The Sunshine Coast play-reading series Off the Page will be back at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons to perform before in-house audiences for a fifth season, starting Sunday, Sept. 12.
Like all performing groups, Off the Page has had a bumpy ride over the past 18 months, with the pandemic eventually closing theatres until May this year. That had prompted series producers Janet Hodgkinson and Wanda Nowicki to pivot to online-only performances in both Gibsons and at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver through the latter part of last season.
“Despite the challenges, we made it work,” Hodgkinson, joined by Nowicki, told Coast Reporter in an interview. “But now we would just like to rebuild our in-person audience and not use Zoom anymore for this coming season. That’s our goal.”
Off the Page, founded by late Gibsons playwright David King, had enjoyed steady growth through its four seasons, topping out with an audience of more than 90 for a reading of Aaron Bushkowsky’s play, Red Birds, in January 2020, just prior to the first pandemic shutdown.
COVID-19 is again an active concern. B.C. health orders at press time stipulated that indoor audiences were limited to 50 per cent capacity, which means 74 people at the playhouse. Also, audiences must remain masked while seated, and Off the Page’s actors will have to stay safely distanced onstage. All who attend performances after Sept. 13 will have to be double-vaccinated.
The producers have lined up four plays so far for their monthly presentations, which could be extended to March 2022. Two are by Coast playwrights, two by Vancouver authors.
The Sept. 12 play is Timepiece, by Vancouver’s Kico Gonzalez-Risso, about two grown children helping their aging parents through downsizing and estate planning. What they expect to be a simple process turns out to be not so simple at all.
“It’s really a quite a wonderful play and we’ve got a great cast – Anthony Pare, Louise Phillips, Ryan Peters, and Ange Cruikshank,” Nowicki said. “Kiko has been fantastic to deal with and we will probably be doing another play of his in the spring, a very different play.”
As is an Off the Page tradition, the playwright will be in the house to watch the performance and talk with the audience and actors afterwards.
On Oct. 17, the featured play is The Angel Capone, by local writer David Copelin, based on a true story about Chicago gangster Al Capone, who once financed a theatrical production. On Nov. 21, Vancouver’s Dave Deveau brings his play, Best Case Scenario, and on Dec. 5, it will be local playwright Peter Hill’s The Chinese Student.
All plays start at 1 p.m. and admission is by donation at the box office.