A&E » Arts

Encounters on Whistler’s ‘park bench’

TWSSF’s Chairlift Revue offers scintillating snapshots of on-mountain meetings



What: Chairlift Revue

When: Sunday, April 26, 8 p.m.

Where: Rainbow Theatre

Cost: $10

So, we all know what's really at the heart of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival, right? It's the talent, energy and spirit of the people of Whistler. And where better to witness said charms at work than at the annual Chairlift Revue?

For those not in the know, the Chairlift Review offers up a rare opportunity to see the community's finest writers, actors and orators at work, on stage, right here in our own backyard. They offer up an assortment of snapshots - vignettes, really - from Whistler life, all told from the safety (or precarious perch) of the chairlift or gondola.

Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell not only plays host for the evening, he's the man responsible for digging up and refining scripts for the short skits from a variety of sources, which isn't exactly the easiest task.

"I usually start cajoling every writer I know who has submitted a script in the past, or who has indicated any interest in submitting a script, or who I think may be shamed into submitting a script, usually in November," he said.

The revue is the perfect event for a theatre-hungry ski town like Whistler.

"This is something that's so us, it's so local. Everybody who either lives here or visits here, the chairlift is, I hate to say, one of those iconic things. It is the park bench in this town, so it resonates with people. And pretty much everybody, except the hardcore iPod set, have gotten into a kind of interesting conversation on chairlifts, either with the people they're with or the people who were complete strangers when they sat down, and who were even stranger when they got off!"

After the New Year, Maxwell steps up his persuasion tactics and puts the pressure on to yield the best possible scripts, most of which are humorous, but some that touch on more serious subject matter.

Past skits include the tale of Survivorman, a nerdy actuary played by Leslie Anthony, who spends the duration of his time on the lift outlining the various ways one can get injured or killed on or around the chairlifts.

"It was just brilliant," Maxwell recalled.

For the 2009 Chairlift Revue, he's apparently managed to uncover some real gems that will be acted out by an equally impressive roster of talent, featuring performances by characters like Mike Varrin, Angie Nolan, Chris Quinlan, Karen and Brooke Playfair, and Bronwen Thornburn.

Heather Paul has taken on the role of director this year for the sure-to-be-rollicking production. On Tuesday morning, she was still busily searching for an Ullr costume.

"Which you think would be easy in a ski town," she said.

A founding member of Whistler's Short Skirt Theatre group, and past participant in the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown, Paul is no stranger to the stage.

"It's definitely snapshots and vignettes on Whistler life, and also ridiculous exaggerations on ungodly truths," she said with a laugh. "We have a very bitter Ullr on the chairlift ready to move to Mexico."

There's another vignette featuring a wingless cupid, stuck on a gondola with some very annoying people.

But not all of this year's skits are in jest.

"Leslie Anthony has made a beautiful ode to some cherished people that we've lost over the year," she added. "And there's lots of them. I think, particularly this year, his monologue is going to ring very true."

But the revue is still very much intended to be an uplifting event, particularly for locals.

"We know the community and because we're part of it, we all want everyone to have a cathartic experience," Paul said.

"This year has been so hard for us, there are a lot of people going through a lot of things... I think this is an opportunity to just go back to the place that brought us all here and the reason why we do what we do."

Last year, there was a big surprise in store for the audience when two of the actors, Angie Nolan and Fish Boulton, got engaged onstage at the end of their skit.

Maxwell and Paul agree that they're going to have a hard time topping that act, but Paul hinted that there may be some big surprises in store.

"Mike is there, and he is a reverend, and Angie and Fish are looking for a time and place to get married," Paul said. "So I'm not making any promises, but you never know!"

And just think: even if there are no on-stage nuptials, for a mere $10, you can catch a song and dance performance by none other than G.D. Maxwell himself.

"It's fun, it's entertaining, and it's cheap. I mean, boy, that's like hitting the trifecta. Now, if we could only figure out a way to serve free beer..." Maxwell trailed off.

And due to some "colourful" language, Paul points out that parental guidance is advised.