A&E » Arts

The lore of the lifts

The Chairlift Revue explores the human dramas of a ski resort from a comfortable perch



What: The Chairlift Revue

When: Sunday, April 25, 7 p.m.

Where: Rainbow Theatre

Cost: $10

Anyone who has spent time in the mountains has a memorable chairlift moment: an odd encounter with a stranger, interesting conversation or moment of pure panic when the lift stops midway up the hill for a prolonged period of time. These are all familiar scenes to residents and visitors to ski resorts like Whistler.

This Sunday evening, some of these real-life vignettes will be acted out on the stage of the Rainbow Theatre as part of the annual tradition known as The Chairlift Revue.

Pique columnist G.D. Maxwell will act as emcee for the event again this year. He's been involved in the theatre project since it was founded in the mid-90s.

"The Whistler Players were looking for something that they could mount fairly easily that didn't require a lot of sets, costumes, rehearsal," Maxwell explained.

Then, four years ago, organizers of the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival saw fit to incorporate the grassroots theatrical project into the festival's cultural schedule.

"It seems to work really well. I think the first year, we did it sort of mid-week and it was a real bear because so many of the people in town who like to act are involved in the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown, and that's always Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So we were scrambling to find actors and some of the ones we did get, of course, hadn't slept in three days, so it was kind of tense."

Organizers opted to move the Chairlift Revue to the last Sunday of the festival to solve the problems with burnt-out actors. An added, incidental benefit of this repositioning has been that the Revue has become a real locals event, as most visitors and media have left town by the end of the festival's second weekend.

"They're partied out, they're getting back to the city because Monday's a work day," Maxwell said. "It's very much become a local thing; we fill Rainbow Theatre basically with locals, fortunately even beyond just friends of the actors."

While the subject matter may resonate particularly well with Whistler residents, the underlying themes are universal, even among the gapers who spend their vacations in a ski resort.

"They're going to have had the experience of either having somebody single onto a chair with them or them single onto a chair with some other people who somehow just manage to get into weird conversations," Maxwell said.

"Sometimes you do it on purpose and sometimes you don't even notice you do it and all of a sudden you realize, 'oh, I bet that sounded really weird to that person.'"

Since the event's inception in the mid-90s, an imaginative group of local writers and all-around creative minds have taken the concept and run with it, coming up with a range of creative skits, from the completely hilarious and ridiculous to the heart-wrenching.

"Almost everything that everyone sends in has humour somewhere in its DNA," Maxwell added.

Last year, Leslie Anthony had the crowd enthralled with his monologue about death.

"The audience was spellbound," Maxwell recalled. "The silence was amazing."

This year, Maxwell was impressed by the abundance of content that came in, which made his job of sorting through and working with the writers to cultivate their ideas into workable scripts all the more difficult.

"This year, I think largely because of the Olympics, pretty much everything has an element of humour to it. We're all over the place this year: man, we have murder, we have mayhem, we have sex, a poignant coming-of-age story," he laughed.

Without tipping his hand too much, Maxwell explained that this year's performance will include a serialized skit, broken up into four parts, which will be presented in between the other skits.

"It sort of follows two people on four different chair rides who, while they'd managed to get amorous the night before, they'd committed the cardinal sin of then skiing with each other the next day."

Another features the Olympic mascots and a quintessential Canadian take on the traditional boy-meets-girl story, "but it's got some seriously twisted twists to it," Maxwell laughed.

"We've got one story about a guy who just can't seem to get out of Olympic mode, much to the chagrin of his wife and friends. He's just stuck in Smurfville, again!"

Anyone who attended last year's show already knows what a gongshow of a goodtime this event can be: the 2009 Revue featured Maxwell playing ukulele and singing, and a cast musical performance of Rob Boyd Is God to wrap up the evening. And this year, people can expect a similarly entertaining wrap to the evening.

"There is, of course, in the grand tradition of the Chairlift Revue, a surprise finish," Maxwell hinted.

Get your tickets to this show early, because organizers were turning people away at the door last year.