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Oct. 22, 2020 | Thursday
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'That's Shawbiz' draws thousands of viewers
Shaw actors came together to perform for That’s Shawbiz. (Screenshot/Jessica Maxwell)

The Shaw Festival filled the Studio Theatre 26 times on Wednesday.

More than 7,000 people virtually lined up to watch the festival’s online streaming show That’s Shawbiz.

The show was an virtual version of the company’s SNAG events (Saturday Night at the George) during which members of the ensemble show off their various talents.

Kyle Golemba, who hosted the virtual event, said it’s a way for members to get together every few weeks to blow off some steam and share a few laughs.

“It’s been going on for a long time,” he said. “It’s always a mix of things, always a lot of music, but then, you know, depending on the year you get people doing magic tricks, or spoken word poetry, or sharing their stories, dances — it can kind of be anything.”

Golemba said the whole affair was strange, because you’re just talking to your computer.

“You could be filming a YouTube video for all anyone would know looking at you, but you know that there are these thousands of people on the other side of the screen. And energetically it’s weird because you don’t get the back and forth you would get with a crowd in real life, so you’re kind of trusting that they’re enjoying what you’re up to and just kind of sticking to what you feel you want to do with the night.

He said he was nervous, and even though he was more-or-less by himself in his living room, he still got the rush of show performing.

“I just love everyone bringing what they can in this time, just to be generous with the audience, and to connect. I think I said it in the night, but we do really miss the audience. And I think it was really neat to see everyone go, 'Well, what can I offer and here’s what I have right now, in my little house that I can do.' ”

He said he was even fond of some of the “screw ups.”

“I think that’s always where the fun happens, when something goes slightly awry and you kind of have to hop in and make something happen.”

It was revealed by a fellow cast member that Golemba is also a level 5 elf wizard in Dungeons & Dragons in his spare time.

He praised the stage managers who helped keep the event on track from behind the scenes. One of the stage managers was on camera with him giving signals if anything went wrong.

Shaw artistic director Tim Carroll said it wasn’t too hard to set up, but there’s a “very steep learning curve.”

“It’s just difficult to know what it is until you do it,” he said. “As soon as you do it you go, ‘Oh, oh, I see.’ ”

He said it’s challenging for actors to do something without a crowd reaction, because “your body tells you you’re failing.”

“Because you have an instinct,” he said. “If you say something and get nothing back, your body starts to go, ‘Ugh, that didn’t work’ — so it doesn’t matter how many people in the comments are going, ‘Oh that was great, we’re all laughing our asses off’ — your body still told you that you just died on your ass. So it’s a very strange thing getting nothing back.”

Carroll said as far as public reaction, the “overwhelming response has been one of gratitude.”

“People know that we’ve got a lot to be thinking about at the moment anyway. We’ve got a whole company of people who are anxious about the future and it would be very understandable if they were just saying, ’No thank you, do you mind? I’m trying to think what to do with the rest of my life and I don’t need to be thinking about doing silly songs for a YouTube event’ — so I think people realize that it takes quite a generosity of spirit to throw something up like this," he said.

Carroll said it’s possible the Shaw could do it again. “I think we will do more of it, because I think we all know various ways we can iron out some of the technical problems.”

Golemba said he’s received emails from people who were really happy to feel connected to everyone and know we’re all going through this together.

Carroll said the idea is not something that would continue post-COVID-19.

“We want live, I want live, we all want live,” Carroll said.

He did say it’d be nice to do some in-house versions of their cabarets.

“We’ve got so much talent in the company,” he said. “There’s so many people who pop up, not just in the acting company, but in the whole company, who pop up and you go, ‘I had no idea you could do that. So I’d love to share that with the audience a bit more — but I’d really love to do it in the same room as them.”

SNAGS going forward still will be a company-exclusive event.

Carroll said it was nice to see so many people tuning in.

“We no doubt both got quite an eyebrow-raising moment when we saw the number at the bottom of the screen going past 7,000 and then 8,000,” Carroll said.

Golemba pointed out that if people were watching it together, it could have been even more than that.

The crowd dwindled slightly as the show went on, but Carroll said it’s their loss.

“Anyone who leaves before the end of one of our cabarets is really making a serious error, because we know what we’re doing in our playlist,” he said.

The show is no longer available, as it was meant to be a live-only event, said Carroll and Golemba.

“In keeping with what we do best, we wanted this to be live. You’ve gotta tune in, and then it’s gone — just like all the best stuff that we do,” Golemba said.

“It being a company-led event is part of the magic,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that we love to do, and get together and have a laugh, and I think it was a nice thing to get to do that for all the people that we’re used to seeing at this point in the year."

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