Princess of Wales is set to re-open with a detailed pandemic plan and a pertinent play about an outbreak
TORONTO STAR EXCLUSIVE
By Carly Maga Theatre Critic
Thu., Oct. 8, 2020
4 min. read
After abruptly closing down a roster of productions in March — including long-running smash hit “Come From Away” and the highly anticipated Canadian premiere of “Hamilton” — Mirvish Productions is preparing to invite audiences back inside the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Star has learned.
Groups of up to 50 people will be seated, socially distanced, on the Princess of Wales Theatre stage for “Blindness.” The production is a sound installation adaptation of the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago. The theatre’s stage will be designed for 10 single seats and 20 pairs, with pods at least eight feet apart.
The target date for the opening is Tuesday, Nov. 17, pending the status of public health and safety in Toronto.
“The key to it all is for people to be safe. We can’t do anything to endanger the public or our own staff in any way. That’s our first concern,” said Mirvish Productions founder David Mirvish.
The production, hoped to run for 100 performances over five weeks, will be the North American premiere of “Blindness,” which made headlines in August when it was performed at London’s Donmar Warehouse, the first theatre to reopen in the pandemic.
“Five weeks that are completely sold out will still be less than three performances at the Princess of Wales in normal circumstances,” said Mirvish.
“There’s no way you could even pay the taxes on the building on this show. But what you can do is put some people back to work and show a glimmer of what is possible, and hope that there will be some theatre in some reasonable time in our future. We can also show ourselves and the government that people can behave well and be safe. That’s the goal,” he said, adding: “It’s a toe in the water.”
Months of work have gone into the health and safety plan for re-opening, said John Karastamatis, director of sales and marketing at Mirvish Productions, noting they have co-ordinated with “the Telus Health Medical Advisory Council, and a team of doctors and medical professionals that includes some of the country’s top epidemiologists.
“The Princess of Wales stage is massive, 60 feet deep by 100 feet wide, and 220 feet tall. It has its own state-of-the-art HVAC system, with powerful air-circulation designed to cool down the hundreds of lighting instruments that would hang above the stage,” Karastamatis said in an email to the Star.
Blindness at the Donmar Warehouse - Photo by Helen Maybanks
The sound installation has its advantages for a socially distanced performance: there are no live actors, no movement from audiences or stagehands, only two technicians are required on opposite sides of the stage, it takes place through headphones, and the experience is over in 70 minutes without an intermission. Subscribers will have a window to purchase tickets, either online or by phone, for $49 before they are offered to the public for $59.
“We’re only able to do this because we have access to one of the biggest stages in the city. It’s a theatre for 2,000 people. The lobbies are spacious, there are lots of washrooms, there will be lots of room for only 50 people, plus 10 people working front of house,” added Karastamatis.
The play, adapted by writer Simon Stephens and directed by Walter Meierjohann, is performed by actors Juliet Stevenson and Angus Wright. It received rave reviews in London not only for its technical skill, but for its relevancy. “Blindness” chronicles the societal upheaval of an outbreak that causes sufferers to go blind. The New York Times review of the Donmar Warehouse production called it a “triumph,” and The Guardian said it was “a deliciously unnerving experience.”
“These times suddenly gave this story life,” said Mirvish. “And there’s a glimpse of hope at the end, and that’s what we need right now. A glimpse of hope.
“In general we’re pretty proud of our governments at all levels, I feel they’ve all made their best efforts. Yes, we’re having a resurgence at the moment, and maybe we’re became a little lax at the end of summer and we’re reaping the rewards of that now. We need to do all the things we need to do to be safe as a community: wear a mask, wash our hands, contact tracing, testing, all of that. I believe as a community we’re trying to do that,” Mirvish added.
Since the summer, Mirvish Productions has been formulating a reopening plan modelled after the production of “The Phantom of the Opera” in Seoul, South Korea. The plan includes highly choreographed audience entrances and exits to maintain distance, disinfectant and hand sanitizer stations, mandatory masks, no bar or coat check services and increased cleaning procedures.
These strategies will be used for the production of “Blindness,” which will also feature safety protocols if audience members feel unsafe, including ushers with night vision glasses, and flashlights under each seat.
Mirvish’s safety precautions and instructions for patrons about entering and exiting the theatre will be available on the website when tickets go on sale.