By Tanya Yeomans, August 19 2020—
Do you remember your high school graduation? The planning and preparation, the ceremony and the party, and the excitement and uncertainty of what comes next. 2020 is different, and while Calgary’s students are experiencing the same life milestones that previous students had, it has a decidedly different look this year. Performers from Calgary Young People’s Theatre wrote and acted a virtual piece exploring life around COVID-19 from their perspective.
FOMO (Or What Shakespeare Did During the Plague) was a Zoom performance — part theatre, part movie and part Instagram feed, the performance had a technological feel as would be expected from a project crafted by folks under the age of 18. Directed by Jamie Dunsdon, the Artistic Producer for the theatre, FOMO offered us a peek inside the lives of young people through a series of vignettes. The piece tackled heavy topics that young people are experiencing in a different way from previous generations — saying ‘I love you’ for the first time through a computer screen, missing a Black Lives Matter protest to protect an older family member from getting sick, a virtual 18th birthday party and dealing with depression in an online world all make an appearance in the piece.
The collective experience of COVID-19 is the backdrop for the individual experiences of the performer’s own lives.
“None of these kids were alive when 9/11 happened. None of them remember that feeling of the world starting to be turned upside down,” says Dunsdon. “And I think kids will remember this in the same way as I remember that. In different ways as well, but also as a pivotal change landmark moment in the timeline of your life.”
Crafting the piece was done virtually, with some of the performers never having met before. While bonding backstage and between scenes couldn’t happen, the actors got to know each other in different ways.
“I think what’s happened is they’ve kind of bonded over the shared ridiculousness of this experiment,” says Dunsdon. “You know, they all are aware of the number of times I’ve had to say to actors when I started a scene, ’You’re on mute. You’re on mute.’ It becomes laughable. It cracks us all up now, because it’s almost every time. There’s sort of a shared bonding around it.”
With the pandemic leaving much uncertainty for the future, Calgary Young People’s Theatre is taking a pause on its major productions, Dunsdon said.
“We are using this time to create, to write, to do some reflection on things we’d like to improve upon, and setting ourselves up for when the world comes back to some version of normal.”
Other Calgary Young People’s Theatre projects such as summer camps and drama classes will proceed with small cohorts and social distancing.
At the end of the piece, the students provided what they wanted the audience to walk away from the performance with. They have a hopeful vision of the future where we can celebrate our differences, put an end to the social inequalities, and protect the environment. It was an uplifting end to the piece. When asked what she wanted the audience to take away, Dunsdon offers a message of hopefulness.
“There is positivity and change even when we didn’t want that change. The last line of the play I think is really telling, which is 2020, it may not be what we wanted but it might be what we need.”
“That sort of balanced the conversation for us,” she reflects. “How do people recognize this as a type of change, but also recognize that people are dying and that people are really suffering in their businesses and things like that. Losing, if not their lives, their livelihoods. And so that’s been an exploration as well. How do we balance that? Because that’s the reality of the moment.”
For more information on Calgary Young People’s Theatre, visit their website.