Like many theatre producers with events scheduled through the summer, Theatre SKAM was at a standstill in March when COVID-19 struck. Cancellations were an immediate concern for the local company, even for an event such as SKAMpede — an outdoor, mobile performance festival well-suited to physical distancing — that was more than four months away when the pandemic hit.
“We had all these big goals for this year to make it even better and more awesome — and then COVID-19 became so real, so fast,” said co-producer Logan Swain.
“And then everything just stopped.”
The theatre company eventually regrouped in May and devised a plan that will bring its annual SKAMpede festival back to life this weekend with a steady stream of performances between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Attendees are required to pre-book for each tour of seven mini performances, Swain said. Capacity wasn’t ever an issue in the past: Guests would simply show up at the HUB — the location near the Johnson Street bridge where registrants are given their full instructions — and follow the free tours as they wound around the city.
The new approach clearly worked. SKAMpede, which offers 13 daily tours at various locations along a three-kilometre stretch of the Galloping Goose Trail, is now completely sold out.
Audience members have been open to the pre-booking process, Swain said. “Every show is going to be fully attended the whole time. Normally, we wouldn’t know what was going to happen until people showed up.”
The festival remains free of charge, but donations will be more important than ever this year, to help offset production costs. With a limit of 12 guests at each performance, SKAMpede is running tighter and leaner of necessity, but the hope is that $3,000 will be raised through the weekend to support the production team and participating artists. SKAMpede, which has traditionally featured touring artists, will be exclusively local this year.
Performers, who were selected through a formal submission process and are paid for their work, include the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers, Snafu Society of Unexpected Spectacles, Impulse Theatre, Another Theatre Couple, Tamarack Theatre Collective, Hilary Wheeler and Nickel-pumpernickel.
“Even if it was possible, it’s not going to feel comfortable bringing in national artists,” Swain said. “That has definitely led to a smaller, more locally focused festival.”
The 12th annual event is expected to be roughly half the size of last year’s edition and will follow physical-distancing rules.
Friends and family will be grouped in “audience bubbles” that will keep patrons two metres from other audience members, and six metres from the performers.
Specific protocols are in place for the festival’s bike tours (which take around 90 minutes) and walking tours (120 minutes.)
“We have designed a festival that is safe but is still enjoyable for the audience,” Swain said. “It is similar to the original SKAMpedes in that it is smaller and local. The biggest challenge in all of our decision making and planning was thinking: ‘Is this safe?’ ”
Theatre SKAM is one the first companies offering local summer shows for audiences in the COVID-19 era. Swain hopes its willingness to move forward will inspire confidence in everyone from the public to professionals.
“With everything we do, we’re not confined to a traditional theatre. We’re not site-specific that way. But we have designed how SKAMpede works to meet these new needs. We’re going to people, instead of them coming to us.”