Believe it or not, the chairlift is a universal storytelling instrument. It's ever changing — like all chairlifts it carries one group of passengers, then another group, and another — and yet it remains exactly the same.
Along with this is the fact that it's up in the air so there is no escape, the ride lasts a finite amount of time, and the folks sharing a chairlift can be mixed. Really mixed.
All this makes perfect street theatre that deserves its place on a real stage.
And that is the premise behind the wonderful, hilarious (and sometimes poignant) Chairlift Revue, which will be part of the new Great Outdoors Festival (GO Fest) on Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at Millennium Place theatre.
For years now, local writers and actors have used a real chairlift conveniently placed on stage to tell their tales and the event has had several homes, most recently with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival.
Writer (and Pique columnist) G.D. Maxwell was part of the team who brought the chairlift to the people "somewhere around 1996, I guess."
The chairlift does not judge, he says. It'll take anybody, which is what makes it so good as a storytelling vehicle.
He recalls: "Back in the day there was a real problem doing theatre in Whistler, because A. There's no theatre, B. There's no rehearsal space, C. Nobody ever gets paid. It was an act of love and everybody, the director, the actors, everybody, just did it for free."
Maxwell says CBC designer Stan Langtry, who was involved with the Whistler Players at the time, deserves the honours of coming up with the idea.
"Stan said, 'You know what? I've got this idea. What if we did plays based on conversations on chairlifts?' Because they wouldn't require any props, a couple of stools on the stage, they wouldn't require any costumes, everybody's got that stuff in their closets. It would be fairly easy to learn because the skits would only be as long as a chairlift ride. And I said 'That's a great idea, Stan.' Cool."
Then Langtry asked Maxwell to write some of the first plays in order to see how it would go.
"So I wrote a couple and we presented one or two one night to the other people involved in the Whistler Players and they thought it was cool. It solves a lot of (staging) problems, because you can rehearse in somebody's living room," Maxwell says.
It was an ad hoc event, taking place around Whistler at venues like the Garibaldi Lift Company, until becoming a closing night event at the WSSF from 2008 to 2013.
Local actress and filmmaker Angie Nolan, who took over producing the Chairlift Revue from Maxwell this year, explained why they moved the date this year.
"We usually did it at the Rainbow Theatre, which has been under construction," she says. "We are not usually up against very much, but this year (the WSSF) had an awesome, full, schedule and we would have been up against too much on the last night."
Organizers, including producer Michele Bush and stage manager Amanda Bouchard, decided to put the revue on the shelf, crossing their fingers that it would find a home later in the year.
"Somebody said you should do it for GO Fest, it's a perfect fit. It fits their whole mandate," says Nolan. "They have these excellent things that they are doing (For more information visit www.greatoutdoorsfest.com): outdoor stuff, film screenings, talks, events — and there wasn't a theatre component so we thought the Chairlift Revue was perfect."
This year, eight skits by six writers are on offer: Beautiful Day by Anita Burleson, Restaurant Wars and Whistler Mom by Karen McLeod, Waiting for the Top by Stephen Vogler, Chairway to Heaven by (Pique reporter) Brandon Barrett, Sugar Daddy and The Player by Michele Bush, and I'm a Local by Nolan, herself.
"They're really short and sweet, some are in parts — we introduce characters and you think it's the last time you'll see them but then they come back again," Nolan says.
"It's still community theatre, grassroots — it's locals telling local stories, usually in a funny, hysterical way and making fools of themselves. It's a little window into what life is like here."
In the past, there have been wrestlers, lots of simulated sex, more than one drunk, more than one Australian, and plenty of toques.
Then there was the memorable 2008 show when Nolan's husband, Fish Boulton, went off script and proposed to her, bringing down the house. A video on YouTube of the magic moment has been viewed 175,000 times.
Having taken part in the Chairlift Revue for years as an actor, Nolan is now contributing a story for the first time.
"I decided to poke fun a little bit at (recent arrivals) — we love them, we work with them, we ski with them — but they are here for one season and they want to call themselves a local," she says. "So I have this lovely British fellow get on the chairlift and proceeds to tell everyone how to become a Whistler local after his first season, because he knows it all."
Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at Millennium Place.
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