Trojan Girls embrace the future of live, in-person theater – safely and with a twist


Elena Reyes as Andromache and Elektra in Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus. Costume design by Nick Blais. (Photo by Dahlia Katz)

The era of pandemic theater will be known for a few key signatures and buzzwords: live, outdoor and socially distanced streaming, digital hubs, one or pod audiences, bubble seats. But what theater makers are wrestling with now is the question of how we will define the not-quite-but-almost-out-of-the-pandemic era of live performance. Can he seem as adventurous as before, while acknowledging the inherent risks of gathering as a group of humans sharing the same air?

An upcoming co-production between Factory Theater and Outside the March Theatre, in association with Neworld Theatre, takes an important step towards finding that answer. From August 3 to 28, Trojan Girls and the Addictions of Atreusa new play by Canadian playwright Gillian Clark, occupies two spaces in Toronto’s historic Factory Theater building and embraces the unparalleled quality of live, in-person theater in a way not seen in the city since pre-pandemic times.

Directed by Mitchell Cushman (Artistic Director of Outside the March and known for over a decade of immersive, site-specific productions across Canada, New York and London), the production will split each audience in two as two distinct stories but connected will take place simultaneously in two locations – the Factory Studio, indoors, and the Factory Courtyard outdoors (with set design by Anahita Debonehie, lighting by Jareth Li and sound by Heidi Chan). After intermission, the audience changes location and the same stories replay – but the cast of both stories remains the same: in real time, a cast of eight actors literally jumps from location to location, changing characters and intrigue, amidst a backstage chaos unseen by their public spectators.

Announced today, these fearless actors are Katherine Cullen, Liz Der, Sebastien Heins, Amy Keating, Elena Reyes, Cheyenne Scott, Merlin Simard and Jeff Yung.

The cast of Trojan Girls. Left side, top to bottom: Elena Reyes as Andromache and Elektra; Amy Keating as Cassandra and Ned; Liz Der as Penthesilea (Lea) and Hecuba; Katherine Cullen as Helen and Nestra. Right right, top to bottom: Sebastian Heins as Menelaus and King Memnon; Jeff Yung as Odysseus and Orestes; Cheyenne Scott as Penelope; Merlin Simard as Thalthybius and Hermes. Costume design by Nick Blais. (Photos by Dahlia Katz)

“When we were working on the show before the pandemic, what we were excited about then was the same what we were excited about now in that it really taps into the live and event nature of theater and what’s possible when you when you bring people together for a live event,” says Cushman, who began developing the script and production concept with Clark in 2019. , it would be that thing that only theater can do, where the power of the story happened somewhere between the audience and the actors and the space between them.”

Cushman and Outside the March were among the first Toronto theater companies to employ artists during the shutdown with a series of pandemic-proof remote phone plays called The Ministry of Worldly Mysteries, so they’re used to the challenges of production during the pandemic and the elimination of in-person audiences. But reopening did not mean an immediate return to past practices. Trojan Girls and the Addictions of Atreus will integrate the main learnings of the last two years in terms of health and safety.

Using the last days of summer, half of the audience will stay outside unless it rains, in which case audiences will move indoors to the main theater space. Outside, audience members will be wearing headphones to ensure the cast is heard clearly by everyone, regardless of hearing ability, in the middle of downtown Toronto. Inside, the public must be masked. And because the room’s structure divides viewers of up to 100 in half, the majority of time spent inside is only shared with up to 50 people.

They also employ four cast members when sick, which was prohibitively expensive and not common practice for independent or on-location theater companies before the pandemic.

“We’re really trying to be inventive and keep our eyes wide open that COVID is still with us,” Cushman says. “It has been difficult to produce work over the past two years and to be aware of the inherent compromises that have been necessary to ensure the safety of everyone involved in these productions. These realities still exist, but we can always go back to the work we were doing before. .”

Similarly, the piece itself reflects the pandemic, but was not created specifically in response to it. Montreal-based Clark began writing it while attending the National Theater School as an adaptation of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy. The Trojansexcept it was set in 2009 and merged with the 1978 musical Fat. In Trojan Girls and the Addictions of Atreus, the action moves from Greece to New Troy, Canada during the annual Duck n’ Swing dance; the parents are inside on the dance floor and the kids are outside at the bonfire, hatching a prom plan. Funny and irreverent, yes, but the piece retains its themes of displacement, cause-and-effect dynamics, generational responsibility, and end-of-the-world anxiety. In 2009, that meant an imminent understanding of climate change. In 2022, it is that and much more.

“I feel like the play is actually about a group of human beings who are actually trying to do their best to be mortal. They’re trying to find hope that we’re doing our best in the moment. , and hopefully things will be a little bit better for the next generation,” says Clark from Montreal. “With the room going back and forth, it’s never going to go perfectly the way life will ever as you expect, so how can we accept that and embrace the beauty of being mortal? To try to do an impossible task?

When we prioritized what we wanted to come back with to experience in-person offerings, it would be that thing only theater can do, where the power of the story happened somewhere between the audience and the actors and the space between them.– Mitchell Cushman, Outside the Walk

Live theater has never gone away during the pandemic, but as theaters reopen and audiences return to in-person performances, Cushman believes supply can’t rely on shows that sold out before COVID-19.

“The risk was always there, but we didn’t think about it the same way,” he says. “Personally, this makes me want to attend live events, but it also raises the bar of what I’m looking for these live events to offer.”

“We’ve all spent a lot of time realizing that entertainment can be a great diversion in our lives when it’s readily available at home and on our phones or however we want to receive it. I think theater has a different role to play : [it should be] difficult in a way that is worth the risk and worth all the complications inherent in completing this work. »

Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus runs August 3-28, 2022 at the Factory Theater. Tickets range from free to $75. More information can be found at theatrefactory.ca.

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