Danny Saretsky and Regina Rios in Unity 1918 at the Canadian College of Performing Arts in November 2019. (Andrew Barrett Photo/CCPA)

Life mimics art for actors in play about pandemic

Performers from Oak Bay theatre school see parallels with recent play based on 1918 Spanish flu

As a pair of Victoria-based performers sit on the couch of a rented suite in isolation this week, they can’t help but think of all the similarities they’re seeing in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Danny Saretsky, 22, and Regina Rios, 23, moved here to study the theatre program at the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay. In November, they performed lead roles in the stage production of Unity 1918, a play by Kevin Kerr in which the Spanish flu disrupts the small community of Unity, Sask.

“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Saretsky, who played Stan, a new father who is recovering after his wife died in childbirth. “It’s disturbingly parallel.”

Performers Danny Saretsky and Regina Rios during a Zoom chat this week. The two starred in Unity 1918, a movie set in the 1918 flu pandemic, and are now finding it a bit uncanny that they are under self-isolation just a few months later. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

READ ALSO: Love and humour shine during a time of death in Unity, 1918

In particular, it’s society’s reaction to the virus that stands out. The nation was still grieving the 56,638 Canadian military members who died in the First World War. To this day the number of people killed by the Spanish influenza ranges in estimate from 20 to 100 million people worldwide, about 55,000 people in Canada and 650,000 in the U.S.

“[It’s kind of the same as] how people were [recently] exaggerating, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ while others stocked up on toilet paper,” said Rios, who played Sunna, a young Icelandic woman who becomes the town mortician.

Amid the chaos of death, in which there aren’t enough coffins for the dead, Sunna and Stan find romance.

In Unity, as it was back then, things were typically slower. But with the flu, things changed quickly day-to-day.

The schools are closed. Physical contact is forbidden and there is a town curfew.

“Basically, all fun things were canceled then too,” Saretsky said. “The town people were quarreling with one another, not because of illness, but because of fear of illness.”

The actors even played out the same responses we’re seeing now, especially mistrust of people who travelled internationally.

“Even though people sought a human connection, travellers were met with a ‘please get away from me,’ vibe,” Saretsky said.

“They didn’t really understand the flu,” Rios said. “The flu hit Regina [Sask.], so they knew it was coming in, but they didn’t know how it spread, they thought being downwind would spread it. It was being spread with the soldiers coming home from the war.”

READ ALSO: Celebrities urge Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

There were mass graves and misinformation.

When CCPA last staged Unity 1918 on Dec. 1 there was no sign of a global pandemic unfolding.

The two graduated in February and went their separate ways. Rios joined local troupe Story Theatre and was touring preschools with the show The Very First Circus.

“Of course, going school to school was not ideal, so that was canceled [early],” Rios said.

Saretsky was in the middle of a vacation tour with his father to the United States and Europe.

“We were in Boston when we made the decision to follow recommendations and come home,” Saretsky said.

If it goes ahead as planned, Saretsky is headed to Vancouver this summer to intern at the annual Bard & the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver.

Now the two are stuck, together at least, in an Airbnb suite, until things change.

“We did jazzercise today, a ‘90s jazzercise funk workout on YouTube,” Saretsky said.

“Support artists if you can, it’s a tough time for all of us,” Rios said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria transit usage sees gradual rise

Ridership still down 66 per cent compared to last year

VIDEO: View Royal resident spots cougar in nearby backyard

B.C. Conservation notified about early Thursday morning sighting

People-less protest in Victoria holds space for victims of police brutality, systematic racism

People are asked to come learn the names of the lives lost to the hands of racism

Greater Victoria tourism industry ‘can’t wait any longer’ for financial aid

Saanich mayor, business owners call on provincial, federal governments for tourism-specific aid

Pauquachin First Nation calls on North Saanich to help restore shellfish in Coles Bay

The nation identifies ‘residential onsite septic systems’ as one of sources of contamination

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Ontario Long Term Care Association calling for more action

Horgan calls for national anti-racism program; will pitch idea to PM, premiers

Premier John Horgan said he’s horrified by the death of George Floyd in the United States

Most Read