A midsummer night’s launch 

New Whistler Theatre Project debuting in August 2006

A new Whistler theatre company has set its course for a midsummer night’s launch next year.

The Whistler Theatre Project will function initially as a repertory company producing summer shows of classical, contemporary and musical theatre, with long-range plans to expand into a multi-show festival following the lead of premier events such as the Stratford Festival and the Shaw Festival.

The inaugural Whistler Theatre Project production is the classic Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be staged Aug. 4 through Sept. 3, 2006 outdoors in Creekside.

"(The play) is a great fit with one of the key mandates of this company – to bring together the beauty of Whistler and the magic of theatre," artistic producer Zaib Shaikh said. "That’s why we want to do it in an open-backed tent so that people/visitors would see the backdrop of mountains… as well as experience in front of that backdrop, great theatre."

The project was conceived approximately a year and a half ago out of a series of "kitchen table discussions" involving Shaikh, fellow artistic producer Todd Talbot and director of operations Lynn Mae Mirfield – all of whom were acquainted through the Vancouver theatre community.

Determining Whistler to be an ideal locale to nurture their concept, the trio began talks with the organizations comprising the Whistler Events Bureau (Whistler-Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and the Resort Municipality of Whistler) and the Whistler Arts Council in November 2004.

Their timing couldn’t have been better. A winter of sub-optimal snow conditions, punctuated by a three-week period of incessant rain in January 2005, had also driven home the importance of alternatives to outdoor recreation for the future of Whistler. Coupled with the void of flagship high-culture events once occupied by such past initiatives as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s mountaintop performance series, the soil was fertile for the Whistler Theatre Project concept.

The three masterminds are relatively young, the greybeard among them Talbot who clocks in at 32 years old. But the wealth of experience between them includes work with renowned stage companies throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Sage advice has arrived by way of esteemed mentors, internationally renowned actor, director and playwright Morris Panych, and award-winning designer Ken MacDonald, both of whom are credited as "artistic advisors" for the Whistler Theatre Project.

Youth extends beyond the founding team to the programming. Accompanying the launch of the first production will be the launch of the Project’s Youth Theatre Conservatory, which will host intensive training seminars for the 17-and-under set, and internship-style work experience programs for those over 17 trying to break into the world of theatre.

In terms of the repertoire (which will not be exclusively Shakespearean), a broader age range is being sought.

"A play like A Midsummer Nights Dream is a celebration of the outdoors and also is a celebration of spectacle," Talbot said. "It’s a romantic play; it’s a magical play for children. It’s an exciting play where people move from the city into the forest and we felt it really keyed in to a large number of the demographic that would be coming up and watching this."

The project members’ ambitions regarding the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games are no secret, with the founders stating up front that the "long-range plan is to have this theatre festival be an intrinsic part of Whistler's community development before, during and after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games."

Although all three are quick to say that the project would still be attractive regardless of the potential involvement with the Olympic Arts Festival.

"Games or no Games, it’s a perfect fit," Talbot said, remarking that the eventual goal is the establishment of a Stratford-modeled multi-performance theatre festival rather than an Olympic dream.

"There’s definitely been talk of the cultural evolution of Whistler and where things are going," Shaikh remarked. "Whistler now has a film festival that’s quite well known, the (Whistler Music and Arts) festival is coming along, the children’s art festival. But Whistler doesn’t have professional theatre."

Added Talbot: "we’re proud to be pioneers."

Local auditions to take place in December

The Whistler Theatre Project will be holding auditions for the upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Whistler on Dec. 7. The location is yet to be determined. For more information go to www.whistlertheatreproject.com.


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