- Director – a playwright/director for a live Fringe theatre production
- Mother – Director’s mother
- Anton – a conscientious stage manager
- Melissa – a costumer
- Actor – a member of the cast
- Actress – a member of the cast
- Young actor – dressed in designer wear, ready for a catwalk
- Cast – a group of actors
- Crew – a team of dedicated crew members
- Cat – neighbour’s orange tabby cat
- Labrador – large dog
Scene 1: Show time… oops!
Summer 2020. Pillars of laundry create a smelly fortress as the Victoria-based theatre Director sits at her desk writing feverishly. She smiles as she writes, “The End.” The play is ready!
Ring Ring… She searches through a pile of socks and picks up her phone.
Director: Hi Anton… Yes, you were great as Sherlock… Much better than Ben… And you will… Soon– for sure… Oh, thanks. I’m so excited for the Fringe. All these years of putting it off, putting it off, and now it’s the perfect time to produce what many say, not just my mother, will be a huge hit. Really, really big. And it’s all thanks to you. Your endless encouragement. Thank you so very much for stage manage–
What do you mean, the festival is postponed a year?… I’ve already invited… pandemic? My mother–
She booked a one way ticket… I can’t host her for whole a year! She won’t leave after the show premieres. She never leaves before closing night!
Scene 2: Where am I?
Fast forward to summer 2021. Pillars of paper encase the Director, who wears the same pajamas as the year before. Her hair seems unbrushed — it’s been months, maybe a year. The pillars shake as she types. She looks around, trying not to disturb the precarious stacks, and carefully types, “version 422.” The play is ready… again.
Mother (O.S.): Dear, Anton is on the phone!
Director: Thanks mah!
She picks up the phone with her head wedged between two pillars.
Yes, my mother is still in town… Only a year?… I told you, she’s leaving right after closing night–
What do you mean the entire festival is up in the air?…
Fog enters her attic office and swirls around her head.
Do we have a show or do we not have a show?… Tentatively moving ahead… And how do we communicate a tentative show?… Ugh, this is a living nightmare… Month by month? Day by day?… How much are we getting paid?… No, let’s stick with “tentatively,” we’ll call it that… Yes, I’m in… Maybe I’ll attend my own show. Maybe not. I don’t want to get sick. I can’t get mom sick. Or the cast, they haven’t even seen Broadway yet… Stand six feet apart? Masks?… What about the romantic part when they… A giant heart shaped balloon?… Did you come up with that? Because I don’t remember paying a production designer for an idea like that… No. We’re deferring to next year. When things are normal. Life. Theatre… Talk to you then… No balloons!!!
A thousand balloons pop and deflate as the Director wakes up in a cold sweat. A bottle of homemade wine spills onto the floor. An orange tabby cat licks the wine off the floor.
Director: This is all just a dream. I know this is a dream because I don’t have a cat.
A knock at the door.
Mother (O.S.): Dear, are you awake? Do you want pancakes with chocolate sprinkles today, or is this your diet day? I can never remember.
Director covers herself with blankets.
Director: Yes, please. Extra sprinkles. And wake me up in a year, mah. It’s too early to get up. Uggh!
Scene 3: Once more unto the breach, dear friend…
One year later. 2022. It’s early summer on the west coast in a large soccer field set inland from a rocky beach. A cool wind off the water chills the already uncomfortable Cast and Crew as they sit awkwardly close to each other (i.e. within several feet of each other, unlike their accustomed six feet rule in 2021). The Director sits in a camp chair in front of the crowd, albeit 10 feet away. Meanwhile, the stage manager, Anton, sits comfortably 20 feet away from everyone. An Actor coughs and is stared down by Anton before quietly composing himself. A large golden Labrador roams around the field, sniffing the Cast before getting shooed away by the Director.
Director: Welcome, welcome. Thank you, Melissa, for bringing wool sweaters, hand warmers and the lovely new Bamboo torches unexpectedly uprooted from my garden. A present from my mother, who is still here. And I’m patiently — I mean, she’s patiently waiting for our closing night. Anyway, we appreciate all of you signing on to our 2022 Fringe production. Please make sure that you have signed the liability waiver and return it to Anton, our stage manager. In the event that you are sick, Anton will be your understudy. As such, he will be sitting off to the side, bubbled away from all of you as part–
Anton: I haven’t been sick in two years. I don’t wanna get sick. I’m not letting a virus in me. Do you know how much I pay for rent–
Director: –of our contingency plan, since we still don’t know how things will play out this year.
