Funny fantasy on stage 

Peter Pan and the Lost Boys to take MY Millennium Place by storm

click to enlarge Lotsa laughs Dufflebag Theatre is coming back to Whistler, and this time they’re bringing Peter Pan and the gang.
  • Lotsa laughs Dufflebag Theatre is coming back to Whistler, and this time they’re bringing Peter Pan and the gang.

What: Dufflebag Theatre presents Peter Pan
When: Saturday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m.
Where: MY Millennium Place
Admission: $14 adults, $10 kids, seniors & WAC members

Unhook from your iPod, tear the kids away from the TV. Sure, you may spend the better part of Saturday skiing or snowboarding, but during the evening, why not head to the theatre for a night of family-friendly entertainment?

Don’t roll your eyes just yet. This isn’t your typical evening of children’s entertainment – Dufflebag Theatre aims to please everyone in the audience, young and old alike.

Marcus Lundgren helped found the company in 1992. What started out as a one-time gig at the London International Children’s Festival in Lundgren’s hometown of London, Ontario, quickly took on a life of its own.

“We were asked to come up with something to entertain people who were waiting in lines for the festival, because they had huge lineups their first year, and we thought it would be really fun to tell fairy tales, but pull people out of the line to play the main parts,” Lundgren explained.

Now, almost 17 years later, he is both artistic director and actor in their productions, which take place throughout the country, and even overseas, and includes a staff of almost 20 people.

“We travel coast to coast in Canada, the United States, and internationally. We’ve performed in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei as well,” he added.

They focus on acting out adaptations of popular fairytales and Shakespearean classics like Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin and more, at festivals and schools, using their “interactive storytelling theatre” to engage the audience, even pulling people from the crowd to play the main roles.

“We never know what they’re going to do,” he pointed out, “They never get a chance to rehearse.”

Anyone in the audience is fair game – kids, teachers, parents, and siblings. They’re pulled up on stage, given a costume out of the dufflebag (plus a little guidance), and let in on the action, often with hilarious and unexpected results. It’s the narrator’s job to ensure that the impromptu actors’ actions work with the storyline.

“It’s not just for us or the kids – the adults love it, too. We have an awful lot of stuff for the adults to be entertained as well, because lets face it, the kids aren’t the ones paying the money to buy the tickets,” he said with a laugh.

The age range of the audience varies drastically as well.

“We always get kids for whom it’s the first theatre experience, so whatever age that is for them,” Lundgren said, adding that often they’re as young as three or fours old.

“Parents come up to us and say they were amazed that their kids sat still for the hour and yelled out and participated and had so much fun,” he added, “…Really, there is no age limit on the show. It appeals to everybody.”

Over the years, they’ve noticed that when they return to towns there are often more adults in the audience than during their previous visits.

“Let’s say the mom brings the kids and sees the show and then goes back and tells the dad how much fun they had, then the dad wants to come, as well, next time,” Lundgren explained. “…It’s a really fun family experience.”

At a recent performance in Fort McMurray one audience member persistently insisted that they not stray from the original storyline.

“One little girl in the back kept shouting out, ‘Hey, that’s not the way it goes! I know how it goes!’ So I got into a great dialogue with her during the show,” he said, adding that even these hecklers-in-training are incorporated into the performance.

“We actually acknowledged her at the curtain call and the bows for keeping us close to the story, the way it should have been,” he said.

Their improv-styled approach keeps the performances fresh for the actors, Lundgren pointed out.

“One of the things that they tell you in theatre school is, ‘never act on stage with animals or children,’ but we’ve found its actually the opposite,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t imagine not coming to work and being up on stage with kids, because it keeps every day fresh, every day fun.”

And no two performances are ever the same for audiences, either. Though the style is the same if you made it out to the last Dufflebag production, expect a seriously different show this weekend.

This certainly isn’t the group’s first time entertaining the children (and adults) of Whistler. Just last year, Dufflebag was here acting out Sleeping Beauty, and this weekend, they’re coming back as part of the Whistler Arts Council’s annual Performance Series, which has brought a variety of diverse performances – theatre, dance, comedy and more – to the community since 1987. This time around, they’re bringing a more action-packed performance to the stage, with Peter Pan and his band of Lost Boys.

“It’s like tuning into the Muppet Show. You see the first one and you laugh, and everybody laughs – the parents are laughing at the jokes and they’re laughing because the kids aren’t getting the jokes, they’re just laughing at the funny stuff that kids understand. We’re doing the same thing.”

They also do 450 to 500 school performances each year, on top of their public shows, exposing kids to not only classic tales, but also a theatrical experience and “the joy of a live performance.”

“Most kids don’t know what that is anymore. They’ve got video, DVDs, and its all iPod generation, so everyone is personal and solitary,” Lundgren said, “But when they come together for a shared theatre experience, and laugh and enjoy things the way they do at our shows, it’s a unique experience for them, and the teachers love it, because they can use so much of what we do in their classroom.”

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