It is an involuntary action to seek comfort within your community during times of crisis. But what do you do when social distancing rules are in place (stay 2 metres away, please!), university campuses are closed and public gatherings are restricted? You turn to the internet and get creative, literally.
“I asked people to articulate their experiences in how they’ve dealt with the pandemic. The system we live in revolts against the slowness the pandemic demands. Everyone in some way is dealing with discomfort, dissonance and discovering the ability to care for themselves and others.”
Due to COVID-19, King’s campus officially closed on March 20. This meant that residence students had to move out, upcoming in-person activities were cancelled and all students had to start their journeys home to complete the academic year. But this wasn’t enough to derail Katie Clarke, a fourth-year student pursuing a combined honours in Contemporary Studies and Psychology and a contributor to King’s Theatre Society (KTS). Instead, it motivated her to continue seeking out opportunities to write and direct play telling stories that matter, no matter the delivery method.
“I wanted to write a documentary-style play and began interviewing people all over the country about their experiences living thought the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Clarke, who is no stranger to writing and directing plays performed by the KTS. “I wanted to know how the pandemic had changed the way people engaged with or thought about their community, and what words like aloneness, isolation, loneliness and solitude meant to them. I asked people to articulate their experiences in how they’ve dealt with the pandemic. The system we live in revolts against the slowness the pandemic demands. Everyone in some way is dealing with discomfort, dissonance and discovering the ability to care for themselves and others.” Armed with a plan and the desire to remain engaged with the theatre community, Clarke interviewed over 25 people, ranging in age from 18 to 75, and applied for the Art Apart grant from the National Theatre School of Canada.
Receiving her $750 grant on April 2, Clarke is one of 100 people across the country to be a part of this national initiative. These grants were awarded to theatre artists in training or artists who have completed a theatre training program within the past five years, to present a piece of art online. Clarke is new to online theatre, but says this medium gives her the chance to work with short film and video in a way live theatre never could. “[This project] allows me to create a short film and work with video in a new way. It’s making me think deeper about how we can retain the theatre way of building community and integrate it with what’s unique about an online show,” she says. “What I love about theatre is that it’s physical and live. There is magic that happens between the audience and the actors. But what matters most is its function as a vehicle for activism.”
“I think there is a real integrity to this type of theatre. It has made me think more about the structure because I already had all this great material, so I had to focus on building an arc connecting these beautiful stories between people who don’t know each other.”
Playwright Andrew Kushnir has been mentoring Clarke as she pulls verbatim monologues out of the interviews and weaves them together to create a cohesive story. “I think there is real integrity to this type of theatre. It has made me think more about the structure because I already had all this great material, so I had to focus on building an arc connecting these beautiful stories between people who don’t know each other,” Clarke says.
Clarke has enlisted the talents of 10 actors, eight King’s and Dalhousie students and two King’s alumni, to perform her play. “I reached out to these actors and actresses because I had known them or worked with them in the past and knew I could trust them with these roles. As I conducted the interviews, I started to associate them with the stories I was hearing.” Current King’s students James Ersil, Marlee Sansom, Jessica Hannaford, Tessa Hill, Hannah Peres and Keely Olstad, along with Dalhousie students Moneesha “Misha” Bakshi and Ben Burchell, will join King’s alumni Adriana Loewen, BA(Hons)’20 and David Woroner, BA(Hons)’19 to bring these stories to life.
Clarke’s play, “After This”, will premiere on the National Theatre School of Canada’s website on June 30 and be posted on the its own Facebook event page. For more information about Art Apart and the National Theatre School of Canada, you can visit their website and Facebook page.