Actor: (hugging himself) Why are we outside?
Anton: Air circulation! Few rehearsal venues use medical grade air filters, so we have this fresh ocean breeze, and the salt air acts as a natural sanitizer.
Actor: Couldn’t we buy a–
Director: No money. Budget, venue closures… Did I mention no money?
Actor: What about costumes?
Director: Melissa has graciously gone to the costume loft–
The Cast cringes.
Actor: That place smells like–
Director: Melissa will wash all the costumes before…
Melissa shakes her head and quietly files her nails.
(to Anton) Why did Keith have to retire to Costa Rica? Why couldn’t he have retired to Langford or Metchosin?
Anton: Actually, he’s in Colwood. He’s too scared to travel, so his wife buys him really old, really cheap, outdated secondhand travel books. Notice on his blog how some cities and provinces he’s visiting don’t exist. His trip to New Scotland or Nova Scotia was before confederation.
Anton: Before 1867–
Director: How old is Keith?
Actor: Where is the show?
Director: The festival is preparing a venue with some kind of elaborate air filtration system involving a few open windows and cabana fans. We can’t get in until tech, so we’ll see it when we see it. Any other questions?
Everyone in the Cast and Crew raises their hands.
No? Good. Here’s what we’re going to do. Hardly anything. Keep it minimal. We need to be practical, people. (to Young Actor) Especially you, lovely. No more flowing gowns from net-a-porter. (to all) We need a show that we can bring from the soccer field to the stage. And now, for our health and safety plan. Anton?
Anton approaches the Director, giving her a stern glare to move back. The Director walks left of Anton. Anton walks right. Then Anton walks left and the Director walks right. Anton rushes to his duffle bag and grabs a motorcycle helmet, swipes the visor down and zig-zags around the Director. With lots of space around him, he flicks his visor back up and takes a scroll from his back pocket. It outlines COVID protocols. The scroll unravels, resting comfortably around his sandals.
Director: Anton, do we need all of that?
Anton: Lots has changed in the last two years. It’s just a quick update. Plus, we have to give this to Fringe.
The Cast and Crew gently fall into a deep slumber.
Scene 4: Sanitized!
An hour later. The Cast and Crew sleep in the field as Anton finishes his sixty-minute health and safety lecture. He looks up at the lifeless crowd and takes a whistle from his pocket, which slips through his fingers onto the dirt. He carefully lathers it in sanitizer and blows loudly, then gags from swallowing sanitizer. The Director, startled, wakes up, looks at Anton, and claps ferociously.
Director: Well done. We will abide by all of these, ah… rules. Won’t we people? People?!
The Cast and Crew awaken.
Anton: We should (coughing) sanitize all props before (coughing) passing them on.
Director: Really? (a harsh look from Anton). Right.
Anton reaches for an industrial size spray and showers a pile of props.
Director: (coughing) That smell. It’s like elephant fertilizer. I can’t. Oh, that’s awful. Just awful. Can’t you get something that doesn’t smell like that?
Anton: No. This is the best.
Director: Okay, we’re going to stage scene one, act one. We’ll have the couple arguing in bed. How about that mound of grass? Hmmm… might be manure… Over there, okay?… Good… Now, that looks like–
Anton: Six feet rule no longer applies.
Actor: How many?
Anton: I just said in my speech. No distancing rules. Do you want me to repeat the health and safety plan again? Because I’d be happy to go through section four point three–
The Actor approaches the Actress.
Actress: Whoah. Too close!
She starts backing up, throwing props at the Actor as she retreats.
Actor: Ouch! Why are you attacking me?
The Actor huddles behind Melissa and puts a wool sweater over his head.
Actress: Sorry. I can’t. I like the six feet rule. (to the Director) And he always blocks my left side. I need to be visible to the whole audience, not just half.
Actor: (sobbing from underneath the sweater) So, how do I kiss her?
The Actor zigzags as he walks in the general direction of the Actress, unable to see.
Director: Air kiss. You know. Think of your grandmother.
Actor: (running away) I’m just not feeling this. She scares me!
The Actress blows him an air kiss.
