Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday poster design by Lynn El-Khoury. Image: A vintage watch disintegrating in a cloudy sky.
Hey, all—I hope you and yours are keeping well as we all continue to stay safe and get shots in arms.
As many of you know, due to ongoing public health measures, Toronto Fringe is going digital this year, offering several programming series for your Fringing fun and enjoyment from the safety of your homes. And I’m happy and proud to have worked with Wonder Jones Productions’ playwright, producer and actor Erin Jones, director Meg Gibson, and cast and crew, on the digital production Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday.
Four bereavement group friends meet via EtherWebb on Easter Sunday to embark on an unexpected and mystical virtual adventure of memory, revelation and closure. Written by Erin Jones, directed by Meg Gibson, with research/editing by Bruce Huston, costume/prop/set consulting by Andra Bradish, and video editing by Marcus Kage. Featuring Georgia Grant, Olivia Jon, Erin Jones, Dayjan Lesmond, Cate McKim, Twaine Ward, Jamie Joong Watts and Paula Wilkie.
Big shouts to our team of amazing Fringe student volunteers for their mad skills in editing, graphic design, and marketing and social media: Christine Ahn, Lynn El-Khoury, Melonly Manikavasagar and Kirsten Rowe.
Using minimal editing, with some additional effects and graphic elements added in post, Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday was recorded live over Zoom, including practical effects, to provide the audience with as much of a live theatre experience as possible.
Erin Jones is a writer, actor, playwright and emerging director who has performed in theatre and independent films across the GTA. After debuting her first play, Lovingly Yours, Olive in the Next Stage Community Booster Series at Toronto Fringe, she returns to this year’s digital festival with her new play Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday, produced by Wonder Jones Productions. She also supports the performing arts behind the scenes with publicity, articles, newsletters, social media, grant writing, governance, photography, director hiring committees, and Respect in the Workplace committees.
I asked Jones about Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the process of producing a digital theatre production.
Full disclosure: This project is near and dear to my heart; I had the honour of participating in the play development readings, and was invited to join the final cast for this Toronto Fringe 2021 On-Demand digital production.
Hi, Erin. Thanks for taking the time from your super busy schedule to talk about your upcoming Toronto Fringe digital production Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday. Tell us about Wonder Jones Productions and its creative vision.
Wonder Jones Productions was born out of a love for theatre! It began as a support to other theatre groups to promote live theatre and keep it alive. It evolved when I realized that I should be using it to promote my own projects. The creative vision is to tell untold stories that are relevant, positive, respectful and inclusive. A key guiding principle is to write stories that accurately reflect our community and our Canadian history. This means creating rich roles that engage many people, including BIPOC, ACPI and LGBTQ+ artists.
And what inspired you to write Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday and the themes it addresses?
I think many planets aligned the day that I began writing this play. I was inspired to write about a positive future, and I had recently finished another script that delved into science fiction. I enjoyed writing that story so much that I decided to keep exploring futurism, science fiction and the supernatural. My original goal was to explore Black Canadian history, and I realized I can continue to do that while exploring these genres. It was also inspired by a desire to preserve the memory and legacy of those we have lost—to give voice to those who may no longer be able to speak for themselves. The story explores how four people each deal with love, grief, forgiveness and healing with elements of intrigue, mystery and surprise. While they go on a very unusual Twilight Zone-type journey, their stories are relatable.
I wrote Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday especially for the Toronto Fringe Festival. They decided to go with a digital platform this year, to promote safety in light of the pandemic. They encouraged productions that could be delivered in a digital platform.
So, with all of these elements combined, I was inspired to write a play that could be safely rehearsed and performed remotely.
Due to COVID-19 health and safety measures, the development, rehearsal and recording process all needed to be done virtually—in this case, via Zoom. What was that process like for you, director Megan Gibson and the cast?
Theatre is amazing in that there are several moving parts and, somehow, we manage to pull it all together and create a show! This process required a lot of risk-taking, steep learning curves, planning and experimentation. Where to begin?
I workshopped the play to receive feedback and fine-tune it. This was an incredibly important step. I encouraged actors, writers, producers, and trusted colleagues from diverse backgrounds and lived experience, to give me feedback on the script. This was critical. Some playwrights don’t do this and it can result in characters that lack authenticity.
Casting was another important piece. It was essential that we cast respectfully to honour the diversity of the characters. This had a few challenges, but that was mainly due to scheduling conflicts and tight deadlines. Overall, this was a terrific opportunity to work with very talented actors that reflect our diverse Canadian diaspora.
Figuring out what technology to use and how to use it was important. This was a big learning curve for all of us, since we were used to in-person rehearsals, blocking, etc.
