The pandemic has been especially challenging for anyone who makes their living through the arts, and that includes Victoria’s beloved Belfry Theatre. Founded in 1974, the Belfry, located in the heart of Victoria’s Fernwood neighbourhood, has managed to stage 321 productions, including 241 Canadian plays. It’s even premiered more than 50 productions during its 46-year history, but when the pandemic hit, it changed everything.
“We’ve gone through all sorts of challenges. Cancelling productions, calling artists and saying ‘sorry, but the work that we had for you can’t happen,'” explains Michael Shamata, artistic director at the Belfry.
Now, the Belfry has pivoted one again, with the bold decision to gather actors for socially distanced rehearsals, and then film their spring season for audiences, rather than perform in the theatre.
“It just didn’t seem feasible, really, to be inviting people into a theatre at this point and so, because we had this live-streaming equipment, we decided that we should film the productions,” says Shamata.
For the first spring production, Shamata has chosen a powerful play of real life stories from refugees around the world of their terrifying, remarkable escapes from their country, and their arrival in Canada.
Called Being Here: The Refugee Project, the format is known as documentary theatre, which is now, ironically, on film.
Veronica Cooper spoke with Shamata, and actor Ghazal Azarbad about the play.