Thoughts on School Tour with Frances

Touring schools is a right-of-passage for many artists during their career in theatre, and a normal educational experience of many, many youths. Whether those memories are good or bad, I think we can all agree: getting out of class for an hour or two is always a great idea. 

But during a global pandemic, the concept of normal flies out the window. With no typical way forward, the theatre industry has been forced to do something it isn’t always comfortable doing: changing and adapting. And I, for one, am excited.

When the COVID-19 pandemic landed in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, local artists had already had plenty of time to prepare. The news from China, Italy and New York rolled in every day in waves of chaos. By the time Broadway shutdown, we knew a local lockdown was only a matter of time.

I’ve gotten lucky pandemic-wise three times so far. In March 2020, I had a play running at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre Warehouse. Women of the Fur Trade went on to win exactly zero awards and earn me a lot of hate mail, but as the last play to finish its run – albeit at half capacity – the memory lingers as a modest success. The day after we closed, Winnipeg went into its first lockdown.

Women of the Fur Trade (From left to right: Kelsey Wavey, Kathleen MacLean, Liz Whitbread)

The next time I got pandemic-lucky happened in September. I had just started a new job as Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions, and we were gearing up to present FemFest 2020.

The weather was beautiful and COVID-19 case numbers were low enough that I felt comfortable visiting restaurants and bar patios with small bubbles of friends. Then, a few days after closing night of the festival, case numbers were once again on the rise, and new restrictions were put in place.

FemFest 2020

The third time I got extremely lucky with timing was only a few weeks ago, as Sarasvàti Productions prepared to film the school tour play Seven Visions, so we could share it with students and classrooms across Manitoba. New restrictions were put in place leading up to the film shoot, but none that impacted us directly. And, once again, a few days after we wrapped on filming, Winnipeg entered its 2nd lockdown.

I do not know why I possess this singular talent for completing theatre projects mere days before the ongoing pandemic decides to get really active. There are many talents I would rather have, like being a better writer, or being good at science so I could find steady, well-paying employment in a growing field. But this recurring pattern got me thinking, and this is what I’ve realized: the timing is never right, and we – The Theatre – can adapt to any new situation.

That realization is one of the reasons I’m kind of pumped to be in this new position as Artistic Director and have the opportunity to help bring this digital school tour to fruition. I’m a Millennial. I’ve lived through a century worth of history, in 3 decades most of that history taking place over the past 8 months. I’m not afraid of change, or recessions, or technology, or high school students. Actually, that’s a lie, I am terrified of high school students. They’re so mean and cool and they call me ‘grandma’ on TikTok.

The point is, in the ongoing pandemic, inexplicably and against all odds, I feel surprisingly capable as Sarasvàti continues to bring its digital school tour to life.

Of course, this form adds an extra layer of complexity to adapting a play for digital presentation. We couldn’t simply film the play and show it to schools; we had to figure out a way to engage with the students, support them in identifying problems and finding new solutions, and – the trickiest part of all – presenting those revised scenes…all on a small touring budget.

And let’s face it: Gen-Z is more tech-savvy than any of us Millennials, Gen-X or Boomers can ever hope to be. For them, none of this adapting to new technology is new or complicated – it’s the world they were born into. It’s the rest of us that are trying to catch up.

Our tech set up for Seven Visions

One exciting thing about virtual spaces is that they are neutral ground for everyone. In a school setting, there are so many social rules governing space and relationships with that space… but online, everyone can be who they are, or even be someone else, if that is preferable to them. I’m looking forward to seeing how Gen-Z youth engage us in these digital spaces and discovering what we can learn from their innate tech prowess.

Digital Theatre is an imperfect new form of theatre with limitless possibilities and limitless ways to mess up. It’s scary, and that’s what makes it so fun. We can’t wait to bring our Seven Visions School Tour, a play about what reconciliation means to Indigenous youth, to schools across Manitoba and perhaps even beyond, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for this new medium.

Seven Visions Digital School Tour runs Public Performances run from December 17-19th and continues to tour until the end of January 2021. For more information or to book a performance contact or call 204-306-5303. To learn more about the process and the larger creation story check out an overview on our website.

Welcome to December!

Welcome to December! We’ll be winding down and reflecting on the year that has past and the year to come later this month, but for now, I wanted to make a bold statement:

Winter is the best season of all the seasons and December is the best month of the year and here are 3 important reasons why.

Reason #1: Snow

Snow is beautiful and special. It’s soft and pretty and scientifically interesting as it is an example of a fractal, and fractals in general are amazing.

“In mathematics, a fractal is a self-similar subset of Euclidean space whose fractal dimension strictly exceeds its topological dimension. Fractals appear the same at different levels, as illustrated in successive magnifications of the Mandelbrot set.” –

As a non-scientist who failed math multiple times in high school, I don’t exactly know what that means. But to me, fractals are stunningly artistic.

And I’m not alone.

“The more I looked at fractal patterns, the more I was reminded of [Jackson] Pollock’s poured paintings,” recounts physicist Richard Taylor in an essay for The Atlantic. “And when I looked at his paintings, I noticed that the paint splatters seemed to spread across his canvases like the flow of electricity through our devices.”

Of course, Pollock never knew what fractals were. The concept was formed by Benoit Mandelbrot in 1975, nearly two decades after Pollock died of in a car crash at the age of 44. To me, that’s the cool thing about fractals: they are so fundamental to the Universe that we create them without even knowing it.

And that’s why snow is so amazing! A bunch of teeny tiny fractals falling from the sky and onto the ground, like miniature Pollock paintings. Beautiful.

Reason #2: Two Back-to-Back Stat Holidays

You know you’re old when statutory holidays are an exciting topic of conversation for you. At our latest board meeting, we recently passed a motion that in 2021, we will observe Remembrance Day as a stat, and we are all thrilled.

A stat day is like a mini-vacation, a blissful day where you can tidy up all the loose ends of your life before heading back out into the world. For me, this typically involves doing chores I’ve been putting off, like cleaning the litterbox.

One stat is nice, but two in a row is nicer. And that’s what we get in December, which is great for catching up on even more chores, like cleaning the litter-box two days in a row, which the cat owners on Reddit tell me I should be doing anyway.

Reason #3: Christmas Carols

Look, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, and I’m not here to proselytize that everyone should. I am, however, here to invite you all to listen to Christmas music and not judge it, because you might find it’s actually good.

The tradition of Christmas Carols harkens back to the winter solstice. Carols, that is, songs of praise or joy, were historically sung throughout the year to mark multiple occasions, but Christmas is the holiday that has really taken Carols to a whole new level. Possibly because of capitalism, but that is a conversation for a different day.

Frankly, I could write a lot about how much I love Christmas Carols as well as the history, but for this post in particular I want to focus on one thing I particularly love about them: the evocative lyrics. Whether it’s Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, Good King Wenceslas, The Little Drummer Boy or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, you cannot look me in the eye and tell me those lyrics are not giving you all the feels.

So, do you agree or disagree? Is December your favourite month too? What is your favourite Christmas Carol? Comment below!