Planning the rehearsal and filming schedule was another step in the process. “Digital blocking” was a new skill! We all had to become our own technician, stage manager, prop handler and set designer! We worked collectively to figure out our settings, cameras, eye line, lighting, practical special effects and more. The key was to be flexible and work with what we each had. This was fascinating to watch how we each evolved with this.
Rehearsals and recording were cleverly planned so that we could honour live theatre while working digitally. What audiences may not realize is that the play was performed in real time. While the actors were in different locations, they still performed as an ensemble. Most of the effects were practical.
Post-production was another key aspect. Luckily, I worked with an editor, and we added sound and effects. This was another huge learning curve. It is hard to explain, but it was just as much work as all the previous phases!
You wrote the play with the digital Fringe in mind—and the play is set in a Zoom chat, so lends itself very well to this format. What creative opportunities and challenges did you encounter as a result of this hybrid stage/film production?
As theatre artists, we are used to being with each other in person. Using a virtual conferencing software is challenging because each person has a different computer, settings and internet services. We had to figure out how to work with those limitations. One of the biggest challenges was seeing each other on a screen. The actors had to look at their cameras rather each other. It was an adjustment to act to the camera rather than another person. However, the cast was terrific and they adapted beautifully.
How do folks get to see Time Limits Dropped on Easter Sunday?
With the Fringe On-Demand series, audiences will access content on Fringetoronto.com with the purchase of a membership pass. Tickets will go on sale July 7, 2021.
Now for the fun part: James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire.What’s your favourite word? I don’t really have one, but the word “grand” comes to mind.
What’s your least favourite word? I cannot repeat those! Anything profane that I won’t want my Grandma to hear.
What turns you on? Good manners.
What turns you off? People who have no integrity.
What sound or noise do you love? Ocean waves.
What sound or noise do you hate? Snoring.
What is your favourite curse word? I don’t like curse words. 🙂
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Running a blank on this one. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a ballerina, scientist and movie star all at the same time.
What profession would you not like to do? Not sure. I just don’t want to get like some who doesn’t put their whole self into their work and become bitter.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Welcome. You are safe and loved. And don’t worry, your childhood pet cats are here too!”
Anything else you want to shout out?
I want to give a shout out to the cast and creative team. The actors gave their all. The director skillfully pulled out great performances! The video editor brought ingenuity. The student volunteers brought creativity. The Toronto Fringe Team brought knowledge and resources to support us. And finally, our loved ones who brought the inspiration.
Four bereavement group friends meet via EtherWebb on Easter Sunday to embark on an unexpected and mystical virtual adventure of memory, revelation and closure. Written by Erin Jones, directed by Meg Gibson and edited by Marcus Kage; and featuring Georgia Grant, Olivia Jon, Erin Jones, Dayjan Lesmond, Cate McKim, Twaine Ward, Jamie Joong Watts and Paula Wilkie.
Five dandelion seed pods float on the breeze in a clear blue sky. Photo by Kranich17 on Pixabay.
Back in October, I posted a list of firsts, interrupted by the second wave of the pandemic and the reintroduction of stricter public health measures. And, since the third wave hit—with accompanying variations of lockdown and stay-at-home recommendations and/or orders since the Fall for where I live—I’ve found it hard to hope, or plan what I’d do once public health restrictions are loosened or removed altogether.
Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated and/or eligible to book an appointment—despite some ill-planned provincial rollouts and misplaced priorities (that are finally and gradually being amended), vaccine supply interruptions and evolving information on safety issues, and vaccination booking challenges/confusion—everyday people are demonstrating that they want to do everything they can to get to the other side of this pandemic. In some cases, spending hours in lineups at pop-up clinics, or online or on the phone to book through the provincial portal or at a pharmacy, people are devoting significant time and energy to making themselves, others and the health care system safe—with many doing so in the face of work, household and vaccine inequity struggles.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself finally able to exhale—even if just for a moment—and, as I saw that more family; friends; and fellow Torontonians, Ontarians and Canadians were getting their first shots, I allowed myself to feel a sense of relief and hope. I found myself daring to dream about what life will be like once stay-at-home orders and other public health measures are relaxed, and we’re able to safely gather again. For well over a year, not socializing and deciding to pare things down to simple, necessary elements, I haven’t been wearing my watch and rings; and I’ve been super casual with the wardrobe—sometimes wearing the same pair of jeans for a whole week, and the same running shoes pretty much every day. Yesterday, I put on a different pair of shoes. Today, I put on fresh cotton pants, as well as my watch and rings.
