Surprise of the week: Canadians are unfamiliar with The Three Musketeers. Yes, everyone knows Alexandre Dumas's classic novel coined the phrase, "All for one and one for all."
And yet, perhaps because Disney never made it into a cartoon film, people don't know the whole the story. DuffleBag Theatre wants to change all that.
"People have an idea of the story but they don't really know all the stuff that goes on. It's not as well known as, say, Peter Pan or Robin Hood," says DuffleBag Theatre artistic director and co-founder Marcus Lundgren.
While they will be incorporating the infamous quote along with loads of sword fighting, DuffleBag Theatre does Three Musketeers - and all its plays, in fact - a little differently. With only four professional actors on stage they invite children from the audience to come on stage and act out key characters. The name of the game is improvisation.
"There are times that we get a kid who maybe doesn't want to be quite as outgoing as maybe they could be, but it's our job to make whatever they do part of the show," Lundgren.
But he says these situations are rare. Extroverted, fun-loving children exist in virtually every town that DuffleBag Theatre visits. There really is no region with more talented kids than any other.
"We create such a fun environment that everyone wants to be a part of, so we often draw more out of the kids than the parents or the teachers realize," he says.
DuffleBag Theatre started in 1992 for the London International Children's Festival in London, Ont., and was originally conceived as a one-off for the five-day event. The performers went around the festival with their props and costumes in a big duffle bag, gathered an audience by a tree and performed fairy tales, pulling whatever props were needed from the duffle bag.
Nineteen years later, there are three troupes touring the world at any given time, re-telling spontaneity-prone versions of classic tales, from Hamlet to Sleeping Beauty.
Like all DuffleBag performances, The Three Musketeers has been simplified to its purest good-versus-evil form, featuring basic hero and villain archetypes that even small children will understand and adults will enjoy. Three actors will play various Musketeer roles, including inanimate objects. The narrator has the difficult task of keeping the show on the rails while incorporating the improvisations of the audience members into the narrative.
"(But) we have all the characters defined in a way that it comes together, so that the plot can come out quite easily so that it is improvised," Lundgren says.
"The DuffleBag actors are really skilled at what we do, so we just make sure that everyone shines when we're on stage."
Once in awhile, the show will inspire kids to take up acting full-time. One of the actors on this tour, Meghan Brown, had her first taste of the performing in the seventh grade, when DuffleBag Theatre invited her onstage to play Dracula in their version of the story. She later took up a career in theatre and landed a job with the company.
"We've got this full circle thing going on, which is very exciting to have her in our company as one of our first audience actors turned professional DuffleBag Theatre actors. That gives hope to everybody, doesn't it?"
The show starts at 6:30 p.m. April 28. From 5:15 to 6:15 p.m., the actors will host a pre-performance craft activity where kids can create a royal sword or crowd special for the performance.