Become Belle or the Beast 

Dufflebag Theatre puts creative twist on traditional fairy tales for kids and the young at heart


What: Dufflebag Theatre presents Beauty and the Beast

When: Saturday, May 1, 7 p.m.

Where: MY Millennium Place

Admission: $14 adults, $10 kids, seniors & WAC members

It's the wildest dream of any kid (and even some adults) to step onto the stage and straight into their favourite fairy tale.

Well, that's what's set to happen at MY Millennium Place this week, as the Dufflebag Theatre troupe rolls back into Whistler for a performance of Beauty and the Beast. The pantomime masters have become a favourite with the local kiddie set, wowing crowds with their hilarious renditions of classics like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty as part of the Whistler Arts Council's annual Performance Series. And this time around is sure to be no exception, as the troupe returns with their improvisational show that thrusts audience members into the spotlight.

Marcus Lundgren, artistic director and actor with Dufflebag, helped found the company back in 1992. What started out as a one-time, five-day gig at the London International Children's Festival in Lundgren's hometown of London, Ontario, took on a life of its own as other festivals and tour groups began requesting an appearance by the Dufflebag group. Today, the company has a loyal following, not only here in North America, but internationally. They have three troupes touring the world, performing in almost 600 shows each year.

Their concept is unique, simple and apparently, quite effective: they offer up a fun-filled and hilarious evening of interactive storytelling theatre, featuring a slightly-skewed version of traditional fairy tales with audience members enlisted, outfitted with costumes and props, to play the central roles.

"We've been doing this for 18 years now and because we're constantly pulling people up from the audience and having new people do each show, it's true that no show has ever been the same," Lundgren said.

When the show begins, the narrator invites an unsuspecting audience member on stage and guides them through the general storyline, as the other members of the troupe play the "harder" parts - doors, trees, tables, and the like.

"The things that require far more talent and far more acting training and years of theatre school," Lundgren laughed.

Their participatory approach ensures that the troupe always get something different from the crowd and participants, while bringing kids out of their shells a bit.

"For us, it was really important when we first started, we just really wanted to be fun, and there's nothing like watching one of your peers or your friends or your classmates or one of your family members up on stage."

People of all ages seem to get a kick out of Dufflebag shows, with performances drawing people aged three to 103.

"It's really fun to do the public shows because we find we get an awful lot of adults returning, so it's great fun for us because our shows work on so many different levels, kind of like the Muppet Show," Lundgren explained. "The kids laugh at the stuff that's slapstick and funny, but the adults get the joke."

And the best part? It tears kids away from the TV, computer and video games for an evening.

"We're something different. We're there to engage their imaginations and their fun-factor."

Lundgren and his troupe have been on a Western tour for almost a month, hitting stops throughout Alberta and British Columbia along the way to Whistler, and they still have another month of performances to go. They're performing at MY Place on Saturday night.



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