A year ago, we were gathered for TOsketchfest 2020, one of the last live events that many comedians and comedy lovers did together in the “before times.” A pandemic was declared in the middle of our festival and our world was turned upside down.
This week, we’re flooded with memories of last year’s festival. At the same time, we are planning TOsketchfest 2021: The Screen Time Edition, an entirely online festival running March 24-28.
To mark this one year anniversary, we asked participants what they remember from TOsketchfest 2020, what they’ve been doing in the past year, and what to expect from their 2021 TOsketchfest digital appearance.
Andrea Miller has been the Festival Stage Manager in the Theatre Centre Incubator for five years and has all the best backstage stories. We checked in with her leading up to her role as digital Stage Manager for our upcoming festival.
Q: Can you share a memory from the 2020 festival?
A: 2020 was my fifth year stage managing for Toronto Sketchfest, and the first week was one of the best the fest had seen in that time. The sketch community in Toronto had been getting increasingly strong, and we had some great out-of-town performers. Shows were HOT and the audiences large and receptive. I had the extra mental energy to keep a list of the crazy messes performers were making that year, including: fake blood, two separate money guns; and fistfuls of raisins tossed liberally throughout the audience over the course of a 3 minutes.
Andrea in her element. The stage manager’s booth at the Theatre Centre Incubator stage. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Q: What do you remember about those final days of the festival, as the reality of the pandemic was really sinking in?
A: By the time the second week had started, COVID went from ‘future concern’ to counting cases in Toronto. As others panic-bought toilet paper and groceries, we were putting out hand sanitizer and moving seats farther apart. All the out-of-town troupes had to cancel and we scrambled to make scheduling changes. I started getting asked if microphones had been sanitized. We had to ban high fives with the audience.
I think about the last day of Sketchfest a lot. Especially the after party show, which sprawled on and on.
I’m a pretty self-conscious person who takes a long time to relax around people and was so happy that after years of knowing some of these people I really admired, it really felt like I fit in, and these people were my friends. Everyone got very drunk, and there were many sweaty hugs and telling everyone how much you love them. The die hards all ended up in an after-hours club nearby, where we all crammed into a purple-lit room with a tiny piano outside of the bathrooms and talked until five in the morning.
Carson Pinch kept exclaiming ‘We’re not going to see each other for MONTHS’ to everyone. It felt like comedic exaggeration at the time, yet none of us wanted to leave. It was early dawn when I finally got home, feeling on top of the world.
The day after I immediately went into self-isolation. Two weeks later my dad picked me up for what we figured would be a 2, maybe 4 month stay to weather the worst of the pandemic…. I have now redecorated their spare room and my cat has a special harness for the backyard.
The view from the stage manager’s booth as the audience settles in for a show at TOsketchfest.
Q: What have you been up to during the pandemic? Creatively or otherwise.
A: I’ve been very lucky this past year, and not just because I was able to flee solitary confinement in the city. Creatively I’ve been able to re-dedicate time to my other career of audio producer, and am getting paid to produce multiple podcasts right now. My previous corporate AV work transitioned quickly over to online webinars, and that work also keeps me very busy. I’m excited to be able to employ everything I’ve learned about the ins and outs of Zoom while teching this year’s Learning and Fun programming at TOsketchfest.
Q: What do you miss most about comedy, festivals, the community?
A: I miss having anecdotes that aren’t about Zoom meetings. I miss that feeling of discovery when you see someone new totally killing it on stage. I miss watching someone grow over months to really find their voice. I miss the electric feeling when an audience is full and every joke, every cue is hitting exactly as intended. I miss when scenes go so far off the rails that it gets funnier and funnier, but in a way that only people who were in the room at the time could possibly understand. I miss yelling at goddamn comedians who don’t listen, and screw around with equipment, make huge messes, or ask for unhinged last minute changes. Because they’re my friends, and I miss them most of all.
A peek at Andrea’s Zoom stage management set up. She’ll be putting that to good use as the Stage Manager of the Learning and Fun series in 2021 (panels and workshops.)