Written by Megan Solberg
It’s rehearsal day, and the July 2019 season of SUM Theatre’s Theatre in Park is only a week away. Imagining a more inviting, intriguing sight in a local Saskatoon Park on a Tuesday afternoon would be difficult. The scene includes an eclectic collection of instruments and people, puppets and props. Passersby – particularly young children – stop to stare in awe as the sound of the group’s song fills the park. Kids and adults alike cannot help but smile, and when rehearsal pauses, the actors and crew chat amicably with those who have stopped to watch. Everyone is welcome.
While the brightly coloured and beautiful props – particularly the impressively designed puppets – undoubtedly attracts the delight of every young kid in the park, SUM Theatre’s creator and Artistic Director Joel Bernbaum resists the urge to label Theatre in the Park as “kids’ theatre” because, he says, the beauty of theatre is that it has the potential to be both entertaining for kids and engaging for adults; there is something for everyone. That is the objective of Theatre in the Park.
This program provides a live, professional theatre experience for free in parks around the province each July so that everyone can have access to the arts. The 37,000 viewers over Theatre in the Park’s past six seasons hail from a wide variety of cultures, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds. By providing open access to the arts and reflecting the diverse makeup of the province’s population in their productions, SUM Theatre aims to create stronger communities by building empathy through the shared experience of theatre.
Photos by Britainy Zapshalla. Left: Michael Martin, Megan Zong, Mara Teare, Colin Wolf, Mir Ali, Donovan Scheirer. Right: Michael Martin, Mara Teare.
The Indigenous Artist Mentorship program is another way that SUM Theatre emphasizes the diversity of the Saskatchewan community. This program supports emerging Indigenous actors and crew in Saskatchewan to give them professional theatre experience so that they can continue to be role models and vital parts in this country’s artistic community.
The sudden onset of rain fails to dampen anyone’s spirits, and rehearsal is moved indoors. Amanda Trapp and Colin Wolf, two Indigenous actors in this year’s production of The Young Ones by Algonquin playwright Yvette Nolan, share their experience of performing with Theatre in the Park.
Both Amanda and Colin have studied theatre professionally; Amanda studied in Ontario, and Colin earned his BFA from the University of Lethbridge. Performing outside with Theatre in the Park offers new, exciting challenges for each of them. For Amanda, she is required to draw on a wide variety of skills. In the production, she plays the mandolin and the accordion in addition to singing and acting, and although she loves to perform outdoors, she notes that it takes a lot more stamina to do so. Colin agrees, emphasizes that to perform in a park requires “big movements because your voice has to fill the park, and your intention has to be as big as the clouds.”
Colin also adds that performing outside is freeing, and it deepens the connection with the audience. Amanda adds, “It’s a lot of fun in that your performance can be as big as you want when you’re performing outdoors, especially because that helps to connect with young people in the audience.”
Photos by Studo D. Left to right: Amanda Trapp, Joel Bernbaum, Colin Wolf.
Connection, joy, and community are unmissable themes in this year’s production of The Young Ones, and it is clear that these ideas and the play are close to each of their hearts. Amanda helped to co-write some of the songs, and she says there are “pieces of us in each part of the play.” Colin agrees, stating that the play is special to him because “we did this thing together.”
Through theatre, Amanda and Colin have been able to pursue their passion and build confidence while bringing total strangers together. “Theatre,” Colin says, “is inherently community-building through the experience of it. It brings people together, and this helps us build empathy and compassion. The show is free, so everyone can come. Ideally, this experience will change people in some way.”
Each Theatre in the Park play ends with an invocation from the cast for audience members to “pay” for the performance by shaking hands with someone they’ve never met before. Joel Bernbaum has received encouraging feedback on this unusual practice – people have met neighbours and new friends this way. Through this emphasis on community, compassion, and diversity, Theatre in the Park strives to make our society stronger.
K+S Potash Canada proudly partners with SUM Theatre in support of their Indigenous Artist Mentorship program so that these artists and this theatre company can continue to do what they do best: build communities and empathy through professional theatre.