Stage Door News
London: The Grand Theatre releases free digital performances from its Grand Re:Opening Festival
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Following a successful four-week engagement that played to intimate audience sizes, the Grand Theatre is thrilled to launch digital versions of the Grand Re:Opening Festival at no cost to online audiences – beginning at 5 p.m. on November 18, 2021.
“In early 2021, as our renovation neared completion and as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions slowly began to lift, there was a palpable shift in energy at the Grand,” says Dennis Garnhum, Grand Theatre Artistic Director. “Although there was still much uncertainty about capacity limits, as a company, we knew that we needed to do something to celebrate our outstanding renovation and to bring live theatre – and the healing joy of the arts – back to London. So, in came the idea of the Re:Opening Festival.”
“It became evident very early on in the process that we knew what was being created was unique, inspiring, and magical and needed to be shared as far and wide as possible – with as many audience members as possible. The response from the audience members that were able to experience each show in-person confirmed this for us. We quickly partnered with professional videography company web.isod.es to then film each festival performance,” explains Garnhum.
Directed and led by Artistic Associate, Megan Watson, the Grand Re:Opening Festival “handed the keys” to the newly renovated Grand Theatre to four local artists for the purpose of creating and staging bold new work. With few defined parameters, the artists were empowered to: utilize any space within the theatre as a stage; to explore any theme; and to invite other local artists to join their experience. The four host artists are: lead activist for Black Lives Matter London, founding member of Black London Network, and artist Alexandra Kane; accomplished actor, singer, dancer, and visual artist Mark Uhre; local singer, songwriter, and band frontman Richard Gracious, and proud Anishinaabe storyteller, curator, and teacher Summer Bressette.
“Our four host artists were asked in February this year if they wanted to ‘come play’ at the Grand, and were ultimately tasked with the important responsibility of helping us to reopen after over a year of closed doors. And, did they ever deliver,” remarks Watson. She goes on to say, “Our host artists have each created something completely unique and yet relevant at the same time. While different, each offering really has a beautiful through line – re-emergence. I hope that this exploration of re-emergence is experienced right through the screen and really inspires the hearts and minds of our virtual audiences.”
The four Grand Re:Opening Festival videos will each run 45 minutes to approximately one hour. Combined, this immersive online experience features the four host artists, 55 local performers, and 12 bold theatrical experiences – all originally staged in different spaces within the newly renovated Grand Theatre.
Beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, November 18, theatre, music, and art lovers from anywhere in the world will be able to view all Festival performances at no cost, thanks to the generous support of Canada Life. The videos will be available to view online through to midnight on November 29. Viewers are asked to register online at grandtheatre.com, after which a link to view the production will be forwarded by email. Separate registrations will be required to view each unique offering, but once viewers receive the link to view, they may watch on any day, at any time, and as many times as they wish until midnight on November 29.
The four Grand Re:Opening Festival offerings include:
• Alexandra Kane’s Re:Opening Festival Online
A raw and dynamic installation, entitled “A Grave and A Mirror” opens and sets a prevailing tone for Kane’s Re:Opening online experience. Using text and multimedia, Kane shines a light on the raw truth and consequences of anti-Black racism. A powerful spoken word poetry reading, presented by 19 year-old Nigerian-Canadian slam poet and author Fauzia Agbonhin, will follow.
Concluding the video, Alexandra Kane curates a truth-telling piece in “Finding Black Joy.” Using well-known songs from musical theatre, pop music, and the gospel canon, along with captivating text, Kane presents racism in an unavoidable way and defines the strength, resilience, peace, and love that is Black Joy.
• Mark Uhre’s Re:Opening Festival Online
In his coming-of-age memory play, “Seeds of Self,” Mark Uhre takes audiences on an intimate, personal journey that explores Uhre’s experience growing up as a young, gay boy in London, Ontario. Uhre shares his story through movement, text, and art-making, combined with thrilling original music composed by Wayne Gwillim, and paired with songs from the ‘golden age.’
In addition to “Seeds of Self” viewers will also see a short documentary presentation, which addresses arts within the young LGBTQ2+ community in London, Ontario. Concluding this journey of self, viewers will experience an immersive artistic encounter with Uhre, combined with music by singer songwriter, Noelle Francis.
• Richard Gracious’ Re:Opening Festival Online
Band frontman Richard Gracious, takes viewers on a shared musical journey in his Re:Opening online experience. The video will begin with a special musical performance by local singer and songwriter, Misha Bower. Viewers will then enjoy a musical wardrobe performance, featuring experienced dancers Kaitlin Torrance and Hannah Elias, in “Whenever You’re Ready.”
Closing the experience, Gracious takes to the stage to present his pandemic-inspired concept album, “One Year.” More than your traditional concert experience, “One Year” is a delight for all the senses – featuring eclectic music, combined with theatrical elements, such as puppetry and dance. Honest and relatable, the show focuses on reflections from the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including: the feelings and emotions many of us have gone through; questions around if and how much we have changed as a society; and the transitions many of us have made (and will continue to make) as we collectively navigate our emergence from the pandemic.
• Summer Bressette’s Re:Opening Festival Online
In “Love Song for the Thunderbirds,” Summer Bressette employs elements of magical realism to tell the story of Jackrabbit, Nokomis, and Thunderbird in her loosely autobiographical play. Set in contemporary time, the play centres on the ‘rule’ that children were forbidden to sing while at residential school, and consequently many words and stories have vanished. In an effort to find what has been lost, Jackrabbit is tasked with the imperative mission of finding the words to their Grandmother’s lullaby. Through Jackrabbit’s journey, audiences will come to understand the interconnectedness of the human experience and the power in understanding one’s own unique gifts.
In addition to “Love Song for the Thunderbirds,” viewers will also experience traditional drumming by the Eagle Flight Singers, comprised of Gordon Sands, Vydel Sands, and Liam Sands. Hoop dancer, River White will also appear alongside the Eagle Flight Singers. The experience will culminate in a live performance by the Red Skye Sisters and spoken word poetry by Awasis.
The Grand Re:Opening Festival was initially staged at the Theatre from October 13 – November 6, and was performed at no cost for intimate viewing audiences. Following the provincial announcement, which removed capacity limits, the theatre expanded the capacity of each show. However, to preserve the artistic integrity of the work, in-person audience sizes were still very limited.
The Festival was produced with the financial support of season sponsor, BMO Financial Group. Additional funding support was provided by the London Community Foundation and Horizon Solutions.
In lieu of a ticket fee, the Grand is asking its virtual audience members to pay tribute to the work of the participating artists by making a charitable contribution to the Grand – designated to the Festival.
To learn more about the Grand Re:Opening Festival, including full cast bios, please visit: www.grandtheatre.com
Photo: Summer Bressette, Mark Uhre, Richard Gracious and Alexandra Kane.