Britta Johnson. Photo credit: Sarah Stewart.Before the pandemic, Canadian musical theatre composer, lyricist and writer Britta Johnson was on a roll. Hot on the heels of her musical Life After’s US premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in 2019, she was off to Connecticut to workshop a new show with regular collaborator, actor, singer, and playwright Sara Farb.

Based on a true story from 1915 about a New York City mother suing her daughter—and heiress—for incorrigibility after the latter gets caught up with a seductive tango dancer, KELLY v. KELLY is the third in a series of three musicals that Johnson was commissioned to create for her three-year residency with The Musical Stage Company.

It was supposed to premiere at Toronto’s Canadian Stage in May 2020, but the pandemic struck mere weeks before the production was slated to begin rehearsals.

Read more: Making music no matter what – songwriter Britta Johnson

Dream in High Park – hoping to begin at the end of June in the High Park Amphitheatre. Photo by Dahlia KatzJust as the Stratford Festival’s stunning new Tom Patterson Theatre has been completed and is ready to be filled with eager actors and audience members, the exigencies of the ongoing pandemic are keeping its doors closed and forcing performances outdoors in an uncanny – or canny? – echo of the Festival’s roots. 

Almost 70 years ago, in the summer of 1953, the dream of a young returning soldier who had fallen in love with the theatre he had experienced in Europe, came to exciting life in the very first Stratford Festival Theatre. That magical first stage, designed by Tanya Moiseiwitsch and envisioned by the first artistic director Tyrone Guthrie, sheltered under the canvas of the famous Stratford tent, kept whole though rain and shine by tent master Skip Manley for that groundbreaking first season. 

Now, after an unprecedented year without any live performance at all by the renowned classical theatre company, an innovative new season will begin, not indoors, but in two tents, or more accurately, under two beautiful new canopies outside the Tom Patterson and Festival Theatres. 

Read more: Such Canny Stuff as Dreams Are Made Of

New Works Showcase at Watershed – Afarin Mansouri’s Zuleykha (Loose Tea Music Theatre). Photo credit Alain ViauEver since I began writing this column four years ago, I have searched out and championed companies and artists exploring and breaking down the barriers between musical theatre, opera and dance. Imagine my delight when I discovered a new festival debuting in the last week of May this year dedicated to the same goals, to  “reimagining the future of music theatre” and to building a new community of artists, scholars, journalists and students from across genres and generations. 

The Watershed Festival, given this name to symbolize the coming together of these many streams of interconnected art forms, is helmed by prolific Canadian composer Dean Burry, now also an assistant professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, where the idea of the festival was born.  Burry has been a friend of mine since I directed the world premiere of his opera Pandora’s Locker at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School in 2008; I got in touch to find out more about both the inspiration behind the festival and how the pandemic might be affecting plans for participants and attendees. 

One thing that is clear right away in speaking to Burry about Watershed is how closely the goals of the festival align with his own belief in the need to break through the long-standing walls between the worlds of opera and musical theatre: in both the professional and academic worlds. As he told me, “I feel as though this is something that my heart has been in for a very long time. I work a lot in the opera field, but never did think that opera had to be one boxed-in thing. I have had some professional musical theatre shows, as well, and I’ve found that as much as we all try to be open, a lot of people in those two fields have strong feelings about what ‘opera is supposed to be’ as opposed to what ‘musical theatre is supposed to be’. The reality, though, as far as I am concerned, is that they are all on the same spectrum; both are methods of storytelling that use every art form: drama, literature, music, movement and design.” 

Read more: Synchronicity and Innovation in a Watershed Spring

Lyne Tremblay. Photo credit: Bella Ciao Studio.“Have you been living in limbo?” sings Lyne Tremblay in the trailer for her upcoming online cabaret. “Well, we’re going to get you out of that!” On April 24 at 7:30pm, Tremblay will be presenting Living in Limbo, a bilingual cabaret live from her famous loft in Montreal.

This is Tremblay’s first foray into the virtual world—a new step by a ‘multi-threat’ artist whose performing credits range from dancing and singing as Cassandra in the original Canadian production of Cats at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, to starring as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Mogador Theatre in Paris, to an eclectic collection of TV and film appearances. She is also an acclaimed creator of cross-genre theatre works and cabarets, and more recently, a recording artist.

Living in Limbo, Tremblay’s virtual cabaret debut, will showcase all her talents, with some surprises along the way—a rare chance to catch her up close and in full experimental mode. Wanting to know more details before tuning in to the livestream on April 24, I reached out to Tremblay to talk about inspiration, process, and creating during the pandemic.

Read more: With ‘Living in Limbo’, artist Lyne Tremblay brings her cabaret practice home

bannerDigidance’s upcoming digital broadcast of Joe was produced in 1995 by Bernard Picard for Radio-Canada and features dancers from Jean-Pierre Perreault’s own company alongside artists from Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers and Dancemakers. Photo by Robert EtcheverryThis is such a strange time to be writing about music theatre. As I scour the Internet for news of new works and remounts, the contrast with this time last year is impossible to escape. On top of that, as the one-year anniversary of the first pandemic lockdown approaches it feels as if we are collectively holding our breath as we wait to find out if we are actually on the road out of this horrific year, or if a longer period of isolation is first going to be necessary. 

Not only are live performances still not allowed in Toronto, but (as of March 5) the rules of the current lockdown, imposed in December, also forbid arts companies from even rehearsing to film content to be streamed online (as of March 5). This hits particularly hard when so many companies are using this method to not only survive by creating streaming content, but to share their productions beyond local borders thus extending their reach and their audiences across the country and even around the world.

Read more: The Many Virtues of Necessity
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