New Theatre in the Park show addresses digital life at home

(left to right) Megan Zong and Katie Moore feature in "The Reel Whirled," the newest Theatre in the Park production by Sum Theatre. (Supplied / Photo courtesy of Britainy Zapshalla)

The next show by Sum Theatre is inviting audiences outside into the real world to have a conversation about the digital one.

Theatre in the Park returns for another season in 2024 with a brand-new show titled The Reel Whirled. Tackling topics around social media, the Internet and our digital lives through Sum Theatre’s signature puppets and music, The Reel Whirled promises to be a family-friendly show out and about in parks throughout Saskatchewan. The show runs from May 16 to June 28 in Saskatoon, Regina and the surrounding area, as well as some show dates planned in Northern Saskatchewan.

PodSask spoke with Sum Theatre’s new artistic director and show co-director Mackenzie Dawson ahead of the premiere of The Reel Whirled to talk about the show.

Q: What were your thoughts taking on Theatre in the Park for the first time as artistic director?

A: It’s all about the team, trying to find the folks I could bring into the project, who I could lean on when I needed support and who could, as a group, make a lasting impression for folks who would come see it. So the team-building is the most important aspect, and this year has been an incredible success, with S.E. Grummett as a co-director and Kris Alvarez as our playwright … and then our music director Oli Guselle has been an absolute wizard with the music.

And the cast is a good mix of experienced artists who have done Theatre in the Park before and some who are newer to it. In that way, I think it’s been a really great success creating a team who, all together, make Theatre in the Park what it is.

Q: You’ve been involved in other roles with Sum Theatre and Theatre in the Park before. What do you bring to the project now as artistic director and show co-director that’s new or different?

A: Some of the most fun I’ve had working on the show has been the physical theatre element. Trying to help the actors explore, how does the body express in a space as large as a park — because for the most part performers are used to indoor spaces where you can bounce your voice off the wall, you’re in closer proximity to your audience — I think it’s the years of experience that have helped me understand the style.

The style of Theatre in the Park is very unique, and what I’ve been able to provide for performers is the sense of, how do we operate at this scale and this style? And how do we tell a story in such a large space like the park?

Q: Theatre in the Park shows usually have their own unique quirks — what are we going to see on the “stage” this year?

A: The Reel Whirled tells the story of three friends — Gladly, MeowMeow, and BIM — and they’re on a journey through this digital space where they get to meet their heroes, these giant influencers who are literally larger than life. That’s where the giant puppets come into play!

And in meeting their heroes and seeing where is the fun and where is the disappointment in this online space, how do these young people think or perceive their self-worth to be tied to this digital space? And is there a way to look beyond this digital space and beyond these giant entities of influencers and celebrities, for a sense of self-satisfaction? And we explore what it means to step out of that digital space into the real world and still feel real.

Q: You mentioned music. What went into creating new music for this show?

A: When we figured out it was a digital show, we said we wanted it to be a retro feel. We wanted it to be evocative of the 90s, and we said “what is 90s style music and aesthetics that can inform this?”

So we have some pop, some house music, some music that’s almost Nirvana-like, and just for fun why not a little bit of ska? It’s a really wide cross-section of that era of music that keeps the show really fresh. Every song sounds a little different in terms of style and genre… it required a lot from Oli (Guselle) to arrange them and distill them down to what we have now.

Q: Your first Theatre in the Park as artistic director is right around the corner — what do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

A: I always like to emphasize that Theatre in the Park is for everyone, whether you’re a theatre person or you’ve never been to the show, or you just want to hang out in the park for 45 minutes and see something you’ve never seen before!

It’s a great place for people to meet each other and be surprised by art. It’s all around the city, so people can more or less go out their back door and see a show. In that way, it’s a really low-risk opportunity to have a good time and meet folks in the neighbourhood. The invitation is as wide as possible. It’s a theatre event, but it’s a community event, too.

Find the full list of show dates, times and locations for The Reel Whirled at sumtheatre.com.

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