another hurdle. To ensure the safety of her actors, she gave them the option of being filmed or filming themselves. Proper precautions were taken in the case of the latter.

Film or be filmed?

But in every case, actors were alone, and not acting with a scene partner – though it will appear as though they did in the film

“What was the trickiest is that instead of acting with their scene partners, they were acting to me reading off a script,” Dixon said.

“That was one of the most challenging things.”

Mackenzie McDonald, an actor in Anonymous, was one who chose to be filmed. With the consent of his roommate, he allowed Dixon and the videographer into his home – at a safe distance.

Other safety precautions were also taken – props were sanitized after each use, and the rooms used received a deep clean after the crew left.

The only interactions McDonald had with the other actors was through rehearsals over Zoom.

“You always hope for a more closer connection with [the other actors],” he said

“But given the circumstances, the connection that we still had was a nice breath of fresh air.”

While actors acted in scenes alone, the webisodes have been stitched together so it barely looks that way, Dixon said.

The massive change caused by the global pandemic has inspired new levels of creativity that likely would not have happened.

Had she not been forced to adapt, Anonymous likely would have gone on without change. Dixon never would have explored the avenue of filming a web series.

Dixon is used to theater, and has a large love for it – but exploring film has been an eye-opening experience.

Combining live theatre and film

“I think combing the two has been such an exhilarating ride,” she said

“In the future, I’d like to combine them a little bit more thoroughly to have cinematic elements within a theater world – on stage.”

Other artists are facing a similar experience – having to explore another avenue of production to keep themselves working.

Calgary film commissioner Luke Azevedo said that smaller productions for the web with a “digital base,” are becoming more common.

“We have seen a bit of an uptick, not a huge amount that I’m aware of,” he said

“But there has been some increase.”

Azevedo said that most productions are being filmed and produced from private properties, and lots of artists are exploring different formats.

Being stuck at home is inspiring new creative initiatives, as people strive keep themselves and others entertained.

“We’re consuming content at a level that’s never been done before,” said Azevedo.

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