Thursday, December 18, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #26

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Some days, you simply wonder if the universe really wants you to do a show, and then you get there, and it is all worthwhile. Our afternoon show today was cancelled due to a quarantine connected to a flu outbreak, which meant our evening show was in Whitby at 7 PM. That was a good thing as it meant a later start to the day, but it also meant we would be travelling out of Toronto at rush hour. We left at 4:15, and still managed to hit snags in traffic along the way, taking over 2 hours to get to the venue.
When we arrived, we discovered that the long term care side of the home was in quarantine, but the retirement living section was still coming. We quickly set up, and had the show ready to roll within a minute or two of the scheduled start time for the 18 people who did make it (at the same home there was a concert band performing and it was card night ... so between that and the fact that none of the long term care folk could come, it was a smaller house than usual).
The room was hot and dry and during one of my last notes in one of the songs, my throat went completely dry, leading to a squawk rather than a clear note ... but the audience didn't seem to mind. At the end of the show, they were so delighted we had come and praised the professionalism and the quality of the adaptation.
One woman said that she could not really tell who was playing which character throughout the piece as it moved so quickly, but the story was absolutely clear. She gave up wondering which actor was playing each part and just settled into the story. At the end, she said ... clearly you are all very talented, and whichever part you played ... I really liked you.
Tomorrow ... on to Burlington for a matinee. 4 shows and 3 days left in the tour.

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #24

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
A two show day that was very mixed indeed. Our first show was at a long term care home in Etobicoke. The home was under construction and when we arrived, an ambulance had just pulled up to transport one of the residents to a hospital.
We set up and prepared for a large crowd. One audience member cheered and clapped along in time throughout the entire show. Another got scared and had to be removed half way through the show. Most of the audience stayed and were enthralled.
At the end of the show, a few of the residents had their pictures taken with us, and one woman who used to be an opera singer had her picture taken on the set. She didn't speak a lot of English (I believe Italian was her first language), but when the care giver asked her to sing a "high C", a clear note came out.
I knelt down beside the patron and asked what her favourite song was. The care giver said that she used to sing an operetta that had the word "widow" in it. I said that it must be the "Merry Widow" and started humming the tune to the Merry Widow Waltz. Within seconds, the woman's face lit up, and she sang in a lovely voice, with all of the lyrics, in English, and as she got to the end lyric, she eyed me and sang "I love you." I was deeply touched by this woman, who I was later told is in her 90s and doesn't speak much, but when she sings, she always remembers all of the words.
The evening show started with a bit of fuss, as the entertainment for the evening was supposed to be a movie, and then they realized we were scheduled to do the show. We weren't sure how it was going to go, but the audience was very lively, and Scrooge even had a heckler who booed and hissed when he did something nasty.
When Scrooge was overwhelmed with the ghosts, she said "Oh, poor Scrooge."
The audience tonight was a lot of fun, and we were delighted to see Jim Betts, the Director of the show and Artistic Director of Smile Theatre in the audience. He got a playful performance and the audience was truly delighted with the adaptation.
Tomorrow we have only one show in North York, and then the cast is going to celebrate the start of Hanukkah with a festive gathering and food. We want to make the most of the final week of our tour.

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #25

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Even though it hurts, the flu shot is still worth it.
I was all geared up to do a show today, but another reality of touring to seniors facilities is cancellations due to flu outbreaks. Our show for this afternoon has been cancelled, as they are not letting outside visitors in to ensure the health of their residents, many who have come down with a flu bug. During the winter months this sometimes happens. We have another cancellation on our afternoon show tomorrow, but worry not ... we will be back at work tomorrow night. In the meantime ... here's a wish to the universe that those effected by the flu heal quickly.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #23

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Some days are simply ... hard. There are certain venues that we already know are going to be a challenge from previous experience. Often the homes that are the most challenging for performers and stage management are the ones that need some kindness most during the holidays.
The home we went to today is an extended care facility with 24 hour nursing staff, and this is a place where the residents come, and likely will live out the very last days, weeks, months or possibly years of their lives. It is not a fancy high end retirement home like you see on the commercials. This is a place that functions as much as a hospital as it does a comfy home.
When we arrived, lunch had just finished, and the cleaning staff still had to clean up the large portion of food that had found its way to the floor. We brought in our gear, but needed to wait for the cleaners to mop up all the green jello and other crusts of bread and juice from the meal ... for we were performing in the dining area.
Once the area was clean enough to set up on, we got ready, and watched the patrons who were wheeled in. Most were staring far away, but a few had spirited expressions.
The show got underway, and we all continued bravely on in spite of numerous overhead pages for nursing staff, housekeeping staff, and medical emergencies over the speakers above our stage. The nursing station was through a window beside the stage, and a planning meeting connected to a shift change was well underway. I suspect our show was as distracting to them as their conversations were to us on stage.
At the beginning of the performance one of the patrons hummed along with every song ... in her own key, and her own tune, but actively engaged in the memory of music from long past.
Sometimes the residents have no censoring mechanism, and loudly exclaim how they are feeling, and it can, in the moment, seem humorous, for it is not done to be intrusive, but rather to be brutally truthful. Such was the case as I was finishing a scene, and a patron in the front row eyed me and in a clear loud voice said, "I'm going to make a fart." She was honestly warning me of something she could no longer control.
By the end of the show, the patron who had been singing along was tired, and as the final scene was taking place, she loudly exclaimed, "Blah, Blah, Blah ... Get on with it ... I'm tired."
For some residents, the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (a puppet that looks like the archetypal image of "death") and the appearance of a gravestone led to comments of concern. One patron said in a calm steady voice ... "Is he coming to take me ... because I'm ready to go." During this moment ... there was nothing funny in that comment. For her, it was a statement of fact.
After the show we went out to meet our audience. I asked one patron if she had enjoyed the show, and she said, "No! I hated it". I asked if she liked the singing, and she said "No I hated that too." Then she went on to say ... "I hate Christmas, I hate people ... I hate everything.". She was being brutally honest. And one suspects there is a story behind her frustration. It was very sad.
To finish the day, we had a patron who grabbed a hand and said, "I'm dying ... this is where I'm going to die, and I can't get out of here .... help me ... please ... just let me die."
Shows like this are a harsh reminder of a reality of a sector of the senior population who are not like those in the commercials ... many with no family, no money, and their health gone.
So one might ask, why bother? Well, because there were a whole other bunch of people who DID enjoy the show ... a woman with oxygen nasal prongs who danced along to the final number in her wheelchair and said this was the happiest day she had in some time ... and some of the staff who got a moment of cheer in an environment that must surely take a toll on their stamina and morale. And even those who seemed non-responsive, at various moments of the show, I could see a gleam in the eye, or a smile at the corner of the mouth.
A tough way to end the week, but we have the day off to gather our strength for the final leg of the tour .... 9 shows in 6 days and then this tour will be past.
Until next week ... Scrooge is going to settle down with a gin and tonic, snuggle up on the couch with Pete, and count my blessings.

