I make the mistake of asking Jay Hamburger, 50-year theatre veteran, director, producer and driving force behind Vancouver stage company Theatre in the Raw, what motivated him to take part in Whistler’s “tiny little arts festival,” Flag Stop.
“Now, wait a minute! Who’s calling it tiny?” Hamburger exclaims. “First of all, it’s right up our alley. Ole’ Stephen Vogler [festival director] has got it on a floating stage. Well, that’s pretty awesome to say. We’ve toured, we’ve performed outdoors, we’ve performed in ballparks, and now we’re performing on a floating stage!”
Entering its 10th year, the Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival will for the first time involve three different theatre groups: Whistler’s own Flag Stop Theatre Program, Squamish’s Between Shifts Theatre and the aforementioned Theatre in the Raw. Six of the plays are directed by Kathy Daniels and Amy Reid, with the seventh directed by Hamburger.
“It is still a community arts festival, but this does, I think, legitimize and keep the level as high as it can be,” says Vogler, who also serves as the artistic director of the festival’s home venue, the Point Artist-Run Centre.
Featuring seven short comedic plays penned by Katherine Fawcett, Joseph T. Leander, John McGie, Janice Carroll, Steve Karp and myself, the cast of 20 actors are a mix of dedicated locals and established talents such as Jacques Lalonde, a seasoned Vancouver actor who has appeared in everything from Sesame Street to Da Vinci’s Inquest, and will star in Fawcett’s adaptation of one of her short stories, “The Devil and Ms. Nora.” Then there’s Hamburger, who, on paper at least, might seem a surprising inclusion to Whistler’s “little festival that could,” as Vogler calls it. A Carnegie Melon alum who co-wrote a song for the 1960s Broadway hit, Godspell, Hamburger’s long theatrical CV belies his deep sense of humility. In fact, when it comes down to it, Hamburger’s grassroots approach to theatre more closely aligns with Flag Stop than any glitzy Broadway production ever could.
“With the theatre, if I can give the actors a smudge of experience of the old way live theatre used to be, which is varied audiences, live stage performances—anything can go wrong—then I will,” he says. “We do unusual, awakening and daring theatre and this is all part of it. Plus, I really liked what I saw last year. I actually considered it an honour that [Vogler] asked us.”
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t share an anecdote Hamburger told me after watching last year’s show. Complimenting the cast in his effusive way for weathering the chilly, windy conditions on the floating dock, he goes on to tell me how, in the ‘60s, he dealt with some challenging conditions of his own as a member of the West Virginia Repertory Company. Touring coal-mining towns at the height of the Vietnam War, the company would perform provocative poems by revolutionary German theatre pioneer—and noted Communist—Bertolt Brecht. Turns out one of the townspeople got word of Brecht’s leftist leanings and went to the local papers, effectively running the troupe out of town. So yeah, if Hamburger et al. can endure the ire of an entire southern mining town, I’m sure we can deal with a little rain.)
Flag Stop first began when Vogler wanted to make use of the Point’s idyllic setting by staging a live play on the floating dock. Initially held over one night, the festival has since doubled in length, attracting a coterie of performers from across B.C., and in 2019, went on the road for the first time, touring the Sunshine Coast. And while it may lack the spotlight placed on Whistler’s better-known festivals, for those in the know, it’s a can’t-miss date on the calendar that harkens back to the resort’s simpler days.
“It’s true that it’s caught on in circles of people who are interested in it and have been to it. But what I do like is that it’s spreading to the arts world outside of Whistler,” Vogler says. “It’s never going to be a huge Whistler event because people like mountain bikes and gigantic rock concerts or whatever, but if people in Vancouver and Seattle and Victoria and Toronto hear about it then I think that’s a great way for it to grow.”
Set for Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, Flag Stop will also feature aerial silks from Treeline Aerial and live music from Vancouver singer-songwriter Xhalida September on the Friday night, and Blyss the lovelorn clown and Victoria’s husband-and-wife duo, The Zonnis, on Saturday. The festivities will take place outdoors under the festival tent and attendance will be capped at 80 each night. Each night will feature the same lineup of plays.
Tickets are $30 for the show only, or $50 with dinner, courtesy of Aphrodite’s Organic Café, available at thepointartists.com. The festival will also be livestreamed, and tickets for that are $10.