Building a Stage for Queer Voices

Category: stage 60

Plain Site Theatre Festival returns for a second season with an all-digital format. 

Matt Carter 

Autumn is always a busy time for theatre in Fredericton. Traditionally, it’s a time when local companies begin staging productions, holding last minute auditions and planning God knows how many rehearsals, all in anticipation of the curtain going up on opening night and getting those first audiences reactions. There’s an energy to this entire process that affects everyone involved by sparking new inspiration and the new ideas that will shape future shows, performers and audiences. It’s all connected. 

While theatre in the fall of 2020 bears little resemblance to the theatre many of us are used to, Fredericton’s theatre community has done a remarkable job of rolling with the punches so far. While the theatre experience has taken on a number of new formats this year, from phone booths to workshopped musicals to choose-your-own-adventure storytelling, live streaming has played a major role keeping both performers and audiences engaged at a time when in-person experiences remain an intimidating decision for many. 

In a relatively short period of time, performing arts groups of all disciplines have adapted their work to fit the 2020 model with many demystifying the use of technology. What may have seemed like “the great unknown” seven months ago is now simply, “the way it’s done.”

Alex Rioux knew what he was getting into before he started planning this year’s Plain Site Theatre Festival. He knew things wouldn’t be happening in a traditional theatre setting and so, with a little help from his friends, he began looking at how his planned programming could fit this new reality.  

“We had known from the beginning that it would have to be mainly digital. It has been quite overwhelming to get everything running if I’m being honest. I was very lucky to have had the support of Theatre St. Thomas and Solo Chicken behind me on this otherwise this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Rioux, who founded the Plain Site Theatre Festival in 2019 as a way to encourage and support queer voices on the theatre stage.

For 2020, his plan for the PSTF was to produce work that first appeared as readings in 2019, and then continue the cycle by offering readings of new work chosen from a call for submissions that took place back in August of this year. The challenge would be finding a way to continue the development process, staging stories from the previous year and sharing new voices with his audience. 

“As for going digital, for the most part it wasn’t a crazy adjustment,” he said. “For the 2020 winners it wasn’t a major adjustment at all. A reading can happen anywhere without it feeling too different, but to our 2019 winners who were promised productions, that’s where things got tricky.

“We’ve done our best to maintain the site specific nature of the shows while adding in some cinematic flare as well. Not to mention, I know nothing about filming so at first I thought it would be easy to whip up what I had envisioned but when I got together with actual videographers I realised there was a lot I hadn’t considered.”

With the support of St. Thomas University’s Theatre St. Thomas, Solo Chicken Productions, as well as the city’s latest theatre start-up, Spearhead Theatre, the 2020 event begins this week with live streamed productions, readings and workshops. 

Despite making the shift from theatre to screen, Rioux says this year’s submissions far exceeded his expectations. Thanks in part to the efforts of other theatre local groups like NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, queer and marginalized voices are finding new audiences on Fredericton stages. And perhaps more importantly, these voices are beginning to feel support from the community. 

“Since last year, I noticed a big increase of queer inclusive productions from queer and non-queer artists alike,” said Rioux. “NotaBle Acts this past year had a plethora of scripts featuring queer characters, a couple of them are even making a return through our festival. It means that our voices are growing larger and more confident, and that the festival may even be able to evolve in the coming years.”

All events will be available to the public. Links to view performances, and all performance details will be shared through the Plain Site Theatre Festival event page on Facebook.

“I think the most rewarding aspect about doing this is getting to know the people who get involved,” said Rioux. “Everytime I hear that this is the first time someone who is queer gets to play a queer character, or be part of a intentionally queer narrative feels very full circle. I myself as a gay man never played a gay character in any show until maybe a year or two ago, so to know that other budding artist don’t have to wait so long to see themselves reflected in the work they make let’s me know that what this festival does is important and needed.”

Plain Site Theatre Festival runs October 28-31, 2020. 

Index image, by Patty Saad, is a shot from ‘How the Night Sky Looks 20 km Away From Civilization’, written by Noah Deas and directed by Alex Rioux. Respectfully lifted from the Theatre St. Thomas Facebook page. 

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