TORONTO — Audiences are set to be welcomed back to the Princess of Wales Theatre for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered indoor stage productions in March.
Mirvish Productions announced Thursday that it's preparing to premiere "Blindness," based on Jose Saramago's contagion-themed novel, at the downtown Toronto theatre next month.
But rather than the traditional thrill of live performance, Mirvish says theatregoers will be treated to a "socially distanced sound installation," with audience members spaced out on stage while the play is piped into their sanitized headphones.
The theatre company says staff have spent months consulting with artists' associations and a team of medical experts to find ways to offer theatrical experiences within the constraints of COVID-19 safety precautions.
The Donmar Warehouse in London came up with its own solution to this problem with an audio adaptation of "Blindness," which centres on a mass epidemic that robs people of their vision. The production brought theatregoers back to the West End during its run in August and September.
Theatre impresario David Mirvish is hoping to duplicate this success across the pond.
"It’s a first step to re-energizing the theatre community here, offering much-needed hope to arts workers and audiences alike," Mirvish said in a statement.
Mirvish Productions is hoping to host 100 presentations of "Blindness," with the audience for each 70-minute show capped at 50 people, said sales and marketing director John Karastamatis.
That amounts to roughly 5,000 available tickets over the five-week engagement — or the equivalent of two-and-half sold-out performances at the 2,000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre.
"It's more expensive to put on (the presentation) than the money that will come in," said Karastamatis, noting that the production will put many technicians and theatre staff back to work.
"But David Mirvish feels it is important, because it is a toe in the water to give some hope to the artists, to the arts workers, to the technicians, and frankly, to the audience, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
The audience will be seated on the stage, which is 100 feet wide and 60 feet deep, in singles and pairs, each separated by a two-and-a-half-metre circle. Karastamatis said the stage is equipped with a state-of-the-art air circulation system, which is designed to cool down high-wattage lighting equipment, but also provides ventilation. Scientists say proper ventilation can prevent respiratory droplets from lingering in the air and spreading the coronavirus.
English actress Juliet Stevenson will tell the story directly to the audience through their headphones as part of the show's immersive sound design. There will also be special lighting to give the sonic show some "visual flair," Karastamatis added.
"Blindness" is set to start on Nov. 17, but Mirvish says that date may change depending on local health and safety conditions.
The box office will open two weeks before the premiere, said Karastamatis. Tickets will cost $49 for Mirvish subscribers, and $59 for the general public.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press