Local playwright Sharon Stearns reflects on why there’s no online equivalent for live theatre
Photos by KATHARINA MCNAUGHTON
By Laura Keil
Even though Sharon Stearns’ latest play is about people rebuilding after a world collapses, she doubts her play will adapt to a digital format during ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
Her latest Wishbone Theatre play “the Last Good Valley on Earth” was slated to hit the stage at the end of March but was postponed after COVID-19 restrictions put a stop to live theatre.
“Some of us have been talking about doing some kind of an online pandemic cabaret show,” Stearns told the Goat. “But the more I think about it, to be honest with you, it doesn’t excite me at all. It’s such a passive thing and theatre is such an interactive art form.”
She said even when there is money to fund high-tech productions with many camera angles, theatre doesn’t translate well to other mediums. There’s a key reason.
“For me the creative jolt of it comes from the interaction between the performer and the audience. And that’s very visceral, in-the-moment, always hung on a kind of a wisp of time. And then it disappears.”
Instead, a new idea has started percolating in her mind. An idea that harkens back to age-old customs.
“I always go back to the whole notion of why people have theatre in the first place, which is, you know, sitting around a campfire,” she says. “And that lovely, satisfying feeling of camaraderie with an audience who’s listening and performers who are telling those stories. That’s the magic theatre for me, and maybe we’re going to have to in the next few months, go back to that notion of campfire settings only, you know, small groups of people and you take an audience of 25 people on a little, a little journey somewhere.”
Stearns says the upside to the Robson Valley is they rarely have more than 100 people at their shows anyway, so scaling down isn’t as difficult.
“In the Fall, if it looks like things are easing up a bit and we’re allowed to be out there, I could maybe think in terms of doing more performances with smaller groups having maybe 30-40 people in an audience. You don’t want to go any less than that or it just feels lonely.”
Local photographer Katharina McNaughton did a photography session for Stearns during the shut-down in April.
“Basically the session was about how COVID19 has affected the Wishbone Theatre and their latest production, which is quite ironic,” McNaughton said.
During the shoot, Stearns brought out The Silent Woman mask which she wore in a Western show 12 years ago. In the show, her character was bribed and kidnapped. Since it’s a full mask, she can’t speak. It was made from the shape of Stearns’ face.
“I thought that mask was the most appropriate one because it has quite a strong emotional feel to it and yet it’s non-speaking. That’s what I felt like. I’m shocked into silence by this pandemic that’s going on.”