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #22

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
What a difference a day can make. We made our way safely to Beeton an hour and a half north of Toronto on dry roads. The facility in Beeton was a newer facility and this was their first Smile show. It was attended by about 50 folks, some from the long term care centre and some from the seniors drop in centre. There was a warm response. Some of the patrons were vocal ... such as one patron who would exclaim in a loud voice "WEEEEEEEEE" at the end of every musical number instead of clapping.
Another gentleman turned the show into a bit of an audience participation show by responding to statements from the characters, such as when Scrooge said "They were always so kind to me, and I was .... I've been" and the gentleman shouted out ... "You've been a Scrooge".
A shout out to the care givers in this home who were attentive and respectful. These amazing folks not only care for the residents each day of the week, but on a special event day such as our show, they have to wheel down 30 or 40 residents (with minimal support ... nursing homes don't have porters like hospitals do), and then assign staff to watch for lower functioning patrons. During one moment in the show a care giver quickly, but quietly rushed towards a patron in the front who was trying to stand up in her wheel chair, but didn't really have the strength to walk. The watchful eye of the caregiver ensured the patron was safely seated ... the patron didn't want to leave, they wanted to take part in the show.
Sometimes the caregivers talk loudly to their patients ... this can also be a distraction, but we realize that many of the patrons in the homes are hard of hearing, and in order for a care giver to help them, sometimes they have to speak up a little.
All of this to say, in a majority of the places we go, the care givers are amazing people and in order for us to entertain our patrons ... they have to go to a lot of work simply scheduling pills and meals and getting people back and forth from their rooms. Thanks for all that you do!
The evening show back in Toronto was an entirely different type of show. A seniors group was doing their annual Christmas Dinner and we were the live entertainment. This venue live tweeted about our event! The evening was attended not only by the seniors, but also their families (close to 90 folks in all), and to our delight, there were about 8 children that camped out on the floor right in the very front row. The kids were mesmerized by the puppets and truly loved the show. The evening was a grand success as when you mix kids with adults, there is a different energy.
Tomorrow ... the final show of this week at a high needs long term care facility, and then a day off.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Notes From The Road - A Christmas Carol #21

Performer Scott White writes from his experiences on the road with Smile Theatre's "A Christmas Carol", running until December 20, 2014:
Today was a nasty day on the highways. In the morning, stage management and the office check the weather forecast, the road reports and use indicators such as if school buses are still running along the route we take to determine if the cast will travel out of town to do the show. Our tour is based in Toronto, which means our show in St. Catharines was a run-out, with a 2 hour drive in decent weather on either end.
After taking all of the factors above into consideration, we all met at the van and decided to try and make the show. We really don't like to disappoint our patrons, as we know how important these shows are to them.
After over an hour on the road, we had only made it as far as Sherway Gardens, and the snow was continuing to fall. The roads were not well plowed and traffic was moving at under 30 kilometres an hour. Stage management has the most weight in the decision, as they are the driver, but if there is a consensus that the driving is simply unsafe, then the safety of the cast always comes first.
Today ... we wound up turning back. Our stage manager is an expert driver, the van is well weighted and has snow tires, but at the rate of travel we were making, we would not only have missed the call time, but arrived later than the actual start time of the show. Then we would have had to put the set up and get the show up ... even if we had been able to do this in decent time, the residents of the homes are on a schedule connected to their care needs and the shifts of the caregivers. We simply wouldn't have been able to put up the show in time for the residents to enjoy it. And of course, then there would be the drive home ... with the snow continuing to fall.
Sorry we didn't make it out to you St. Catha
rines ... we honestly tried. We arrived back where we started more than 2 hours after we left. We'll hope for better conditions tomorrow. Our afternoon show is scheduled to take place in Beeton .... our evening show is in Toronto.