Hamilton artist Anna Chatterton was preparing to tour her play Quiver (a nominee for the 2019 Hamilton Literary Award for Fiction), just as the pandemic came crashing down. While online Zoom performances of Quiver took place, the promise of a live performance waited in the wings. The show was eventually rescheduled for November 5-8 at the Waterford Old Town Hall, but this time with the safety stipulations, quirky new rehearsal processes, and renewed energy and appreciation for both performer and audiences that only a premiere during a pandemic can bring.
Anna admits she didn’t anticipate the tour continuing at all this year due to the pandemic. “I just absolutely assumed that the tour wasn’t going to happen,” she shares. Two other venues were set to host Quiver but only the Waterford Old Town Hall felt that they were able to safely hold the performance amid the current regulations. In particular, it was the fervor and support of the Old Town Hall’s Artistic Producer, Claire Senko, that gave Anna assurance that the show could go on.
The quaint charm of Waterford (located less than an hour away from Hamilton) was part of Anna’s pull to perform. At Claire’s invite, Anna went to visit the venue in the summertime with her family. “It’s a lovely hall,” Anna remarks, “and I was just so charmed by [Claire], she even brought me to her family farm…we picked cherry tomatoes and blackberries, it was like paradise.”
Safety was the most important part of the decision to proceed. Throughout their many correspondences, Anna recalls how Claire spoke of the safety measures that would be in place, the support her community would bring to the show and their view of art as a necessity in this troubling time. Anna comments, “They’re being very careful, obviously, they’re all wearing masks, they’re only allowing 30-40 people”. The Old Town Hall has even already hosted a few small concerts, called “Tiny Concerts”, which have safely brought the community together.
The extraordinary spirit of community that the Old Town Hall’s audiences have is part of the charm of the venue. “Some of her [Claire’s] audience members don’t even go out of their house to go grocery shopping but they came to this because they said they felt it was essential. And so she felt it’s an essential service what she’s doing and that’s remarkably special.” Anna acknowledges that not all audiences have this spirit of generosity. “It’s easy to sort of lose sight of that, particularly when you perform in Toronto because it’s a very jaded audience with lots of critics…I mean they’re also a cultured audience and can be very warm of course and everything but I do really actually just love to tour to small towns and to be doing this in a time where people have not been able to see plays…it feels like it’s going to be a heightened experience…I’ve missed that.”
It seems that paradise these days inevitably comes with the unpredictability of planning in a pandemic. A fourth show was added in order to make the run at the Old Town Hall more “economically viable”, however, the additional performance and commute meant Anna’s original stage manager was unable to participate. Fortunately, Hamiltonian Production Manager Rick Banville was able to join the team for Quiver instead. “Having someone from Hamilton…there was just something about knowing he would take care.”
Anna comments on other parts of the process that have felt a bit strange including rehearsing in the office area of her home. “I have to go under a bunch of wires to rehearse, and go under wires to just sit on my couch…it’s pretty nuts.” While rehearsals via Zoom made sense in the early pandemic while preparing for an online version of the show for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa; video rehearsals in preparation for the live Old Town Hall performance add peculiarities, particularly with the Toronto-based director watching via camera.
“The first rehearsal I kept wanting to look at her [the director] cause Rick was also watching from his home, and so I wanted to perform it for them, and it was very…I didn’t tell them but it was hard for me to look away from the camera…so that part’s just been bizarre.” Getting accustomed to the stage space itself also brings its own challenges. Anna admits, “The one thing that I feel a little weird about is that I’m going to be quite far back. It’s a proscenium stage, it’s a high-up stage, and there’s a bit of a thrust and I’m going to be behind the thrust…my initial instinct when I went there was like, I want to be right here, on the edge! Cause I like to be close and have it be kind of intimate.”
Changes and challenges aside, Anna acknowledges the preciousness of this performance during this unusual time. “It feels like a very special play during this pandemic. I felt that way when Claire talked to me.” However, Anna is also conscious of the feeling of fear that comes with performing in big cities like Toronto and Hamilton during COVID-19, and how Waterford feels considerably less frightening. “I feel less scared about my health and so…I feel like this is a special experience.”
Now that this performance finally has the green light, Anna laughs at the “collective remembering” that her team has experienced being thrust back into live performance-mode. Indeed, while Anna has performed and read Quiver several times in the last few years, the energy going into this particular performance is invariably different. Like many artists, Anna found that early Zoom performances were as important for her mental health as it was for audiences watching, which has had a profound impact on the reflection of her work. “ Now I feel more like I’m an artist and I’m not down anymore and so I do feel like the work has kind of deepened just revisiting it again. There’s a pretty deeply entrenched show in my body, for sure, but there’s some lines that I feel like I sort of have a new understanding of, which has been kind of interesting.”
Likewise, the audience has opportunities to recall the experience of witnessing live performance again. Anna expresses her excitement to “just to be in a room with people and to be telling them a story. And this is a very intimate show anyways, that uses the audience like the audience…there’s no fourth wall, I’m not pretending they’re not there, I’m not pretending they’re anyone else other than who they are.”
Liveness is something that has been deeply missed these past several months and Anna highlights its significance. “The reason I got into theatre and stubbornly stayed in theatre and am addicted to theatre is because of the live aspect. Because of the magic that happens in the room and how the audience suspends their disbelief and how we all agree to go on this pretend journey…and I love that, and that’s why I’m in theatre!”
Under “normal” circumstances Anna hopes to connect with her audience and that the story likewise does so. “I feel a responsibility to help give them some escapism…my play is very real world, with real-world problems, and three women going through something very complicated, very human. But I do feel a responsibility to sort of take [the audience] away from, you know, this heaviness that we’re experiencing. I hope to bring them a new world, an old world, another world to live in for 65 minutes.” Anna, your audience awaits you!
Quiver is being performed at Waterford Old Town Hall in Waterford, ON from November 5th to 8th. The show begins at 8pm with doors opening at 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online through Ticketscene.