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You can be a star during Dufflebag Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast

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You can be a star during Dufflebag Theatre’s production of Beauty and the Beast

Whistler Question, May 1, 2013

Interactive show gives audience member a chance to star in the fun take on an old classic

BRANDON BARRETT / STAFF WRITER

No script, no rehearsal, no problem.

It’s your chance to be a star this Saturday (May 4) during the “nearly world-famous” Dufflebag Theatre’s bilingual production of Beauty and the Beast at Millennium Place.

The Toronto-based Dufflebag has been putting a modern spin on classic tales during performances all over North American since 1992, and their interactive approach gives audience members a chance to be part of the fun.

“We pull people out of the audience to play the main part, so there’s an awful lot of improvisation that goes along with that because the audience actors don’t get a rehearsal,” said artistic director and Dufflebag founder Marcus Lundgren.

“Ultimately, we get from ‘once upon a time,’ to ‘happily ever after,’ but we get there in a way that will never ever happen in the same way twice.”

Without a script or even a moment’s rehearsal, the brave local thespian, plucked from the crowd just moments before, is given a costume and props and cues from the narrator to help them along. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the remaining Dufflebag cast to fit the story around the lead actor’s improvisations.

“We would never put anybody on the spot,” Lundgren said. “We create an atmosphere of fun, and it’s a safe environment for them to be up there pretending to be the character, but there’s also room for an awful lot of humour and improvising. If the kids don’t know what to do, it’s our job to make that part of the story.”

Performing more than 600 shows a year, Dufflebag Theatre has become a hit in schools where kids can easily become involved in the production and learn about some of history’s most celebrated stories in a fun and engaging way. Lundgren said the real fun begins once kids in the crowd realize they’re just as much a part of the show as the regular cast and crew.

“It’s a lot of fun because the audience knows the story and the basic plotlines of the fairytale that we’re doing, but we often go on all these tangents,” he said.

“Kids are encouraged to shout out things and quite often we’ve had audience suggestions that we’ve just incorporated into the show. It’s up to us to find a way to make whatever the audience actor or the audience does part of the story. We had somebody describe it as theatrical karaoke.”

But if you thought Dufflebag’s renditions of classic tales like Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet or Robin Hood were just for the tykes, think again. Lundgren said the most surprised audience members leaving the theatre after one of his shows are often the parents, who don’t realize the performance has “enough stuff in there for the grown-up kids” to enjoy as well.

Like other Dufflebag shows, Saturday’s performance of Beauty and the Beast will contain both French and English, but Lundgren stressed that audience members won’t need to be bilingual to follow along and enjoy the timeless tale.

“We thought it’d be great if we could have a shared experience, where people who know French would understand what’s happening, and people who don’t really know French could also get exposed to it in a fun and shared kind of way,” he said.

More than anything, Lundgren thinks in “an age of screens, touchpads and phones,” audiences appreciate Dufflebag Theatre’s hands-on, interactive approach to entertainment.

“Everybody is entertained by a personal screen nowadays, and we get people away from those for an hour to have a lot of fun,” he said. “When people come back to an audience milieu and a group of people all laughing and having fun together, it’s amazing how everybody comes alive. It’s a great shared experience for a family; it’s not like sitting in a movie where you’re just watching it and absorbing it, you’re actually part of the action.”

Beauty and the Beast is the final show of this season’s Whistler Arts Council Performance Series. The show kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $22.50 for adults, $11.50 for children, and $16 for seniors, students and arts council members. They’re available online at www.artswhistler.com or at Millennium Place.

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