Sum Creation Studio gives children an outlet in place of summer show

Sum Theatre's outdoor summer show can't go on as usual this year – so the theatre is enlisting children to tell their stories through art.

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Sum Theatre has always made a point of encouraging audience interaction from kids during its summer shows. Without a regular summer show this year, the theatre has to get creative in connecting with children.

“We know that kids are emotionally dealing with a lot,” artistic producer Heather Morrison said. “This was another way for us to get kids … to participate, in a way that’s safe right now.”

The summer production for Sum Theatre has been the flagship program for the company, with shows taking place at parks, pools, trails and any outdoor venue that fits the project for the year. With public gathering restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sum Theatre pivoted to a new project dubbed Sum Creation Studio.

From May 18 to June 22, organizers will post one “theme” to their social media pages to provide inspiration for children in Saskatoon to create art — from pictures and paintings to plays of their own.

Sum Theatre will then incorporate some of the submitted artwork into an end-of-summer theatre production that organizers say will satisfy public health and safety guidelines.

“We were well on our way to doing the play we were planning on doing … but this pivot is quite exciting,” playwright Yvette Nolan said. “We’ll have to work with the health department, with the city, with the guidelines and phases with the openings, but we can do all of that.”

Nolan said Sum Theatre is “uniquely suited” to continue operating during the pandemic thanks to the flexibility of its annual summer theatre project and lower costs in comparison to other companies. With no permanent venue to take care of and a mandate geared toward community engagement, Nolan said it would have been “heartbreaking” to think there would be no show this year.

“We can offer these little bits of art and dialogue between the artists and their community which will make people think … there are other ways to do this,” she said.

While other large theatre companies and festivals have been forced to pull the curtain on their summer shows, Sum Theatre was able to continue with its plans without cancelling or severely reducing the contracts of the paid performers involved.

Morrison said connecting with children during this time will be helpful to the kids and their families. Calling it “social acupuncture,” she said providing themes for kids that speak to the difficulties they’re facing gives them an outlet to express themselves.

The first theme of the Creation Studio project was “courage and bravery” — and Sum Theatre has already received plenty of submissions.

“Our hope is the same that it always is, which is to respond to the community’s needs,” Morrison said. “For us, it’ll be paying attention to what people need as this new normal becomes clear.”

maolson@postmedia.com

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