“This is probably the most unique theatre experience in this city in
years, and it’s one people will be talking about in their
offices,” says Cathleen Rootsaert, one of the five local playwrights
contributing to Secret Spaces: The Bus Project, the adventurous new
production by Workshop West.
Rather than sitting in a theatre and watching a play unfold onstage, the
audience for Secret Spaces boards a city bus, and gets driven by an ETS
operator to five different “mystery” venues located all over
Edmonton. Workshop West artistic director Ron Jenkins came up with the idea
to celebrate his company’s anniversary and to honour the city’s
centennial. “I wanted to do something as unique as possible for our
25th anniversary,” he says, “and try to step outside the bounds
of what we normally do, and celebrate as many writers as possible. I wanted a
project that was wild and wacky in a way.” He asked the playwrights
(Rootsaert, Kenneth Brown, Marty Chan, Beth Graham and Mieko Ouchi) to each
write a short play about a secret space, or tell a secret story that was
important to them.
Rootsaert’s entry was inspired by a tiny newspaper item she
discovered in a 1931 edition of the Edmonton Bulletin. The article described
how a four-year-old Polish girl was put on a train by her mother with nothing
but a note pinned to her coat; the note contained the girl’s name and
instructions that she was supposed to arrive in Liverpool and sail overseas.
Amazingly, the little girl successfully completed the journey. “I
started to think about the other places in the world I could have been
born,” Rootsaert says, “and what good fortune, how humbling it is
to have been born into a community like this, the comfort of Canada. For that
to happen, there are all kinds of amazing stories of people who were brave
enough to come here in the first place.”
Rootsaert won’t reveal the identity of her venue, but she has a hard
time concealing her enthusiasm for it. “The sense of atmosphere is
something you could only recreate with a bazillion dollars,” she says.
“You feel like you’re eavesdropping on a moment in a
family’s life, a very different experience from a theatre.”
Jenkins says while many of the stories are very specific to Edmonton,
there’s also a universality to them. “Things become filmic in a
way,” he says, “because you’re in the actual space where
the story would have happened.” Because the venues are not theatres but
in many cases actual places of business, it was difficult or impossible to
plug in theatre lights or amplification equipment and the set designers had
to be as creative as possible, using natural light and acoustical elements.
“But they give us such an authenticity,” Jenkins says, “and
that’s the exciting bit.” Meanwhile, the actors (all of whom
appear in multiple playlets) face the logistical challenge of simply driving
through the late-night Edmonton traffic and arriving at each location before
the audience does.
That bus, by the way, departs from the northeast corner of the old bus
barns, now the Arts Barns. Along the way, the audience will be treated to
tidbits of historical lore by a tour guide/emcee played by Bridget Ryan.
“It is a rollercoaster ride in a way,” Jenkins says.
“You’ve got all these pieces that are different and the same at
the same time, and we play with your perceptions. And there’s stuff
that takes place off the bus as well, another show that goes on just within
the city on a nightly basis. It’s a ton of fun to get on the bus and
see the city in a completely different way.” V
Secret Spaces: The Bus Project
Directed by Ron Jenkins • Written by Kenneth Brown, Marty Chan, Beth
Graham, Mieko Ouchi and Cathleen Rootsaert • Starring Robert Corness,
Cathy Derkach, Chris Fassbender, Dave Horak and Bridget Ryan • Departs
from the Arts Barns (northeast corner) • May 20-June 5 •