By Nicholas Miller, Associate Director of the Ottawa Children's Theatre
I vividly remember the winter open house weekend for OCT on March 7th and 8th, 2020. Many of us were starting to be aware of the reality of the epidemic stage of the coronavirus and the suggested distancing restrictions being made. These were not government mandated restrictions at the time; they were just recommendations. We realized in those moments of trying not to shake hands or accept a hug, that changing our behaviors was going to be very challenging. The theatre teachings of Jacques Lecoq teach us of the importance of sincere meaningful physical exchanges on stage and in life. These sincere well wishes through a handshake or hug are very meaningful. During the open houses we became awkward as we had to turn down a handshake or hug and give an elbow bump instead. We realized that when the very necessary physical and social restrictions started being implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus, this was going to affect what we do at OCT in a very profound way. The feeling of getting knocked off course was very real and very fast.
Then on March 11th, my wife and I were fortunate to get tickets to Cats at the NAC. We were thrilled to introduce our 11 and 14 year olds to my Granny’s favorite musical one- that she introduced to me at around the same age. A series of poems by TS Eliot, explored through song, dance, set design, lighting and costume. Truly imaginative. Did the performers know this would be one of the last performances they would do in months and months? The next day they announced the run of that show and all others at the NAC would be canceled until April 5th.
Another challenge was the decision to cancel a trip of a lifetime to New York City that included stops to see NY family, Broadway shows (West Side Story and Jagged Little Pill) and Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. Cancelling was a difficult decision but one we knew we had to take.
Then it really sunk in that if all these theatre-related things were going away (temporarily) did it mean that the Ottawa Children’s Theatre would need to go as well? Thankfully the OCT community did not want that, but we had a lot of questions to answer.
Could we communicate the lessons of theatre, performance and live storytelling without being in the same room? Was there a way that could continue to make that happen? Would our OCT families want to participate? Thankfully we started finding the answer to the questions was yes! Yes, many of the lessons we pass along through theatre education were possible through video conferencing. Yes, our instructors were ready to get creative and apply their ingenuity to offering classes via video conferencing. Yes, Zoom was the technology that could allow us to make it happen. Yes, our theatre families and students wanted to come along for this new way of doing things. And finally, yes, everyone found value in the offerings. What a relief!
As parents going through this pandemic, we try and find ways to give our kids a sense of balance. We try and recreate a structured schedule for our kids that resembles how things were before the pandemic. We monitor reliable scientific sources, trying to gather accurate information and make decisions to keep our families safe. Participating in theatre programming that uses live video conferencing is one way of achieving a bit of balance during this pandemic. In an OCT theatre class, we socialize, check in with one another, learn skills, laugh, try new theatre games, support one another in our efforts, explore concepts of character and emotion, and tell our stories!
My hope is we all continue to find the ways we need to achieve some balance during these challenging times.