Ring the bar bell! Social distancing comes to the Manoel Theatre

Malta’s national theatre is reopening its doors with a plan to host smaller audiences and some awe-inspiring shows. The theatre’s artistic director, Kenneth Zammit Tabona, tells us more.

In its long history, the Manoel Theatre has weathered many a storm. And without fail, Malta’s preeminent theatre has consistently come out the other end stronger than before. So when the coronavirus struck, the theatre and its personnel buckled down and devised a plan. Now, the much-loved and sorely missed theatre is ready to welcome people back.

Positioned at the forefront of the Manoel Theatre’s reopening is safety. Theatres are designed to bring people together, and yet they must now ensure people are kept apart. The Manoel Theatre team has risen to the challenge and created strict guidelines to protect the health and safety of theatre-goers, performers and staff.

“While we’ve kept shows going by filming performances, the magic of a live event is inimitable,” says artistic director Kenneth Zammit Tabona. “We’re thrilled that after six months of working behind closed doors, our beautiful, historic theatre will rise like a phoenix. We’re opening for socially distanced audiences and taking all precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Here is what to expect in this new era of theatre: Audience members will need to purchase tickets online, wear a face mask, maintain a two-metre distance from each other, and have their tempera­ture checked and their hands sanitised. The theatre itself is also undergoing strict and enhanced cleaning and sanitisation procedures.

These measures are a small price to pay for the opportunity to enjoy theatre once again.

When the pandemic reared its head, the arts and culture scene was hit hard. Manoel Theatre, though, was quick to release an open call for local artists to submit ideas that could be brought to audiences within COVID-related limitations. And now, the theatre’s autumnal season is bringing live performances back to the stage.

Barber, Bliss and Berg, sung by soprano Nicola Said with pianist Christine Zerafa, kicks things off on Friday.

The vocal chamber music recital celebrates compositional language from 20th-century America, Britain and Germany. Said will take audiences on a journey from Tennessee summertime with Samuel Barber, to light-hearted, countryside melody with Arthur Bliss, and then to a colourful finale with Alban Berg.

Joining Said will be guest musicians Godfrey Mifsud, Nadine Galea, Stefan Calleja and Desirée Quintano.

Moveo Dance Company takes to the stage on October 31 with Roots – a triple bill of dance and live music. Leading on piano is Tricia Dawn Williams, while bringing music to life through dance are Dorian Mallia, Diane Portelli and Francesca Tranter. Sharp technique and striking visuals are the heart of the show, which celebrates music from composers like Max Richter and Michael Nyman.

Manoel Theatre has also been recording performances for online streaming – a remarkable opportunity to bring many household names together on stage despite the pandemic.

The band Skald joins author Trevor Zahra and actress Teresa Gauci; violinist Nadine Galea brings a violin concerto to life with pianist Christine Zerafa; and a Toi Toi recital series features artists such as Nicola Said, Clare Ghigo, Dorothy Bezzina, Luis Aguilar and Julie James.

The Malta Philharmonic Orchestra has also collaborated with Manoel Theatre on a blended programme for their upcoming season. Audiences can expect several chamber music concerts with the first two streamed online in October and the rest performed to live audiences.

Come November, Manoel Theatre will host World Trade Centre, a physical theatre performance directed by Stephen Oliver, and Decameron, a prome­nade performance piece directed by Chris Gatt. From Rona With Love is a topical, original play written by Marta Vella, and the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra will deliver Beethoven’s Symphona No. 3 Eroica arranged for piano quartet by Ferdinand Ries.

“We’re always amazed by the creati­vity of the artists we work with,” says Zammit Tabona, as he reflects on the road the team has travelled to get here, “and, even now, they’ve exceeded expectations. The result is a plethora of inspired events that will delight audiences when, once again, we take our seats in the theatre we love so much.”

For more information on Manoel Theatre’s health and safety guidelines or to learn more about its upcoming shows, visit www.teatrumanoel.com.mt.

The Times of Malta

October 18, 2020

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