And, gradually, I’m making a wish list, including—but not limited to:
Seeing family in person (fingers crossed for a gathering in my parents’ backyard on a weekend near the July 1 holiday)
Seeing friends in person (my friends Lizzie, Zoltan and Val have space on their building’s backyard patio for distanced outdoor dining and movie viewing)
Random, spontaneous stops at a convenience store or coffee shop
Collecting driftwood and beach glass (see location above)
In-store shopping at thrift and art supply stores, and book and record shops
Seeing live outdoor performances and art shows
Walks and coffee with friends
Getting a hair cut
And I’m feeling like, in the near future, these will be actual, do-able things.
In the meantime, I have a dental checkup booked for next week (my first since October 2019). And my parents and I are planning a safe visit for my birthday next month (similar to our Christmas visit, with masking and distancing, even though we all have our first shots).
A stone cemetery monument featuring a relief sculpture of a mourning woman with long flowing hair, her head bent in sorrow as she leans over an urn. Photo taken by the blogger, at St. James Cemetery, Toronto, ON.
It’s been a while, I know. So much going on, collectively and personally. And, frankly, my thoughts and feelings have been leaning towards rage and despair so much lately—not at all conducive to expressing any clarity of thought.
So I will try to write here. Because I need to. And because I want to keep this blog alive—and to do that, I need to post.
The past couple of weeks have been rough—I’m sure for many of us. I’ve been living with anxiety and depression for most of my life, so living alone while navigating this pandemic has been a struggle. But the extra-strength fuckwittery exhibited by the Ontario PC government a couple of weeks ago broke me.
Thankfully, restrictions on playgrounds and enhanced police powers were quickly dialled back after huge public outcry (I’m surprised we didn’t break Twitter that day); and push-back from opposition parties, police forces, public health officials and the province’s own Science Table. But the thing that killed me the most—and I know I’m not alone here—is the government’s insistence that they acted “quickly” and were “listening” to the Science Table; when in fact, they’ve been consistently reactive, too little and too late, and not acting on Science Table or health expert advice. And it’s not lost on many of us that this third wave didn’t have to be this bad. That so much illness and death, and damage to our already fragile health care system, could have been avoided had Doug and friends heeded the warnings of modelling presented back in February—and acted on it immediately!
I thought of all the people who’ve been working so hard and sacrificing so much—especially our frontline health care and essential workers—and was enraged by the level of stupidity, negligence and gaslighting. A government turning the blame on everyone but itself for the dire situation we now find ourselves in. Hopelessness and despair hit hard; and for a couple of weeks, I had a moment, or three, pretty much every day of being on the verge of tears but unable to have a good cry.
During a recent phone chat, a friend highly recommended having a good ugly cry to let it all out. And we spoke of how we’re all going to be experiencing varying levels of PTSD with this pandemic. And I say this with full acknowledgement of my privilege: I have work and am able to work from home; I can pay my rent, in a safe home with food in the fridge; I have access to health care, including mental health; I have the means to connect with loved ones remotely; I became eligible for vaccination (by age) earlier this month and received my first shot a few weeks ago. I am grateful for my situation; and I also recognize my pain, isolation, loneliness, mental health struggles—and the need for self-care. And how I must stay healthy for myself, my loved ones and my health care system. I am fearful of how the prolonged periods of isolation will change me, a self-professed introverted homebody. I worry that I’m turning in on myself, and losing my sense of hope and enthusiasm for life. This New York Times piece by Adam Grant really nails the pervasive feeling of languishing right now.
It’s been inspiring to witness the individual and collective responses to a negligent, absent leadership—grassroots community groups sharing vaccine information and facilitating vaccination clinics; public health units exercising control over workplace outbreaks, and focusing vaccination efforts on hot spot neighbourhoods and workplaces; local politicians and municipalities, and organizations like Vaccine Hunters Canada posting vaccination eligibility and clinic info on Twitter; everyday people helping family, friends and neighbours with vaccine booking, and accessing groceries and essential goods and services.
There is so much good and so much to be hopeful for out there. And we need to continue to stay aware of what our leaders are doing—and hold them accountable for the policies and decisions that impact our province, especially its most vulnerable and its health care system. We need to seek out and share reputable health- and vaccine-related information as much as we can. And do whatever we can to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our health care system safe.
I don’t feel like crying so much these days. I’ve mentioned before that living through this pandemic is to experience the five stages of grief—and that it’s by no means a linear process. So I could very easily feel like crying again. But it’s comforting to remember that next year is a provincial election year.
