Going into the dark

Dark days in the world of theatre                                                    

Dark days refer to the one or two days during a run when there is no show.

The theatre is “dark” on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday so the actors and production team excitedly look forward to this day as one of their few chances to get some rest, do some errands, laundry and maybe even take a class to improve their professional practice.

Considering the state of the world right now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dark days have taken on a whole new meaning.

March 26 is World Theatre Day and theatres across North American for the first time-ever-are all completely dark. From Broadway to Toronto, Vancouver to our New Vintage Studios in Kelowna, we are all dark right now.

Based on discussions with my peers across the country, most of whom have cancelled the remainder of their seasons, we will all likely remain closed at least until the summer. 

I learned about Broadway shutting down while I was on a conference call with all the artistic directors across Canada. The overwhelming feeling of dread about what was to come for all of us is something I will never forget.

I have always been an eternal optimist and my motto is “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  Most people know that I am a passionate advocate for the arts, it truly has been my life’s work. Aside from my family, nothing means more to me.

But the world has changed and in just over a week and so have I. My unbridled love for theatre has taken a backseat to my concern for the health of my family, our community and for those who are working so hard to keep things running. 

It was hard to cancel our festival, KFX, and to consider what to do with our camps, classes and upcoming shows. This is nothing compared to the true crisis we are facing with this pandemic. 

It is without question I closed our theatre last Tuesday because I value the health of our students, patrons and artists above everything. I want to make sure that we are part of this important movement to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the virus.

None of this means that I am giving up. In fact, this economic and health crisis has hardened my resolve. Over my 30 years working in theatre, I have faced extreme challenges and times of great economic uncertainty, but nothing like this.

Artistically, I am forced to rethink the way I am going to work with our artists and present our work. I need to reconsider how we will fund our projects, which are almost entirely reliant on ticket sales.

I wonder how I will contact funders and sponsors in this time of economic devastation. All this planning has to be done at a time when no-one knows when and how we will return to our studios and stages.

Expect our spring plays — Leaps and Bounds and The Pink Unicorn — to appear in unexpected ways that we hope will be as thrilling as our live shows are. 

Look for our annual Playwright’s Hot House to be an online experience and our youth and teen theatre classes to be innovative and exciting.

For now, it is important for New Vintage Theatre to be dark. We all need to take care of ourselves and each other by just staying home. 

When the lights do come up on Kelowna stages again, I think they will appear to burn even brighter than before.

The actors will be even more compelling, the musicians more melodic and the sets, prop and costume designs even more magical. Sometimes in order to really appreciate things you need to miss them.

We will miss you over the next few weeks, dear audience, but know we will be back.

 If you can help New Vintage Theatre by making a donation to our charitable, not for profit society, we would truly appreciate it and if we can help you, let us know.

Take care. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Come out and play at the Black Cabaret

Life is a cabaret!

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play.” 

Those iconic words from the musical Cabaret by Kander and Ebb remind me of the power of theatre. I think it is the perfect antidote to the cold, lonely month of February.

This weekend New Vintage Theatre artists and audiences will be going New York City chic by dressing up in top hats and “tails,” coming out to Black Box Theatre as we launch our season at our annual Black Cat Cabaret.  

The event is also a 10 Minute Play Festival which shines a spotlight on Okanagan playwrights. This year the finalists are Kirsten Zubak (Ritual Therapy), Christopher Lindsay (Vanna Helsing), Anita Macfarlane (Around Midnight) and Graham Daley & Blake Wilkins (Writer’s Block). All will be vying for a trophy and $300 cash prize, but the real honour is that the winner is chosen by the audience, who votes for their favourite at the end of each evening.  

Over 20 artists have been working with directors Kendra Hesketh, Josie Morrow, Graham Daley and Blake Wilkins, workshopping and staging the plays for the big night.

I originally conceived of the Black Cat as a fundraiser/season launch for our company that was fun and a way for our artists to show off their many talents. I had no idea that this fundraiser would be so popular and would have launched/developed so many careers of emerging playwrights, directors and actors. What was once a really dreary month is now one of the hottest we have all season long. 

Life is a cabaret, old chum, so don’t miss your chance to come to the Black Cat Cabaret. A few tickets remain for the public performances tonight (Feb.21) and 22 at 7 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre. 

Advance Tickets are $25 from Select Your Tickets or at the door for $35. 

New Vintage Theatre is a professional, not for profit charitable theatre company based in Kelowna. Check out newvintage.ca for more information. 

Hitting the chocolate factory

Bringing A Classic To The Stage — Charlie and The Chocolate Factory

When you were a kid do you remember those Dairy Queen ads with the chocolate river and mountains?

Did you dream about being able to hop into that ad?

This month, I have been able to design my own chocolate river; in fact I have been able to design the whole factory.

Tonight, my theatre company New Vintage Theatre kicks off the holiday season with Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As the director, I have a huge responsibility. Not only do I have to be faithful to the original but I also have to incorporate family fun, friendly elements into the play that make it a favourite with young and old. 

