Since 2011, Theatre of the Beat has been sharing stories and starting conversations about a wide array of social justice issues, with the goal to make the world a safer, more just place.
Pre-pandemic, this looked like touring in a van; billeting with community members; and presenting our work in churches, classrooms, and community spaces across the continent; meeting the community where they were at, both in terms of understanding of the issue and also physically in their own spaces.
Cut to Theatre of the Beat’s ninth year as a touring social-justice company and the world is forced two metres apart, with capacity limits that meant there was no way of meeting our communities in their spaces. In this new world of isolation, we knew that now, more than ever, communities needed reasons to come together, and Theatre of the Beat got to work! Two years in and we’ve learned how to stay connected with our incredible “Beatnik” community using the incredible power of the digital space.
Our first venture into the digital space came by reimagining our classic production, Yellow Bellies, a historical drama highlighting the experiences and public response to Mennonite conscientious objectors during the Second World War, as a three-part audio drama series available to listeners across the country from the comfort of their own homes.
In the fall of 2020, we began developing a new Forum Theatre show in response to the rise of gender-based violence due to the pandemic. On Nov. 23, 2020, we premiered Unmute on Zoom, allowing us to have real-time conversations with patrons about these issues, and to share tools and resources just like we would if we were touring in the van from city to city across Canada. Unmute eventually became a podcast available to audiences around the world and will be touring the digital space again in 2022.
We have also developed a new digital presentation of another classic, Forgiven/Forgotten, combining an audio drama with simple animations to create an audio-visual storytelling experience. This digital presentation of Forgiven/Forgotten, along with a resource package and study guide, are currently being presented in correctional institutions across the country.
The digital space offers exciting new ways to build community and break down barriers, so that we can connect with more Beatniks across the country and the world.
To learn more about the work Theatre of the Beat has developed during the pandemic, or to bring one of these digital shows to your community, visit theatreofthebeat.ca.
Read more stories from Canadian Mennonite's Focus on the Arts:
Singing through the pandemic
Founding chorister reflects on retiring from his beloved choir