On the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tantramar residents are being invited to a free performance of Charlie Rhindress’s new play, We’re Still Here: Tales from 2020 and Beyond.
The premiere is happening at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at the Sackville Legion on Lorne Street. It’s a collaboration between Festival By the Marsh and Live Bait Theatre.
“When I was first asked to do the show, I thought to myself, is anyone going to really want to come and see a show about COVID?” Rhindress asks with a smile.
“We just lived through it, you know, it’s stressful and depressing.”
But, when he met with the seven actors in the play to talk things over, he was surprised at how the pandemic triggered memories.
” I think there’s something really valuable in reliving the experience,” he says.
Rhindress, who has written more than a dozen plays including The Maritime Way of Life and Flying On Her Own about singer Rita MacNeil, explains that We’re Still Here is partly based on two dozen interviews with Atlantic Canadians.
Festival by the Marsh received a federal grant to hire students to conduct the interviews starting in May 2020 shortly after the pandemic began.
Rhindress and his cast used the 600 pages of transcripts to create a play that is at times both moving and funny.
“In some ways, I think we follow the path of COVID. It starts out quite serious and people are kind of scared and then people are learning to open up again and to reconnect and I think the show follows that journey,” he says.
“There’s a section about a woman who lost her brother…It’s quite a moving monologue that she delivered during the interview, so there’s stuff that’s kind of heart breaking and then there’s stuff that’s frustrating…and then, there’s other stuff that’s funny.”
COVID words & conspiracy theories
In one scene, the actors joke about the terms people learned during the pandemic including CERB, social distancing, flattening the curve, co-morbidity, quarantini, a.k.a “Papa stay-sane-juice” and essential worker, “that’s the staff at the liquor store and the bartenders at Ducky’s.”
Another scene reflects concerns expressed in the interviews about COVID conspiracy theories.
“A lot of people were disappointed in the people they knew well who weren’t willing to go along with the science,” Rhindress says.
“[They] were shocked at the people who didn’t believe it.”
A character in the play asserts confidently that there’s a proven link between COVID and 5G cellular networks as other characters listen skeptically.
Mainstream media won’t talk about how the 5G causes brain cancer and they can use it for mind control. This whole thing started in Wuhan, China. Did you know that’s where the first 5G towers went up?…
Oh yeah, you gotta get on the Internet, do your research, it’s all there. That’s why they locked us up, so we wouldn’t see them puttin’ up more 5G towers…
They’re tryin’ to decrease the surplus population.
‘Hands, washing hands’
The play also includes an emotional COVID song — Sweet Quarantine — set to a famous tune.
“Actually, Neil Diamond took his song Sweet Caroline and early in the pandemic, went online and did a version where he talked about washing hands and so we actually took that, the Neil Diamond thing, and changed a few more words,” Rhindress says.
Hands, washing hands
Reaching out, don’t touch me
I won’t touch you.
I’ve been confined
Just within my neighbourhood…
Rhindress feels his play ends with an inspirational message.
“I didn’t make any of this up,” he says.
“The last lines of the play are from an interview and someone said something about, you know, we’re human and we’re creative and we survived because we’re resilient and that’s what we do and that’s the note that the show ends on.”
After its Sackville premiere on Wednesday, the play moves to CCUBIC on Ratchford Street in Amherst on Friday, March 24 followed by admission-free performances in Fredericton on Saturday and in Miramichi on Sunday, March 26.
For more information or to book free tickets, click on Festival By the Marsh or call (506)-940-2248.
To listen to my CHMA radio report on Charlie Rhindress’s new play, click here.