My process started with finding the actors to take on these challenging roles.

Last March, I pulled together a dream team of talents who have proven to be every bit as great in rehearsal as they were in their auditions.

Of special note is Charlie, played by Dr. Knox Grade 9 student Ethan Landygo, who is just brilliant as the humble hero who loves chocolate, but is never greedy and always kind.

Many audiences will also adore Graham Daley as Willy Wonka as well as returning New Vintage favourites Josie Morrow, Blake Wilkins, Kirsti Hack and Aly Rothery.

We also have a new Kelowna resident, seasoned actor Peter Church who has starred in many roles in his long career as a professional actor. 

What a cast!

My unique production also features many magical, fantastic elements including the famed Old Trout Puppet Workshop puppets along with a spectacular set designed, painted and built by my talented husband, Derek.

I also always love to include interactive components so this time there will be a golden ticket contest at each show and a post-show candy room where kids will be able to explore and meet the cast.

The planning at this very busy, very cold time of year might seem onerous, but happy kids are always worth it. We have sold out all of our student matinees and some of our Sunday matinees are pretty close to being sold out, too. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory runs Dec.6-19 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15-$25  and are available at www.rotarycentreforthearts.com or at the RCA Box Office. 

Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.

Song of The Christmas Belles

Play on tonight, Nov. 16 and Nov. 22-23

It is not very often I get the chance to perform in my own plays.

I have been in a lot of improv shows in Kelowna, but only had a handful of other chances to perform in New Vintage Theatre plays because I am usually directing and producing.

That is why this play is a special one for me. In The Last Song of the Christmas Belles, I have role and a cast that was just too sweet an opportunity to pass up. So I jumped into the show.

This play is based on my experiences touring with my theatre company in Calgary in the late '90s and early 2000s. There were times where we performed for five people, 500 people and 5,000 people.

Sometimes you just never knew what to expect, so we had to be ready for anything and along the way bonded over crazy experiences.

On one of my first big bookings, I sent the cast on a three-hour drive to Brooks to find out I had the wrong day and we had to drive all the way home again.

Then, there was the time I sank our large touring van into the mud and covered our actors in muck from head to toe just getting the vehicle out. One was dressed in all white.

There was also the time we got to a regional theatre and found the entire town came out to see our play because they had never had a professional show visit there before or when we were in lock step touring with Mariana's Trench all the way from Edmonton to Calgary.  

Once we were booked into a huge show with Sharon, Lois and Bram and showed up to find out they cancelled and it was just going to be us there.

When we showed up there was just a caretaker there. Eventually 60 people showed up, but it was a little "worrisome" when even the organizer was not there.  

Since then, I have had another 10 years worth of entertaining, frustrating, harrowing and lovely stories about performing plays in locations all around the Okanagan with New Vintage Theatre. 

I can't even begin to relate them all, but in the end, it is not actually events, but the people that make performing so important for me.

There have been so many moments with audience members and artists that have changed the way I see the world and write about it, too. Working with talented artists always inspires and the times when people have approached me and told me what they thought about my characters or story is just the most incredible feeling.

That is why I really wanted to be in The Last Song of the Christmas Belles.

I miss the experience of being with actors in front of an audience. It is stressful, terrifying and fantastic. The frustrations can be intense while working on a new play, but the reward of being on stage and really being dialed into a character with other actors who are at the top of their game is like no other adrenalin rush.

But how does one direct themselves?

It is virtually impossible to act and direct at once and I don't advise it. Ideally, I would have had a director other than myself for this project. I tried to find a person, but it just didn't pan out, sadly. What happened is that we as artists collaborated, workshopped and staged the play more collectively.

It has been a different way of working than I normally would have done, but the passion and commitment to the project shown by my co-stars Melanie Eccles, Karlisa Hiebert, Julie Masi and Tamie Williams has been invaluable.

I have worked with all four women on other projects, but this is the first time the five of us have worked all together.

The fact that we now know each other has helped in the candour with which we have discussed the play. It has also helped us build our characters.

There have been very frank discussions and debates. In The Last Song of the Christmas Belles we play a band that has been together for over 35 years; the characters are supposed to know each other inside out, so we have actually replicated that environment by working as a collective and in the end it may have made our performances stronger.

Has the experiment worked? Does this play sing?

Come out and be the critic.

 The Last Song of The Christmas Belles opened Nov.14 and runs Nov. 16, 22-23 at Rotary Centre for the Arts in Studio 100.

Tickets are available for all shows except closing night from www.newvintage.ca

More Bonnie on Stage articles

About the Author

Bonnie Gratz is an actor, director, and playwright. She is the Artistic Director of Kelowna's New Vintage Theatre, and a member of the Playwright's Guild of Canada and The Literary and Dramaturges of North America. 

For more on Bonnie, check out www.bonnie-gratz.com or check out www.newvintage.ca

Contact Bonnie at:  [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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