slider-iskwe-blog-post2

LARGELY FOR HOPE/JOY or: How (and why) we hosted a broadcast of live music from the theatre during a pandemic.

By: The Theatre Centre staff team

On June 13, 2020, spiderwebshow presented an intimate and evocative performance by JUNO Award winning singer-songwriter iskwē | ᐃᐢᑫᐧᐤ at FOLDA. We were honoured and excited to host the livestreamed performance which marked the first time The Theatre Centre had artists in the space since we closed the doors due to COVID-19.

As the livestream began and the lights came up, illuminating the performers in the Franco Boni theatre, the entire staff watched, not from seats in the theatre like we usually would, but from our homes. This was totally new for us and though we would have loved to be in attendance, there was an overwhelming sense of joy. To see the space come alive with the energy of iskwē and the band, to hear the theatre filled with song again, it was a remarkable feeling. There are a lot of reasons we do what we do and for us, sharing this space, inviting people to experience art, and joining together for a shared experience are at the top of the list. Since we closed the doors on March 16th we have not been able to do that. This live performance gave us the chance to feel some of that again. For that, we are extremely grateful to iskwē and her team, and to FOLDA. Oh, and it was also an awesome show!!

It is important to note that we did not undertake hosting a live performance lightly — a conversation that began with every staff member at The Theatre Centre, members of the FOLDA team, and iskwē and her team was rigorous and ongoing to prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved.

In the spirit of sharing knowledge and experience, The Theatre Centre wants to offer this really transparent and plain timeline* of our production process for the livestream broadcast. For the time being, this might be the “new normal” and if other theatres are considering this, or other artists are wondering how they might share their work, we hope you might learn something from our process. We are open to questions, suggestions, constructive criticisms of this pathway – this truly was an experiment and these are our results.

Along the way we’ll mention:
FOLDA – Festival of Live Digital Art produced by SpiderWebShow
iskwē – Performer accompanied by three musicians
Aislinn Rose – Artistic Director
Alexis Eastman – Producer
Tim Lindsay – Technical Director
Navid Amini – House Technician
Natalie Gisele – Director of Production and Facilities
Liza Paul – Cafe/Bar Curator and Manager
Andrea Lundy – Production Manager, FOLDA
Michael Wheeler – Director of Artistic Research, FOLDA
Jesse MacMillan – Technical Director, FOLDA

*A note on time: it’s a pandemic. Our relationship to time is not what it once was. These are the most accurate dates we can come up with.

STEP ONE: MID MAY 2020

Some context for you: The Theatre Centre is already producing (in association with PuSh & Luminato) a livestream performance/conversation as part of FOLDA called Field Notes from the Future, with Sea Sick’s Alanna Mitchell.

Aislinn and Michael Wheeler were talking about other performances in the festival, and Michael mentioned wanting to find a way to present iskwē‘s performance. He asked her if it would be possible to use the Franco Boni Theatre in The Theatre Centre. Aislinn said she’d take it to the team.

Aislinn: “I’d been visiting The Theatre Centre building every few days, and the sight of the empty café and performance spaces just felt so wrong. So I was obviously excited about putting something live in the Franco Boni Theatre if it was in any way possible. However, I also knew that I didn’t want to put the team in harm’s way, or ask them to do anything during the pandemic that would make them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. The first thing I said to them was, “do you want to do this, because if not, the conversation doesn’t go any further”.

STEP TWO: THE FOLLOWING MONDAY, 2020

Aislinn brought the question to the team-wide meeting, asking all staff what they thought of the idea of hosting a live broadcast from the Franco Boni Theatre. Everyone was excited to work with iskwē and to get to present this sort of work. There were some questions though; main concerns were:
— Was it safe; for the artists, staff, crew, building, public, etc.?
— Were we comfortable to do it?
— Did we have the energy/capacity?
— Was it legal?

We mulled it over on Zoom and the main questions we came up with were:

— If we did want to do it, how could we take the lead on defining safety protocol for our staff and building in this new context?

— We wondered how this planning could accommodate the public gathering limit of 5 people?

— Was it in a legal grey area, because we are not an essential service and this would technically be us working, or would this be considered “live broadcast?, which was now permitted?

— How great is it that the Franco has windows we can open!?!?

The next steps we identified were (in kinda this order):
Since Natalie, Navid and Tim would be the primary contacts and would very likely have to be physically present in the space, they first had to decide what they were up for as individuals. Aislinn felt like the next step was to go directly to chat with FOLDA, as they had already done some thinking about precautionary steps. Navid felt like he wanted some more education and to come up with some core plans for The Theatre Centre before going into the meeting, so Natalie, Navid, and Tim did research and discussed their perspectives and comfort levels.

Tim: “We looked into safety guidelines that were implemented in other sectors to keep workers well protected — for example, staggering how many could safely share the site entrances (and break areas) during work calls. With a caveat that the number of team members on the building interior always be kept to less than five in a room, we were confident we could implement this. The Workers’ Health and Safety Centre had some informative webinars and other helpful guidelines that were particular to keeping social distancing measures intact while on a job site, and we combined those pointers with our typical planning for a technical load-in and rehearsal schedule for the Franco Boni Theatre space to propose an approach for setting this event up.”

Natalie: “It was important to decide and discuss among the 3 of us before moving onto the next steps. We gathered what information we already had between us and then identified what information we were lacking.”

