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Nanaimo Fringe Festival productions adapt to new online format

10th annual festival to be live-streamed due to COVID-19
Connor Runnings, Willem Roelants, and Beholder Entertainment’s Sam Wharram, Ty Wesley and Miles Kehoe (clockwise from left) have all had to modify their productions to suit the Nanaimo Fringe Festival’s online format. (Photos courtesy Connor Runnings, Willem Roelants and Sam Wharram)

With the 10th annual Nanaimo Fringe Festival happening online due to COVID-19, those behind this year’s local productions have had to make some changes.

Due to the lack of live audience, Willem Roelants has had to modify his script to make it more “one-sided,” Beholder Entertainment is making use of virtual backgrounds and Connor Runnings adapted his play into a short film.

Roelants shows off his range in his one-man show, A Bunch of Things. The production includes music, sketches, stand-up comedy and performance art.

“The idea was that most people, they do one thing and they get really good at it so people want to watch. But I’ve never been good at anything enough to do that,” Roelants explained. “So … the premise is that I’m doing a whole bunch of mediocre stuff instead of one very well-polished thing.”

Roelants debuted A Bunch of Things at VIU’s Malaspina Theatre last year as a fundraiser for a friend with cancer and he was hoping to take it on tour before COVID-19 struck. He said he’s had to make a lot of revisions for the online production, as “it’s supposed to be a show that really brings the audience into it” and that kind of connection is impossible without a live crowd.

One benefit to live-streaming, Roelants said, is the ability to play with camera angles to better “compartmentalize” his performance space.

“You can have like three or four sets at one time in a room and all you have to do is rotate the camera and you’re on a different set,” Roelants said. “So if I have multiple bits in a show I can have my music equipment over here and I can have my performance art stuff there.”

Beholder Entertainment is made up of production manager Miles Kehoe, writer Ty Wesley and director Sam Wharram. Their play, Gender Sucks, is about a detective whose memory is erased after “a crazy series of events” at a science convention.

Wesley said the story came to them in a dream, but they didn’t like the ending. After two hours Gender Sucks was written and has since earned Wesley the inaugural Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre artist sponsorship. The production was also funded by a GoFundMe campaign which raised nearly $1,500 in two weeks.

“We do do some playing with gender, with some body swapping and some interesting, different things about how gender affects people’s relationships and affects people’s paths in life,” Kehoe said. “And so the title Gender Sucks comes from how gender has held down some of the main characters, how gender has empowered some of the main characters and just how it intersects with the show in general.”

Wharram originally hoped to use rear projection effects to create backgrounds, but when it was announced that Fringe was being live-streamed, they decided to turn to green screen technology. Wharram said the inspiration came from video game streamers and TV meteorologists.

“The plan is that we will have every single location, aside from the props and few pieces of physical set, will all be computer generated images that you’ll be seeing live but the actors will not be seeing,” they said.

Kehoe said it’s “beyond meaningful” not only to present Gender Sucks at Fringe, but to share its message and what it represents as well.

“To get to amplify indigenous voices and display trans, non-binary people in a way that is joyful and celebratory rather than showing people suffering … getting to display our lives and our joy as trans people and for Ty as an indigenous person, is incredibly meaningful,” he said.

Connor Runnings said when he was in playwriting class, his peers would often comment that his scripts were better suited for the screen. Now, thanks to Fringe allowing pre-recorded productions, he’s getting the chance to present one of those scripts in the form of a short film.

Broferatu is about a vampire who takes pity on his next victim, a young man who lives in his mother’s basement, and decides to help set him up with his crush before killing him. The title combines ‘bro’ with Nosferatu, a famous vampire movie from the silent era.

“It’s kind of like a vampire drama mixed with a romantic comedy and writing it it was very interesting to see how well those genres fed into each other, no pun intended,” Runnings said.

Runnings said Broferatu is better suited for film, as it utilizes many locations, all filmed in Nanaimo. Turning it into a movie also meant people’s roles changed, like his stage manager becoming his assistant director. Runnings said that while he ended up in theatre, film is where his interests lie.

“This is my, I wouldn’t say my first, but definitely my most thorough or complete experience doing a film endeavour,” he said. “I’m directing, I wrote and I acted in this. That’s about as involved as I can be.”

WHAT’S ON … 10th annual Nanaimo Fringe Festival will be broadcast on Facebook Live from Aug. 11 to 15. The schedule can be viewed here. Broadcast links will be made available next week.

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