A Whistler Vacation brings decade-long ambition to life 

New theatre production debuts as part of the Whistler Writers Festival on Thursday, Oct. 17

click to enlarge Brandon Barrett (left) and Ira Pettle co-wrote A Whistler Vacation, set to debut on Oct. 17. Photo by Claire Aspinall
  • Brandon Barrett (left) and Ira Pettle co-wrote A Whistler Vacation, set to debut on Oct. 17. Photo by Claire Aspinall

Somewhere floating around the resort are 60 pages and 12 songs that belong to the unfinished theatre production Whistler, The Musical.

If you really wanted to find it, you could probably plumb the depths of Ira Pettle's hard drive from nine years ago. "When I first got to Whistler, when I was a fly on the wall, I didn't know anybody, I was shocked to find there was no resort show. No after-dinner theatre attraction," Pettle says. "I made this commitment to be the one to do it. I'm going to write the Whistler show."

So, he set out to achieve that goal in musical form. But, along the way, he became one of Whistler's best-known children's arts educators and entertainers and the project was shuffled to the backburner.

Fast-forward nearly a decade, and he's finally ready to make good on that promise with the premiere of A Whistler Vacation, set to debut on Thursday, Oct. 17 as part of the Whistler Writers Festival.

Pettle paired up with friend, actor, and playwright Brandon Barrett (who is also a journalist and features editor at Pique), back in January to start working on the two-act play.

"We were looking at 2019 with the commitment of stepping up Whistler's performing arts," Pettle says. "We looked at the year and wanted to focus on quality, not quantity, so we mapped out what we wanted to do. We decided we were going to write this play and in the second half of the year, we were going to produce it for the first time."

The pair had worked with the Whistler Writers Festival in the past, producing a comedy writing and performance event called Comedy Quickies. When they pitched the festival the idea of the play this year, organizers jumped onboard.

"That lit a fire under our butts," Pettle says. "We started writing immediately."

While the production marked Pettle's first foray into playwriting, Barrett had two plays and several sketches under his belt when they set to work.

"I have a bit of experience doing some other projects that I'd say were closer to my heart, but this has ... turned into something that I hold near and dear," Barrett adds. "I told Ira at the beginning of this, I'm not into kids' shows. I didn't have much interest in writing a family show, but now that we've finished it, I'm really proud of how it turned out."

In the end, A Whistler Vacation is more "family friendly" than it is a kids' show. It also aims to appeal to both locals and tourists.

The story focuses on a family with a teenage daughter named Cassie (played by Lyric Denbak-Yoshida), her younger brother Jack (Henry Kennea), and parents who are navigating some marital turmoil (Barrett playing the father, Toby, and Sara Marrocco as the mom, Tessa). They head to Whistler for a ski vacation and on their first day on the mountain, Cassie becomes frustrated with the attention her brother is getting and throws his teddy bear, Theo, off the chairlift. (Pettle dons a stifling teddy bear costume to take on that role.)

"Their story begins and it's all about finding the bear," Pettle says. "The bear, meanwhile, wakes up having just been tossed into the woods and now he's free. That begins his journey into becoming a real Whistler bear."

His character encounters a well-connected local cougar (played by Tara Bowland) who becomes his "spirit guide into becoming a real bear."

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Whistler, Curtis Trundleberry (Adam Snow) joins the search party for the lost toy with the underlying goal of endearing himself to voters. Rounding out the cast is Jeanette Bruce playing Trundleberry's assistant, Myrtle Philip (a nod to the real-life Whistler pioneer).

"We tap into Whistlery things," Pettle says.

"We call them local Easter eggs buried throughout the show. But we also wrote it like a Disney Pixar film in that kids will get it on a level and adults will hear it on a level as well. There's plenty of adult humour in a family-friendly production."

After the festival show—which they expect to be packed with friends, family, and locals—they will perform the play again in December at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

"We want this show to stand on its own, but it will be an opportunity to see what works, what doesn't and how we can tweak it," Barrett says. "The Fairmont show is really the litmus test to see if this will be brought back in future years."

Catch A Whistler Vacation on Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Tickets are $22 at whistlerwritersfest.ticketleap.com/reading-event-3-a-whistler-vacation.

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