Western Canada Theatre Remergence festival marks return of local theatre

Amidst the pandemic, WCT and local acts stream performances live to audiences’ homes

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, local theatre has been forced to put their plans on pause.

Western Canada Theatre, based in Kamloops, was forced to cancel their slated 2020-2021 season, and responded with “Togather: a celebration of community.” Under this project, WCT has been publishing videos on a variety of topics to engage the community. One of these was a cocktail-making lesson from Gin-lane, and they’ve also hosted talks with talented playwrights, directors, and performers.

With the goal of bringing back theatre performances, WCT partnered with Chimera Theatre, another local theatre group, and launched the Remergence Festival: A live online stream of theatre, improv, music and variety acts. Running from May 8 until the 15, the nightly festival only costs $20, which includes all the shows that night as well as local musicians performing intermission music.

Kamloops artist Dan Ondang, an independent performer and the artistic director for the improv group ‘The Freudian Slips,’ is excited to see a return of local theatre.

“This festival is significant even if it wasn’t COVID. It marks the first time the local independent theatre company, Chimera Theatre, is collaborating with WCT, which is huge for the local independent theatre scene,” Ondang said.

For Ondang, the Remergence festival also presents new challenges which all performers have had to adapt to.

“All of us local theatre artists have had little to do for about a year now. It’s very cool we’re getting to discover a new art form in live broadcast theatre. It takes a combination of theatre skill and filmmaking skill to really have the show land well,” Ondang said. “Because the show is a broadcast, I’ve been thinking of ways to keep audiences off of their phones when they’re watching at home. In-person, if you’re on your phone, I’ll come into the audience and take it away from you. In a live broadcast, I don’t have the power to do that, and it’s much easier to get distracted.”

“For improv bingo on the [14], the audience will get a few bingo cards when they buy their tickets. It’s a way of tricking people into paying attention to the show because it forces them to pay attention with their hands as well as their eyes and ears.”

Ondang’s other show, A Walrus and an Elephant and a Raven and a Fox and Death, an independent performance by him and his friend Andrew Robertson, is a “Kamloops Gothic” poetry reading, juxtaposing Robertson’s and Ondang’s own writing with classical works from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Lewis Carroll. In Ondang’s words, “…the show helps me, and I’m sure Andrew as well, put a name to a sentiment we’ve been feeling for a while about small towns.” Viewers can catch this show on May 13. 

The show organizers also made unique choices in the format of the festival, in order to give the closest feeling to a real theatre festival. Part of this was partnering with SnacksEH and Phillips Brewing to provide showgoers with beer and snacks. The coolest piece, however, is the interactive video-game-style lounge pictured here.

Audience members make their own avatar, and can chat and mingle with performers in a virtual Atari-style lounge, complete with a functioning snack bar. One interesting feature of this lounge is the proximity chat, whereas audience members approach and walk away from others, their video bubble and audio will fade out.

Ondang also applauded the festival’s organizers for its accessibility.

“It’s cool of the organizers to make this affordable. Tickets are $20, but there are also $5 relief tickets, and they encourage those who can afford it to pay more to offset the cost. It’s about bringing the community together, and they made that happen,” he said. “It’s neat to see the independent art scene in Kamloops getting some respect.”