As Ontario continues to navigate through the post COVID-19 lock-down, slowly life seems to get back to some semblance of normal. But for theaters, it is still a tedious time. Although some theater companies are slowly attempting to reopen, most still find their stage lights darkened and many performers find themselves without a stage or an audience. But in Peterborough, if the audience can’t go to the show, two of the community’s favorite performers are willing to bring the show to you. Actress/writer Megan Murphy and singer/performer Kate Suhr have teamed up to create The Verandah Cafe. Kate and Megan will bring their special brand of heartfelt stories and song to your porch or backyard and perform a socially distanced safe show for an audience of up to fifteen people. This is an opportunity for two of the Kawartha’s biggest talents to entertain in your own space, and bring the warmth that only a live theater experience can.
Like everyone in the arts community, the COVID-19 pandemic brought Kate and Megan’s summer plans to an end when the province shut down last March. “When COVID struck, Kate and I had had various gigs that were all cancelled immediately,” Megan tells me. “Everything from plays to cabarets to MCing gigs. Initially, once the novelty of staying at home and watching Netflix wore off, a little bit of that depression snuck in. When you’re a creator you often think ‘All I need is more time. I just need time to create.’ But suddenly we had time, but the importance wasn’t there, because there was this palpable disease.”
As performers turned to other platforms, such as Zoom and live streams, to find their audience, Megan found herself an observer instead of a participant. “I respect that everybody wants to do something, so we try things,” she says. “I love that about the creative arts. We’ll try this, and if it doesn’t work we’ll try something else. Pivoting is the new term, but creative people have never not done it. Creative arts have always had to pivot. I’ve been impressed with all the interesting ideas that people came up with. But for myself, I never really found a place in that. So I had to sort of wait for the dust to settle for a little bit, and to settle in myself. So Kate and I got quiet for a little while over the last few months, and watched what everyone else was doing and then allowed our own ideas to come to the surface.”
It was by revisiting the writings from a family member from the past that Megan came up with the inspiration for what would become The Veranda Cafe. “I’m a story teller, and I come from a long Irish tradition of storytelling. A seanchai is what it’s called,” explains Megan. “The Verandah Café came from an idea from a story written by my great Uncle Clare Galvin, who was a writer from Peterborough and wrote observational antidotical stories for the Examiner. During all of this I started pulling his books off of the bookshelves and started reading them again, and going on walks around the places that he wrote about from the 1930’s up.”
“I started walking around town, looking for the places he wrote about, and falling in love with Peterborough again and with people I never knew and memories I never had a piece of, and I thought that I love this town,” Megan continues. “He particularly wrote a story called The Verandah Society, where everyone had verandahs and you’d sit on your verandah and talk to your neighbors. I started to think about the stories that had happened, and the lives that had taken place on those verandahs. I started to think about the way we are living now in 2020 that there are a lot of porch visits and back yard visits and it’s the modern equivalent of the Verandah Society.”
Finding this relevant link from the past to our society’s current social situation, Megan enlisted Kate Suhr to bring back music and performance to local audiences in the way that they know best – through humor, heart and music. “I thought that maybe there is a place for storytelling in the traditional sense, and there is always a place for music,” Meg says. “Kate Suhr is one of the most talented people I ever met and her voice is angelic. I always joke that if Dolly Parton and the Indigo Girls had a baby it’d be Kate Suhr. So I figured there is a place where we can do this, tell heart felt stories and sing songs in a 1930’s sort of way.”
Over the past two weeks Kate and Megan have taken numerous bookings and have been bringing their half hour show to audiences homes In Peterborough and the Kawarthas. During their first performances what became clear is that while watching performance on-line has been an interesting phenomenon during a time of crisis, what can never be replaced is the human connection between performers and an audience. “We’ve done our first shows and they’ve been great. The audience can expect 35 minutes to be transported for a little while. It’s a lot of laughter, there has been a bit of tears, it’s heartfelt and homespun and feel good. It’s about connecting again. Someone in an audience said to me “I didn’t know I was missing this so much.” I felt that the same way as a performer, and the audience felt that as an audience, and we were in it together. We didn’t realize we were missing it until we were in it together.”
I’ve been a big fan of Kate and Megan for years, and they are truly two of the most gifted performers in the Kawarthas. Always delightful, professional and truly endearing, the opportunity to have Megan and Kate come to your home to perform a show is something rare and special. Although they have booked most of their shows, there are still a few open dates for The Verandah Cafe, and potentially more coming in the Fall. If you’re heart has been aching for live performance, get together fifteen of your closest friends and get ready to laugh, cry and fall in love with Kate Suhr and Megan Murphy. This is something that the heart needs.
For information to book The Verandah Cafe contact Meg and Kate directly at firstname.lastname@example.org