2020: Hey You written by Randy Bachman and performed by Bachman Turner Overdrive
I was a little late picking a song this year, what with the COVID-19 flipping life around and all. Eventually, I went with another blast from the past: Que Sera Sera written by Jerry Livingston and Ray Evans, and performed by Doris Day. It’s a song my mum used to sing us as a lullaby of sorts. Looking back on this as an adult, I initially found this to be a strange choice. The cheery delivery and arrangement are offset by the stoic, almost fatalistic quality of the lyrics. On the upside, it’s a reminder to live in the present and not fret about the future—and that’s how I choose to interpret it. After all, life’s what happens when you’re making other plans. Plans, which many of us are aware, God laughs at.
Image: A heart-shaped stone on top of green, white and blue beach glass, set against a red background.Photo by the blogger.
So this weekend, it’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday—and, for some of us, it’s also the Family Day long weekend. And, whether you celebrate either of these or not, you can’t deny that there’s a distinctly different vibe this year.
Many of us don’t have families of our own, or families at all (physically or emotionally); nor do we have romantic partners. Some of us are lucky enough to have ‘chosen family’, a small circle of close friends that go beyond friendship into kinship. The pandemic has forced both extreme distance and closeness with family and lovers alike—each situation with its own set of unique challenges and perks. And people have lost loved ones, not only to the pandemic, and welcomed new loved ones into their lives. To keep each other safe, we’re connecting virtually over email, text, telephone and video—even to say our final goodbyes.
Above and beyond all the marketing hype, cards and flowers, and family events—virtual and otherwise—this weekend, there is a real sense of how important these love connections and relationships are; and, as with so many other aspects of our lives these days, the pandemic has only served to heighten this feeling. This pandemic has shone a spotlight on priorities—on a global, national, local and personal level.
All of this came to mind as I was pondering the first things I want to do once we’re safely out of the shadow of COVID-19. Hug my loved ones long and hard. Spend time with family over dinner at a family member’s home. Brunch and movie/potluck nights with friends. Take public transit to the Beaches for a long walk on the sand, collecting bits of beach glass and driftwood as I go. Attend live arts performances and galleries/museums in person. So many things.
Our post-pandemic hopes and dreams reveal who and what we love the most.
Who do you long to see and what do you dream of doing when the pandemic is over?
Photo of a pink neon heart, shining from an apartment window, by Valerie Gow.
Happy really belated New Year! It’s been a while since I posted here. Like many of you, I’ve been taking some time for self-care and reflection as we transition into 2021.
I celebrated the holidays this year, a year unlike any other; but also harkening back to holidays past, before my snowbird parents started heading south in November several years ago. After some careful planning and orchestration, I did a 14-day isolation period and visited my parents for a couple of days over Christmas, during which we wore masks and physically distanced. This was important for all of us, as I’d missed seeing them at Thanksgiving and my youngest brother’s 50th birthday; our case numbers were too high and I didn’t want to risk it, especially as they’re in their 80s and live in a lower-risk region. And, since I live alone, it was important for my mental health to have some in-person contact with loved ones after so many months of isolation—and who knows how many more Christmases we’ll have together.
As I rang in 2021 alone in my apartment, filled with cautious optimism about the incoming vaccines, but tired and frustrated over the significant numbers of individuals and businesses that were still not taking the pandemic seriously, I was struck by how quickly emotions can shift—or be felt all at once.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we were collectively going through the five stages of grief in our own individual way: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—and like any grieving process, the progress of these stages is not linear, and can often circle back on itself. During one of my daily neighbourhood walks in March, I overheard a small boy ask his mom, “Are we afraid of people?” He’d been noticing how we were all keeping our distance from each other, and this must’ve puzzled him. The mother’s reply began with, “No…” but I didn’t hear her full response, as I’d moved on by then.
Physical distancing isn’t done so much out of fear, but out of respect and taking good care; and is part of the public health arsenal for controlling, and hopefully stopping, the spread of COVID-19. It’s a simple, easy thing we can do to keep ourselves, each other and our health care system safe. So we wash our hands, we wear our masks, we keep our distance—at least, most of us are. But, yeah, I guess we are a bit afraid of people. At least, I am. And the fact that some people and businesses choose to flout public health guidelines and bylaws—putting friends and family, and employees and customers, and our health care system, at risk—makes those of us who’ve been working and sacrificing for almost a year, frankly, frustrated and angry.
Fear has definitely been a large part of the pandemic experience. When people ask me what I’m more afraid of—catching COVID-19 or giving it to someone—my answer is: both. When I’m out doing errands, picking up takeout or on transit (which, except for three round trips in early August 2020, I’ve been avoiding), I’m afraid of catching it. When I’m with loved ones, I’m afraid of passing it on (even when we’re all carefully washing hands, masking and distancing).
