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Grad Patrick Lloyd Brennan on the state of theatre post-pandemic

‘COVID-19 has shown how precarious our industry was,’ says managing director of Quebec Drama Federation
August 11, 2020
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By Richard Burnett, BA 88

Patrick Lloyd Brennan Patrick Lloyd Brennan

When Patrick Lloyd Brennan, BFA 10, and his former partner Sheldon Lawlor debuted The New Bourjoiesie, a show put on by a dance company Brennan ran from 2009 to 2011, the audience experience was deliberately immersive.

“We created our characters in advance on social media,” recalls the graduate of Concordia’s contemporary dance department. “The cast rehearsed in our loft for six months and the audience was able to follow them on Facebook before the show premiered.”

Brennan’s love of live performance has been severely tested by the COVID-19 crisis. A veteran of Montreal’s theatre scene, he currently manages the Quebec Drama Federation (QDF), a strong supporter of English-language theatre in the province since 1972.

How did you get involved with theatre in the city?

Patrick Lloyd Brennan: Through Concordia’s Art Matters festival when I was a co-producer in 2010. It was a position that allowed me to see Montreal’s arts and culture ecosystem from a unique vantage point. There was great cross-pollination so people could jump from discipline to discipline. My theatre admin experience started there.

The festival was foundational for me. It enables students to run every aspect of what is now the largest student-run arts festival in North America and puts the work of students in professional venues.

What also stuck is the value of emerging artist perspectives. They’re coming straight out of the classroom fresh with innovative ideas. They don’t just learn from us — we learn from them.

How did your time at Concordia shape you?

PLB: In high school and CEGEP I was obsessed with going to university and when I went to a Concordia open house, it felt like home. Being accepted at Concordia was a dream come true for me. The university became my family. I am very proud to be a Concordian.

What was the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the theatre community?

There is no other way to describe it than absolute shock. Montreal’s English-language theatre community has always been very resilient, but COVID-19 shut everything down.

How has the QDF been able to provide support?

Patrick Lloyd Brennan & David Usher Patrick Lloyd Brennan and & David Usher presenting at Montreal English Theatre Awards | Photo: Andree Lanthier

Over the past weeks and months, we have collected much data from our membership and community, from financial losses to mental health. We work with other theatre groups — like ELAN Quebec, the Conseil québécois du théatre and PACT — as well as granting agencies to see what can be done to support theatre.

We quickly realized that we were going to be in this for longer than we thought. We weren’t shutting down for two weeks. So we developed resources that we updated weekly, such as listings for online productions.

Do you think people are prepared to return to the theatre?

As much as audiences want to support live theatre, they are not comfortable returning to see a live show just yet.

Also, in Quebec, English-speaking audiences are a bit older than they are on the French side and in the rest of Canada, so the risks are higher for them. We have to deal with this reality as well. Not to mention that it may take longer to process patrons at theatres once they reopen, because of the possible need to check temperatures or get waivers signed. How long will theatregoers be prepared to wait before they can sit down?

What do you think will happen long-term?

I don’t think we’re looking at any large-scale works being mounted until autumn 2021. You can’t cast, build a set and rehearse a new show in a week. The size of an audience also dictates your budget. What COVID-19 has shown us is how precarious our industry was in the first place.



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