Local theatre group adjusts with the times by shifting to film

·3 min read

What if a terrible mistake was made by a desperate man and someone was buried alive as a result?

It is almost too horrible to imagine --- fortunately, it's only the plot of a new film production being brought forward by the Huronia Players.

The group had a full-length play ready to go for live audiences last May, said movie director Ron Payne, but the pandemic put a full stop to everything in the entertainment industry.

To keep the group together, he said, members have done virtual play readings over the year.

Payne, meanwhile, started volunteering with another group doing radio play readings.

"I thought that was kind of neat," he said, "but after a while I got bored because I wanted to see movement. I had the vision of taking a radio play and add costumes, lights and movement, with COVID restrictions."

So Payne produced a Mark Twain play, Diary of Adam and Eve.

"We shot it with three people in the theatre and added costumes and scenery," he said.

That got Payne thinking if the same thing could be done by the Huronia Players.

"I went back through the scripts online and wound up looking at a play called Alive in the Grave," he said, talking about the radio play out of the 1940s series, The Creaking Door.

"I had this vision of what could we do to involve more people and make some money for the group, but give the audience their money's worth."

So Payne started putting together the production with a cast of 11 and crew of 11, which started rehearsing the script via Zoom earlier this year.

Once the rehearsals are to everybody's satisfaction, he said, "We're going to shoot it like a film."

That's where things could get tricky, Payne said, adding they got around it with consultation.

"We wrote our own COVID protocol, which is six pages," he said. "We presented it to the MCC (Midland Cultural Centre) and they have to approve it. We are pretty stringent on making sure the protocols are followed. For example, people who are building sets are husband and wife teams."

Further, Payne explained, the number of people indoors will be limited according to the health unit and provincial rules. Everybody, including actors will wear masks, until they're on screen. While some scenes will be shot inside, some will be filmed outside in the Midland area.

"I have to admit, it's snowballed," he said. "It's gotten bigger than I had expected. It's done two things: It's regenerated me and the group is really excited about this one."

Payne said he's a hands-on director, so Zoom rehearsals were an interesting turn in the process.

"I take notes and everything, but it's the physical contact that I miss," he said. "I found it difficult and a lot more work because you have to explain it a lot more rather than showing the actor."

But the cast, Payne said, has been really good.

Other technical difficulties they faced were around costumes. How do we get people to try on costumes? Payne said.

"We build the costumes and then leave them somewhere for the actors to try them on," he said. "Then we take the feedback and work on it."

Now he's anxious to see it all comes together.

Through the hour-long film, he said Huronia Players is trying to send the community a message.

"I think what we're trying to do here is to tell the community that Huronia Players are alive and well," said Payne. "And that theatre is well in Midland even though we have COVID. When we come out on the other side of COVID, we will put on full-length plays and we appreciate the support."

The film premieres at the end of April, tickets for show dates of April 23, 24 and 25, are now available online via the Huronia Players' website.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com