Last month, Short Skirt Theatre sold out all three performances of its pantomime A Long Time Ago (In A Ski Resort Far, Far Away). It was a celebrated string of performances that has resulted in a scheduled fourth performance during this year's TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival, replacing the annual (and much beloved) Chairlift Revue.
Not only was this a success for Short Skirt, it was a success for Whistler's performing arts. The town has been void of any live theatre for the last few years until last November, starting with the first of Michele Bush's Whistler Town Party series (the third installment is slated for Thursday, April 5) and Short Skirt Theatre's pantomime.
As the town's various stakeholders plan for boosting Whistler's cultural offerings, theatre frequently floats around as one aspect that needs to be refined in order to attract the types of visitors who can afford to spend a week in town with their families.
For over 20 years, various groups and individuals have attempted to establish a Whistler-based theatre group that could provide regular programming to appeal to both locals and visitors. There have been some successes but these have been few and far between. For the most part, Whistler's theatre scene has been characterized by a lack of one.
"I believe that theatre is an art form that relies on a larger number of people," says Doti Niedermayer, executive director of the Whistler Arts Council. "It's a group effort. Very few plays are one-handers or two-handers and so, generally, theatre is something that you need more people around to create."
She says the original passion for theatre has never existed in Whistler in any large number, so it has never grown beyond a very small core of enthusiasts.
And yet, as the Resort Municipality of Whistler moves forward with its 2012 Festival Events & Animation strategy, it is seeking new ways to make Whistler more culturally relevant as a way to attract more visitors. Jan Jansen, the RMOW's manager of resort experience, said in his report to council on March 6 that theatre was one of the avenues being looked at.
And why not? Squamish has a successful theatre troupe in Between Shifts Theatre. Nelson has a lively theatre scene, as do small communities all over the world.
But revving up Whistler's theatre offerings is no easy task. It's not something that can be easily assembled and, according to Todd Talbot, who along with Zaib Shaikh launched the ill-fated Whistler Theatre Project in the summer of 2005 with A Midsummer's Night Dream, it requires support from the entire community.
"Especially in a community the size of Whistler, it needs to be a priority," he says.