Director: (under her breath) This is going to be a disaster. (to the Cast) Well, now that we covered that. We can move on now. I think…
Scene 5: Animatronics
An exquisitely cute theatre with velvety red curtains frame the Cast as they bow. The crowd (8 hands – all Crew) give a standing ovation. The house lights go up.
Anton: Run time is fifty-three minutes, twenty seconds. It would be thirty-eight minutes eleven seconds without the bows and encores and flower tossing and–
Director: (to Anton) I like the applause, Anton. Keep the applause. Makes me — us look good. Not sure about the first thirty-eight minutes though.
The Cast darts a look at the Director
It’s good enough.
Actor: Good enough? We’ve rehearsed for five months.
Director: Yes, but now it’s over-rehearsed. Good on you all for not getting sick, but… It’s like (imitating a robot) looking like a bunch of stuffed bears.
Anton and Director dance the robot in sync.
Director: Yes, like those ones in Disneyland on Splash Mountain.
Anton and Director stop dancing.
Except the difference here is that we can’t pour buckets of water on the audience to keep them awake as you drone on and on and on. Even I can’t listen to my own writing. Do I need to do a line reading?
Anton: It’s, ahh, too late for line readings–
Director: Where did you go? Huuuh???
The Cast members look at each other uncomfortably.
Did you just dial up monotone for the sake of artistic interpretation? Or do you hope that Melissa’s paper bag and cardboard box costumes lends itself to a stale and corpse-like interpretation of what would mirror your less-than-romantic interpretation of a tragic love affair of whose tragedy is overshadowed by the tragedy of this production. I know it’s not what you hope to hear eleven hours before your Fringe debut, but it’s better you hear this from me, than your agent, who won’t call you back — ever! — after they see this. Do not invite them if you want to have a career.
Anton: Perhaps we could message this slightly differently, like–
Director: Sorry. Anton’s right. Two years of unfiltered artistic criticism on social media has turned me into this. Now, I don’t care what you have to do, but you need to–
Actor: Can I change a line?
Actress: What if I move a mark?
Director: Absolutely not.
Actor: Then what can we change?
Director: Nothing. You can change nothing! I told you just keep it alive. Don’t kill it. The pauses. The monotonality. The frigidness–
Anton: The self indulgence, lack of connection, social anxiety, unwillingness to rehearse as an ensemble, untimeliness, excuses–
Director: Thank you, Anton. They don’t need a full picture of reality. Half will do.
Anton: Sorry. At this time, I would like to review the health and safety plan for the reduced venue capacity.
Actor: Why is it reduced?
Anton: Ummm… ticket sales were bad, so the Fringe rearranged the seating to make the theatre look full. And added some cardboard cutouts — thanks, Melissa. I even posed for–
Director: You need to buy tickets. All of you. All of your friends. Everybody you’ve ever met. They don’t even have to show up. They just need to buy. We need people back in the theatre if festivals like this are going to survive and evolve. Tell your mom to come. My mom is. She’s waited two years for this. Waited patiently… veeeerrry patiently, as my house guest, all the way from Edmonton. And that’s why I’m sending you all to the Edmonton Fringe, to take her home. I can’t eat any more pancakes. Buy your tickets. Now!
Actor: I can’t go to Edmonton.
Actress: Me neither. I have another gig.
Actor: I’m feeling a bit sick actually. Probably allergies–
Anton: You used the “S” word. See section five point two A. You can’t show up–
Director: (to Anton) You know what this means.
Anton’s eyes widen; he grins fiendishly.
Anton: If I’m going on, I’m going on alone. I can’t risk getting sick.
Director: (to the Cast) After much deliberation, you are all being replaced by Anton.
Anton: See our health and safety plan section twenty-two part three zed.
The entire Cast walks off the stage dejectedly.
Director: (shouting) But you can still buy tickets. Many, many tickets. See you at opening!
Anton: But before you go, just a couple of notes about your liability waivers from our health and safety plan. (the actors peek around the curtains) No compensation will be paid to anyone inconvenienced or impacted by the decisions of the crew…
The cast starts to pass out with boredom. The Young Actor quietly slips outside, the words of Anton’s health and safety plan still ringing in their ears and echoing through the space. The birds stop their songs upon hearing Anton’s familiar ballad, falling off their branches into the bushes below. The sky darkens, as not even the sun can bear to hear another health and safety lecture. The Young Actor puts their hands over their ears and walks, hoping, waiting, for the time when theatre resumes and stage managers don’t infringe.
Fade to black.