STEP THREE: WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2020

Navid, Natalie and Tim met with Andrea, Michael, and Jesse to discuss how we could pull this off while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

Navid: “For us, it was reassuring to know that we were all on the same page. Safety was a top priority and it made us feel more comfortable with the idea of opening up the space again. The FOLDA team talked about their recent past experiences streaming from venues and the kind of safety precautions they were taking. They wanted to know what we as a venue had been thinking about and we told them about rules we had in place following the provincial guidelines. Although we have been closed since mid-March, we had already been taking some safety precautions in the days before this, being mindful of cleaning high contact surfaces such as door handles, reducing the capacity of our Franco Boni & BMO Incubator theatres, and providing easy access to disinfectant all around the building for both staff and patrons to try and encourage social distancing. A lot has changed since then, and now we don’t allow more than five people in the Franco at once. Once FOLDA knew the limits within which they had to work, they needed to go back to their full team and see if it was achievable.”

Natalie: “It felt reassuring after having the conversation with the FOLDA team and they seemed motivated and ready to work within the limits set in place.”

STEP FOUR: THIS HAPPENED AFTER FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2020

Tim: “When I spoke with iskwē and the FOLDA production team, they were excited to use an empty theatre as a canvas for her haunting sounds, with a keyboard and string players flanking her. Our space is very reverberant when it’s empty, which lends itself nicely to this type of stripped-down performance, so the next step was just about determining what their other technical needs were and building a schedule that would accomplish what they wanted.”

We gave the FOLDA and iskwē teams a few days to come up with a plan that worked with the guidelines we wanted to put in place and then met for a second production meeting to finalize the plan.

Navid: “Going into the second meeting we had a pretty good idea as to what the plan would be. The performance would be happening in the Franco, while the broadcasting team worked in the upper gallery. Setting up would be done in phases, starting with video, followed by the lighting hang, and then setting up the sound the morning of the broadcast. Our goal was to limit the amount of people in the building at one time, as well as limiting traffic through the building while loading gear. Tim made a good point that we would technically be working in a construction site, and that everyone should be disinfecting any gear before and after use. It had been pretty clear up to that point that we were all taking this very seriously, and I think that at the end of the day that was what really allowed this to happen.”

Natalie: “In addition to Navid’s notes, we only used Theatre Centre staff as crew, along with FOLDA’s team. We did not need to hire outside crew. Gloves were not required while working, as the team was in charge of disinfecting the equipment they were using.”

STEP FIVE: THIS HAPPENED MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2020

Liza: “Navid and I went to the building to clean out the cafe and green room fridges. By this point it was apparent that our building would not be reopening any time soon, so we figured we might as well clean them out and shut them down to save on the energy bill. While we were there, I said that we’d probably need to let the artists know that the fridge wouldn’t be available, since we had not only cleaned it out but shut it off, and beyond that, sharing space for food and all the touching it would require felt like an unnecessary risk to my mind. Navid’s feeling was that we ought to turn it back on and create protocols for the use of the fridge. It got me thinking about how all the things we took for granted once upon a time (like the building being open, for example, or being able to share a refrigerator without needing to think about ourselves as potential biohazards) are continually revealing themselves in even the most seemingly mundane of considerations.”

STEP SIX: WEEK OF MONDAY, JUNE 8, 2020

Navid, Tim, and Alexis had a meeting about how to handle the possibility of any of the artists entering the building exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

Alexis: “In the meeting with Tim and Navid we mostly talked about how to safely and respectfully ask artists and technicians about taking their temperature and flagging potential COVID symptoms. We ultimately did not feel like it was fair to ask Navid to stand there in a HazMat suit pointing a temperature reader at people’s foreheads as they entered (a little too RoboCop 2, ya know?). So we opted to request anyone entering the building to self-assess at home based on Toronto Public Health’s list of symptoms and fever ranges and report to their own team if they felt they were a risk. We also sent a list of protocols to everyone in advance so they could have a good idea of what to expect when they arrived.”

STEP SEVEN: STILL WEEK OF JUNE 8 2020

Natalie: “This install was definitely different. Everything was simplified to reduce the amount of people needed in the room. Installation also happened in sections over a few days. Rather than trying to accomplish the maximum in a day, we organized it so that each element was brought in on separate days. We started with video install, which only required one FOLDA and one TC staff member. They did some tests to make sure broadcasting was possible in our venue. Then the lighting hang happened on a separate day, with only two TC techs on site and two of FOLDA’s team to supervise. The lighting plot was also minimized, for ease of load in and numbers of workers needed. Sound checks, rehearsal and performance all happened on the same day.”

STEP EIGHT: SHOW DAY! SATURDAY JUNE 13 2020

Navid: “It was great to have people in the building again, but it was strange, you could tell that a lot of people just wanted to do what they would normally do during a show day. It felt weird reminding people that we still need to work safely, especially since (unrelated to the performance) there was a large group gathering happening right outside the building at Lisgar park. In the end, the performance happened and went very well. Most of the challenge was just reminding yourself and others to maintain an awareness of the space we occupy and the responsibility we have to each other.”

IskweSplitscreen-web

The Theatre Centre staff watched the livestream from their homes. We each felt a deep feeling of joy and sadness to see a performance in the theatre. We talked about how it sort of felt like when you’ve been cooking all day and then you eat everything in 20 minutes. The performance was beautiful. It took a lot of different work. It happened on our screens and then it was gone.


We post-mortem’d the livestream as a team and talked about the logistics of the venue, about infection mitigation officers, about where our responsibility as a venue lies. How do we care for ourselves and artists in the most human-oriented way possible through this pandemic? The feeling that things have changed is certainly with us, but so is the feeling of hope for the experiments to come.