- Lenny Mullins
- The pals behind Halifax improv group Hello City have been making fans all over town since 2017. Here they are posing for a Coast cover feature in 2019.
Get ready to go to Point Pleasant Park's Cambridge Battery to see a show—but not the one you might be thinking of: Hello City improv group (with the support of Shakespeare by the Sea) is filling the space with a socially distant improv show, called Hello City by the Sea.
When recently presented with the opportunity to collaborate with four-year-old improv group Hello City, saying “yes” was a “no brainer,” says artistic associate for Shakespeare by the Sea, Drew Douris-O’Hara. “We're really desperate to be able to do anything live right now—we’re desperate to get back to work which is why we were so excited when Hello City came to us with a proposal that really works,” he says.
Back in March, Hello City, an eight-person improv team, lost the place it usually plays at—The Bus Stop Theatre—due to COVID-19. It went from playing a full house to no house, left without a venue at all. Meanwhile, Shakespeare by the Sea—which announced early on during the pandemic its season would be cancelled—had a venue but could not use it.
Many members of Hello City have a long-standing relationship with Shakespeare and the Sea, so they knew it would be what Peter Sarty, a longtime member of Hello City, called “a match made in heaven.”
“Capturing that energy of Shakespeare by the Sea combined with Hello City energy—I think it’s going to be a slam dunk,” says Sarty.
“It’s going to be a party,” adds Douris-O’Hara.
Sarty says both performance groups have dedicated audiences. “It's really valuable for our two companies to continue to create that feeling of community,” he says.
- Hello City's current roster.
Not only is Sarty and the rest of Hello City ecstatic to be performing again, the group hopes, during times like these where theatres aren’t quite ready to reopen, they can help to fill the missing space in the hearts of those missing live theatre: “[It’s] just a chance for people to come together, to laugh, and for a short while forget that there’s a pandemic happening and just enjoy the sunshine, the space of the Cambridge Battery and hopefully the laughs we can provide them,” he says.
And although the outlook for the future looks grey right now with masks and social distancing still on the horizon art forms like theatre—in this case improv continues to be resilient.
“A number of people have approached our group specifically and said in the past they have not enjoyed improv—that it’s actually quite anxiety-inducing,” says Sarty. “But to counter that, when it really is working I think there’s nothing more electric than being in the audience of an improv show where something’s happening on stage that nobody could have predicted and everybody’s going to leave that theatre knowing that moment is never going to be recreated.”
Performing live is something the theatre company won’t be doing until next season. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I know all the theatre artists I guess across the whole world are going through this right now. We were supposed to have opening nights and successful runs and now we’re all mourning the loss of that—everyday really,” says Douris-O’Hara.
Hello City will be performing at Point Pleasant Park's Cambridge Battery Saturday, Aug 8 at 7:00pm and Saturday, August 22 at 7:00pm.
“The silver lining is it’s giving all theatre companies time to really rethink and re-examine how we operate and that’s exactly what we’re doing, too," Douris-O'Hara says. "But rest assured Shakespeare by the Sea will be back. In what form— we’ll have to wait and see.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Hello City as having seven members when there are eight and misidentified Douris-O’Hara as artistic director of SBTS, when he is its artistic associate.