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Short Skirt Theatre goes sci-fi

A Long Time Ago plays at Millennium Place

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Hollywood can be a scary place. Make one wrong move and bigwigs might snuff you out in a second. They might not kill but they can sue for everything you're worth, making you wish you were dead.

And so, Short Skirt Theatre is taking every precaution that its first show in six years will see its three-night run at Millennium Place. Entitled A Long Time Ago (In a Ski Resort Far, Far Away), the play takes inspiration from a certain 1977 science fiction film of considerable repute. If director/producer Heather Paul, or any media for that matter, were to name this movie the loveable, ever-affable lawyers at 20th Century Fox could shut it down for copyright infringement.

"I haven't broken any laws — I've been very careful," Paul says with a laugh. "I just don't want to risk it."

The fear was spurred, in part, by Between Shifts Theatre's foiled production of The Princess Bride last March when Fox's lawyers issued a cease and desist order after the company failed to acquire the necessary copyrights.

All the precautions were taken because, basically, Paul really, seriously loves this particular 1977 science fiction film and wants to honour it with this Whistler-centric spoof.

"We've done lots of plays based on fairy tales, most of them Disney or just, you know, Brothers Grimm — Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan. This time around, I wanted to do something that would change my focus and reinvigorate me because it has been a six-year hiatus that Short Skirt has taken between plays," she says.

She's a self-described "dork" who seems to gain immense satisfaction from placing certain beloved science fiction characters into a Whistler context. It will feature characters loosely based on characters from the film, as they might exist in a ski-resort: one character will be dressed in gold and walking stiffly around the stage. Another, more malevolent, black-helmeted character will cause problems for all concerned, and so on.

"We've always been a play for young kids and adults alike but we're refocusing for a more underground following as well," she says. "We really nailed that with Peter Pan (the last Short Skirt production in 2006), which was why I was afraid to do another play, to be honest. I didn't think I could do any better than a boy who never grows up and lives in Whistler."

But the artist's fear of failure was only one element that caused the hiatus. In the interim, Paul had a baby and then had to cope with her husband's life-threatening brain cancer diagnosis. In the past year, during his diagnosis and recovery she discovered a profound support from the community she lives in and suddenly, she says, her fear of writing a new play seemed rather petty in comparison. A Long Time Ago is her way of saying thank-you to the community for the support they've given her family.

The play is adapted from a British pantomime, which Paul re-wrote during the municipal election last fall. It will touch on many of the past year's most topical local issues — pay parking, the asphalt plant, Whistler Olympic Plaza and so on.

Yes, it seems that only plays about Whistler are ever produced in this town, and so it is with this one. But Paul has a good reason for doing it this time around — she says the town is in dire, desperate need of a laugh at itself.

"I want everyone to laugh at ourselves and be happy again and see each other's point of view, celebrate each other's point of view instead of, I don't know, disregarding it," she says.

"Whistler needs to go back to the sandbox and really look at how we were taught to listen and to celebrate points of view," she continues. "And I see that developing. In the last six months, I can see everyone really starting to listen to each other."

She says this is not a play specifically geared toward Whistler adults either. The sci-fi references and song-and-dance routines will likely appeal to young kids and much of the topical content is universal for many adults, Whistlerites or not.

"Ten per cent might go over their (non-locals) heads but not really. Parking is something that every town deals with. While this pay parking phenomenon was going on, I'm paying for parking to pay for my husband's radiation treatments at the BC Cancer Society. Everyone faces it! If you're living in any town with a council and you pay taxes, nothing will go over your head."

The cast includes the usual suspects involved with local theatre (including Pique's own G.D. Maxwell), along with some newbies. The actors have been practicing two nights a week for the last three months. Ticket sales will cover production costs and, Paul hopes, raise enough seed money for another Short Skirt play.

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