From pop-up drive-in movie theatres to drive-in concerts and online shows, the way we’re consuming entertainment is looking a bit different these days. And artists continue to impress with their ability to roll with the punches during these strange times.
Just before Christmas, the members of SmokeShow – a performance group that blends live music with circus, including aerial arts and fire – were working on new acts, music and props for their upcoming tour. But when the pandemic hit, they were forced to hit the brakes. However, with some creativity, ingenuity and a lot of hard work, the crew started to think about how to make their high-flying dreams a reality.
“I started off, when the pandemic kind of was just happening, doing shows by myself and I called them Circus Gram. And so I’d show up and perform in somebody’s driveway while they’d be out at their door or something like that, with tons of social distance,” says Allison Collins, a hula hoop and fire artist with the group who goes by the stage name “Alley Oop.”
This got the wheels turning and shortly after, Collins got in touch with the other members of SmokeShow to see how they could scale up. She then contacted public health and the City of St. John’s to discuss concerns and what guidelines would be required to bring a drive-in circus show to life. After getting the green light, the members got together and things started to fall into place.
“We only got in each other’s bubbles, like, the week of the show. There were so many new random things to navigate for this,” Collins says, including accommodations and figuring out just how exactly to make a drive-in circus show work.
“We stayed at campsites and that kind of thing because we didn’t want to be going into hotels necessarily, and also because we couldn’t really rehearse beforehand because of all the restrictions. Our aerialist had to quarantine for two weeks before she could come and work with us. And also, people didn’t have the ability to train as much beforehand,” she says.
“And then just all the logistics like figuring out how many feet between each car, and can people see, and how many rows…and what if there’s rain, and where do people go to the bathroom.”
Even with all the challenges laid out before them, they persevered. Over the summer, the SmokeShow crew performed not only in the city, but in other locations around the province including Lewisporte, Placentia, Clarenville and Bonavista. They have four shows coming up on August 28 and 29 in the parking lot of the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay (where they performed earlier this summer), which will be the last for the season. When all’s said and done, they’ll have about 18 performances under their belt.
While the setting of the shows may be different, the magic and fun that audiences have come to expect from SmokeShow is all there. Their drive-in shows respect social distancing guidelines, with a limited number of tickets sold and cars parked a safe distance between each other. And with the help of an FM transmitter, the live music is pumped right into people’s vehicles.
“Once they start honking their horns at us instead of clapping, it gets really fun and amped up…So that’s been really cool to still feel that kind of feedback from the audience. We weren’t really able to do the online thing, we’re very much live performers…it’s been really cool, honestly,” Collins says.
The show travels with about seven to eight performers, and a couple of technicians, so it’s no small feat to organize. Collins says the towns that have hosted them have been fabulous and she hopes that SmokeShow helps to ignite some inspiration during these somewhat dark times.
“That’s the amazing thing about circus…it just reminds you that humans are capable of more than sometimes the limits we put on ourselves. So I feel like why it’s working so well right now is that it’s risky and it’s uncertain but then people will persevere. I think it’s resonating with people in a real good way,” she says.
“There’s a real moment at the end of the show where we’re all standing up and Kelly-Ann (Evans) says, ‘Long live art, long live music and long live circus.’ And I can’t tell you the emotion in that moment for all of us, because we didn’t know if we’d ever get to perform again at one point. We didn’t know what was happening. And same thing with people who are watching. I didn’t expect it to be so powerful. But it’s been really great.”