It’s deeply saddening to hear story after story of family members having to say goodbye over a tablet because they can’t be in the hospital or long-term care room when a loved one is sick or dying. Many of us empathize with health care and other essential workers, exhausted and putting their own health at risk, as they face this pandemic every day; sometimes separated from their families for safety, or going through rigorous disinfecting procedures in their garage when they return home from a shift. And we’ve all heard the wake-up call regarding longstanding social inequities that make the pandemic experience extremely difficult, and more deadly, for racialized and low-income Canadians—many of whom are essential service and health care workers.
Health officials warned us in the beginning that this pandemic would be a marathon. A marathon of resilience, determination and taking good care. A marathon of public health measures, bylaws, emergency orders and lockdowns. And, like the stages of grief, it hasn’t been a linear process. As predicted, the second wave has proven even deadlier than the first, with instances of illness and death mounting—and there’s a person behind every number we hear cited in the national, provincial and local updates. It’s also been a masterclass in radical acceptance. Accepting the reality of a difficult situation doesn’t mean you think it’s okay; but doing so can save you the pain of denial, and get you to a place where you can sort out what is and isn’t within your power to do about it. And, for some, that’s a huge ask. Perhaps, for some, denial is a more comfortable place to be—because to accept the reality of the situation is too scary to face. And it’s easy to feel totally helpless during times like these.
The COVID-19 pandemic has evoked all the feels. Right now, I’m feeling hopeful, impatient, frustrated and exhausted. I’m also feeling grateful for the privileges I enjoy. I’m not experiencing housing or food precarity. I have supportive family and friends; a cat for company and cuddles; freelance work coming in from appreciative, collegial clients; access to a public health care system that will provide free vaccinations; and Wi-Fi and cable that allow me to work from home, connect remotely and enjoy a variety of storytelling.
With Winter forcing us to be indoors more, it can be a particularly challenging time as we count the days till Spring. Wherever you are, I hope you’re okay; and doing what you can to keep yourself, others and your health care system safe. Reaching out to family and friends. Staying connected however you can. Help is on the way; we just have to hold on a bit longer. Keep taking good care, now and in the future.
And, suddenly, it’s December. It’s Winter Solstice today, and the final weeks of the holiday season are unfolding unlike any other before.
Many of us are in, or about to go into, lockdown. Favourite holiday traditions, family gatherings, shopping and outings have had to be cancelled or rearranged to follow public health protocols and local bylaws. Some will have to resort to seeing family onscreen this holiday season, as many aspects of our lives have been relegated to the safety of the digital space. It’s a huge sacrifice, but we do it to keep each other—and our beleaguered health care system and workers—safe.
I’m now on day 12 of my 14-day pre-holiday self-isolation period, an added safety measure for my Christmas visit with my parents. This means no errands, no laundry room visits, and only leaving my apartment for daily walks (weather permitting). I can easily keep my distance and avoid others along the quiet side streets of my neighbourhood as I take in some fresh air, exercise and, hopefully, some sunshine.
I’m equal parts nervous and excited. It was heartbreaking to miss Thanksgiving, and then my youngest brother’s 50th birthday (the latter I was at least able to Zoom into for a bit)—most of my immediate family live in lower risk regions of the GTHA—and I’d been hoping against hope that we’d be able to see each other for Christmas. Normally, my parents would be in Arizona right now, so I’m grateful for the chance to see them this year. I live alone and have been living a largely stay-at-home lifestyle during the pandemic. I’m very grateful to have my furry four-legged friend Camille for company and cuddles; but the lack of in-person human contact has been challenging—even for an introverted homebody like me. I really, really miss the hugs.
My parents and I have discussed detailed safety protocols for our visit, including for when they pick me up and drive me home (many of these were worked out previously, when my parents hosted small family gatherings in July and September—mostly outdoors, where we were always distancing, wearing masks indoors, and had individual servings of snacks and one person plating food at dinner). My mum was a nurse and my dad is a retired Professional Engineer (chemical)—so they know from health and safety, and disinfecting—and we’re all on board with public health rules and what we need to do to keep each other safe. I acknowledge with gratitude that we’re able to do this; and that we have the privilege of having homes that allow us to keep our distance and stay safe.
As vaccines are starting to roll out, there is hope for the New Year. We just have to persevere and hold on a bit longer. Keep keeping each other, and our health care system and caregivers, safe. It will be a very different kind of holiday this year, but I hope we can all find comfort and joy in keeping with the season, and connect and celebrate with loved ones safely.
Have a safe and happy holiday—and all good things for 2021.