This ain't your granddaddy's version of Robin Hood, that's for sure.
The benches can talk, the trees in Sherwood Forest regularly chime in with a cheery, "Sure would!" and the star in this interactive production from Toronto's Dufflebag Theatre is not listed on the playbill. Why you ask? Well because, like every other production from the family-friendly theatre troupe, the lead is plucked from the audience and thrust into the spotlight at a moment's notice along with a handful of other characters.
"Every Dufflebag Theatre performance involves people from the audience playing the main parts, and Robin Hood is a perfect example of that," says artistic director and Dufflebag founder Marcus Lundgren. "It's really fun for us because people come to the show thinking they're only going to be in the audience watching, but all of a sudden they have a starring role and they get a moment to shine in the spotlight."
The 20-member theatre company has been staging its own wacky versions of classic stories for more than two decades, and performs nearly 700 shows a year all across the globe.
When they're not on tour, Dufflebag actors regularly workshop these classic tales to fit their timeframe and audience, and Lundgren explained the rationale behind putting a unique spin on time-tested stories.
"I think it adds a different element for the audience in terms of their participation and their expectation if they go to see a show they think they already know and watch how majorly we've changed it and the fun we have with them," he says. "It's not like (the audience) is having to listen for the very first time to understand what's going on. They get it right from the beginning, as soon as you change it, they're like, 'Wait a second, there's no chicken in Robin Hood!'"
The response to these interactive and partially improvised performances has been nothing short of tremendous, giving youngsters accustomed to more static forms of entertainment the chance to catch a unique show that will never repeat itself again, Lundgren says. Last summer when Dufflebag was putting on a series of shows in community centres across Mississauga, On., many kids would even come back to check out numerous repeat performances in a span of only a few days, he adds.
"You put in your favourite DVD, pause it, come back and it's still the same movie, but with our show, even if you see the same show four or five times they're all different with our audience actors playing the parts," says Lundgren. "Kids want to watch it over and over again because they're so much a part of it, they still get the jokes and yet that's when they realize how different it is each time."
The troupe has even ventured to such far-flung locales as Brunei, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, and Lundgren said the shows are still a hit with audiences who may not be fluent in English.
"The one thing we've realized is that even if people have a very rudimentary knowledge of English, if there's something happening on stage, like somebody falls down and it's not you, that's comedy in any language," he says.
Making the kids the star also serves another unintended purpose, one that goes beyond just putting the crowd
in stitches. It helps parents see their kids in an entirely different light when they're up on stage, according to Lundgren.
"As parents we all see our kids one way, but if you give them another mask and a chance to pretend to be something else, then they can shine with this incredible ability," he says.
It's just one of the many reasons Lundgren loves his day job, although he wouldn't exactly call it work.
"We started this 22 years ago and it still never feels like work," he says. "That's how you know you're doing what you should be doing."
Come and be a star in Dufflebag Theatre's production of Robin Hood on Saturday, March 1 at Millennium Place. The show starts at 4:30 p.m. and tickets are $21.50 or $12.50 for kids 12 and under. Seniors and students pay $16.50, while Whistler Arts Council members pay $19.50. Tickets are available at the Millennium Place box office or online at www.artswhistler.com.
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