Whistler kids hoping to break out into the performing arts may soon have their chance when Dufflebag Theatre rolls into town this week.
The children's theatre troupe reworks classic stories and fairy tales by inviting audience members to play important roles. When they bring Rumplestiltskin to Millennium Place, anyone in the audience could very well play the part of the impish antagonist.
"Someone described it as theatrical karaoke," says Dufflebag Theatre artistic director and co-founder Marcus Lundgren, who will also be one of four actors performing at Millennium Place. "I like that in a way, because people who aren't necessarily actors get to come on stage and perform and be the star of the show, in a safe environment that's fun."
One actor will narrate the story while three other actors play roles as varied as major characters to inanimate objects. Audience members will then play the remaining roles.
"Whenever we get to a part where we need a certain character, let's say the King of Bavaria or something like that, the narrator goes into the audience and finds someone who will fit the part," Lundgren says. "Quite often it's the kids, sometimes it's parents, who knows?"
He says the performances are characterized by their spontaneity, which means plenty of improvisation by the performers. The audience never quite knows what to expect. Participants will often act out things they think the character should be doing, which the narrator may not be expecting, so it's then the narrator's job to make whatever happens a part of the story.
"It's definitely challenging," Lundgren says. "It's like taking someone along for a walk on a tight rope (but) it's actually a lot of fun. The people know right at the beginning of the show what kind of fun we're going to have, and they're gung-ho to join in and be a part of it. The ones that are little bit shyer, that's fine, we'll take whatever they have to offer."
These are evenings for the whole family. While the children tend to go bananas over this type of humour-and-energy infused re-telling of their favorite fairy tales, the parents have a common bond with the characters and stories as well.
What Lundgren has found is when Dufflebag Theatre returns to a town or city for the second, third and fourth time; there are more adult audience members each time around. Since they're the ones paying for the tickets, the troupers have made certain that the evening is as entertaining for them as it is for the kids.
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 dufflebag, gathered an audience by a tree and performed fairy tales, pulling whatever props were needed from the dufflebag.
Nineteen years later, there are18 people involved in the organization, with three troupes on the go at any one time. Over 600 performances are done every year around the world, from Hamilton to Brunei, re-telling a wide array of stories from Hamlet to Sleeping Beauty.
"We try to find stories that a lot of people will know so when we do our version, they'll laugh along with us for the changes," Lundgren says. "We'll throw in lots of contemporary stuff to bring it up to speed for kids who are growing up in the Nintendo, Wii and Teletoon era."
He says Rumplestiltskin has remained an endearing tale over the centuries because, like all great fairy tales, it was originally a lesson in what not to do: don't make deals with strangers, in this case, because it could lead to some very troubling circumstances.
But even more than that, the troupe of the impish mischief maker, characterized through Rumplestiltskin himself, has captured the fancy of children for centuries finding its way into modern times with characters as varied as Shrek and Stimpy.
As for who will be playing Rumplestiltskin, an actor or an audience member, Lundgren is keeping mum.
It's up to the audience to come and see. But Lundgren promises one thing: "It is going to be the story of Rumplestiltskin but I can guarantee it won't be the exact word for word translation of the Brothers Grimm version."