This year's Theatre Under the Gun will be very different from previous years as the participating theatre companies will create their plays in isolation and without a live audience.
This year's Theatre Under the Gun will be very different from previous years as the participating theatre companies will create their plays in isolation and without a live audience.

With just 48-hours to create and present an original new play, Monster Theatre’s annual Theatre Under the Gun has always been challenging. This year, though, the six participating teams must also contend with the requirements of physical distancing.

"In a way it might make it somewhat easier because you can have a second take. With a regular Theatre Under the Gun you’ve never done this in front of an audience, you didn’t have the benefit of a dress rehearsal or a week of previews." - Ryan Gladstone
“In a way it might make it somewhat easier because you can have a second take. With a regular Theatre Under the Gun you’ve never done this in front of an audience, you didn’t have the benefit of a dress rehearsal or a week of previews.” – Ryan Gladstone

“We wanted to keep the rules the same, but it’s how the plays are being presented that is changing,” says Monster Theatre’s Ryan Gladstone.

As with previous years, the basic rules for participation are relatively simple. Each team is provided with an inspiration package on Saturday evening and then have two days to create their new work. Instead of presenting their completed works live on stage this year, though, they will film their plays using whatever technology they want. The pieces will form the basis for a live YouTube broadcast hosted by Gladstone and his brother Jeff.

“It would be beyond our capacity to cut live to each of the groups to perform,” says Gladstone. “Stuff goes wrong at the best of times, so we will host the broadcast live and then cut to the pre-recorded pieces.”

With just 24 hours after they receive the finished works from the artists, Gladstone and his team will also be under the gun. “Normally, we spend that whole day doing tech rehearsals, but this year it will be a scramble for us to put it all together in a virtual format,” he says.

This year’s online format will also have an added bonus as organizers plan to stream the teams receiving their inspiration packages. As with previous years, those packages may include a line of dialogue, a sound cue, a prop or other piece of information that must be incorporated into their final product. “They’ll open them live, and we’ll do all six companies before we send them off to create,” says Gladstone.

“I don’t think you can plan for these things too much. In a way you just have to go in the moment. That is what creation really is. I don’t want to stifle that. I want to see what our inspiration package, brainstorm as a group, see what comes out of that and then rise to the occasion and try to pull it off.” – Jackie Blackmore
“I don’t think you can plan for these things too much. In a way you just have to go in the moment. That is what creation really is. I don’t want to stifle that. I want to see what our inspiration package, brainstorm as a group, see what comes out of that and then rise to the occasion and try to pull it off.” – Jackie Blackmore

Among the six theatre companies to take up this year’s challenge is The House Collective.

Made up of Jackie Blackmore, Sara Bynoe, Nita Bowerman, and Donna Soares, the quartet of multi-disciplinary artists initially met while working at Granville Island’s Performance Works. “We became like a really tight-knit family, and we always talked about working together artistically,” says Blackmore.

But while this will be the first time they will create together, Theatre Under the Gun is nothing new for Blackmore, having participated five different times over the years. It is, however, the first time she will participate in a virtual edition.

“There was definitely some fear at first, but it is a challenge, and that is the whole point,” she says.

Given a free hand to film their finished play using whatever technology they want, the imperative is to ensure it is presented as a live theatre piece.

“They don’t want this to be an editing competition,” says Blackmore. “They still want us to look at this as if it was one-shot live theatre. It might not be as perfect as we want it to be because we’re not in the same room, but at the same time, it’s very organic and very of the time.”

Another participating company this year is Mid-Youth Crisis, a new theatre company made up of Zachary Dean Friesen, Jacqueline Welbers, Paul Jacob Little and Coan Roik.

"I feel like we’re all going to be put in a similar boat because no one really has experience doing a show like this. We’re rolling with the punches and flying by the seat of our pants with whatever we get in our inspiration package. I think that is what everyone is doing. It takes the control out of your hands and you just have to go with it." - Zachary Dean Friesen
“I feel like we’re all going to be put in a similar boat because no one really has experience doing a show like this. We’re rolling with the punches and flying by the seat of our pants with whatever we get in our inspiration package. I think that is what everyone is doing. It takes the control out of your hands and you just have to go with it.” – Zachary Dean Friesen

“Our group is in an interesting position because we have two members living in one space in isolation and two members together in another,” says Friesen.

As a result, Friesen believes their situation may actually give them an edge. “We’ll get to play with people actually interacting with each other in two different places,” he says.

Like Blackmore and her team, the members of Mid-Youth Crisis are also trying to capture the feeling of theatre, albeit virtually. “Everyone in our group has experience with short films, but we still want to make it feel like a piece of theatre rather than a film or a sketch.”

Determined to “roll with the punches,” Friesen also believes his company member’s past improvisational work will also help. “We have some improvisers in our group, so we’re open to any new challenges and new ways to create theatre.”

Theatre Under the Gun: The Social Distancing Edition will take place April 21 at 7:00 pm on the Monster Theatre YouTube channel. The live stream link will be provided to ticket holders 24 hours in advance. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and available at ticketwire.com.