Among the theatre performances around town cautiously returning to live venues is the Arts Club’s production of Buffoon, a one-man play being presented at the Granville Island Stage until Dec. 6, and featuring the contributions of two members of the Jewish community, Amir Ofek and Itai Erdal.
Buffoon is the second of three works being put on by the Arts Club this fall. The play has two different actors playing the lead in separate shows at different times, and audience size in the theatre, which can seat 400 people, is limited to a maximum of 50.
“The fall theatre trio will be the first time for audiences to see fully staged and designed shows at the Arts Club since March,” remarked Ofek, the play’s set designer, when he spoke to the Independent before the opening of the play’s run Oct. 22. “Buffoon will be a real visual feast for the audience. Seating arrangements were planned. Actors can only get so close to the audience.
“The set, lighting, costume and sound design surrounding the sole performer will take the audience on a ride into the magical world of circus,” he added.
On working in the time of COVID-19, Ofek mused, “As a designer, we work at a personal level and often have animated meetings. Now, all the conversations had to be done over the phone or, in the case of a socially distanced meeting with director Lois Anderson, in a schoolyard.”
Erdal, the lighting designer, expressed his excitement at being involved with this production, while pointing out that there are unique demands posed during the pandemic. “I am used to coming and going from the theatre. We have to be very careful now. We have to wear masks and only so many people are allowed in at a given time. Working with these safety precautions during the pandemic is a challenge. Having to do it twice with two casts of one is also a challenge,” he told the Independent.
Indo-Canadian playwright Anosh Irani’s Buffoon tells the story of Felix. Born to a circus family who prefer trapezing to parenting, he quickly learns to turn life’s hard knocks into comedy. His longing for family and home is piqued at the tender age of 7, when he falls for an older woman, aged 8 – an event that inspires his journey to becoming a true buffoon.
The show is one part of a full season for both artists. Ofek is also working on Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine for Vancouver Opera. That production had its digital première on Oct. 24.
“I am really happy to be busy now, at a time when theatre and live performance struggle to exist. I hope it is not a farewell burst of fireworks that signals the end of our time,” Ofek said.
Erdal, meanwhile, has recently designed two shows, B for Rumble Theatre and This Crazy Show for Company Vision Selective at the Queer Arts Festival, and is designing the Nov. 12-22 run of The Amaryllis for the Firehall Arts Centre. He has a photo exhibit at Luppolo Brewing, is writing a play, Check Point, for his company, Elbow Theatre, and is teaching an online course for the Musical Stage Company in Toronto.
Ofek and Erdal have collaborated in the past – on Florian Zeller’s The Father, at the Vancity Culture Lab in 2019, and on Joan MacLeod’s The Valley, in 2016 at the Arts Club.
The Arts Club stresses that the performance and rehearsal models for its fall trio of presentations were designed to be as safe as possible for artists, staff and audience members. All shows are being staged in adherence to safety guidelines established by the B.C. government, including the aforementioned cap of 50 patrons per show, staggered admission times and a mandatory mask policy (with the exception of patrons with respiratory or other health concerns). Each show has two rotating casts and crews, who do seven performances each week and rehearse in separate halls.
“Smaller, more intimate shows allow us to be nimbler than we would be with larger productions,” explained Peter Cathie White, the executive director of Arts Club. “This ‘bubble method’ of alternating casts and crews is a brand-new way of producing theatre for the Arts Club, and we hope it will become a model for performances to come.”
Other shows in the Arts Club fall lineup include No Child, to Nov. 8, about an underfunded high school in the Bronx; and the holiday comedy The Twelve Dates of Christmas, running Nov. 19-Jan. 3.
Besides the in-theatre experience, patrons have the option of purchasing tickets to a digital recording of each of the three productions, which is available to view for a limited time.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit artsclub.com.
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.