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Pigskin passion

Female football fan knows it ain't easy being green (and white)

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Pop quiz: A woman who shows up at a fringe festival in Winnipeg, home of the Blue Bombers, clad in Canadian Football League-issue green and white and calling herself RiderGirl is:

A) extremely brave

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B) more than a little bit crazy

C) blessed with a tremendous sense of humour

The answer, according to Saskatchewan-born writer/performer Colleen Sutton, is:

D) all of the above.

"I would absolutely say it's a combination of all of them," says the actor, who brings RiderGirl to the fringe's Venue 2 (MTC Up the Alley), to July 28. "I do think I'm a confident, brave person, and especially living in Ottawa and being a CFL fan, you've got to be a bit crazy. Being in Ottawa, where I would say there's no passion for the CFL, has only strengthened my own feelings for it, because I miss it so much."

Sutton, 35, has been a CFL follower and devoted Roughriders fan since she first attended a game in 1993 as part of the Saskatchewan club's pep band. She became especially interested in the passionate feelings -- including heartbreak -- that fans experience after the green Riders' loss in the 2009 Grey Cup, the result of a too-many-men penalty that allowed the Montreal Alouettes a second kick at a missed field goal (final score: Montreal 28, Saskatchewan 27).

"I was there, and like any Rider fan, I can still feel that pain," says Sutton, who was raised in Regina but moved to Ottawa in 1999 to pursue a career as a saxophonist with the Central Band of the Canadian Forces. "I had my iPhone with me, and I was trying to record the final moments of the game to show my friends how great it was to be in the stadium. So I recorded what we thought was the final kick, when we thought we'd won, and then I had to tape the second try, after the too-many-men (penalty).

"When I finally had the gumption to look at the video, I saw a version of myself I'd never seen before. I had this thought: 'Who is that woman?' I mean, I'd felt it before, but I'd never seen it -- I was switching my iPhone back and forth between the game and our reaction -- and I thought it was really interesting."

RiderGirl is a one-woman show that explores the passions of football fandom and examines one Prairie woman's determination to find a similar level of emotion and commitment in her day-to-day life. Sutton portrays eight different characters and even draws on her background as a classical saxophonist to add a bit of grandstand music to the mix.

The fan-passion self-examination is a process Sutton has gone through herself, having made the decision to leave her job as a military-band musician to pursue an acting career, as well as ending a long-term relationship that most of her friends assumed was headed down a matrimonial path.

"I was on that trajectory -- I had a good job, I had a salary, I had a partner, we had a house," she recalls. "But I wasn't happy with any of it; it was not for me. ... I thought about that passion I felt at football games, and asked myself, 'Why can't I feel that passion every day? Why shouldn't life feel like that?' And that's what I pursued."

That's why, despite the play's title and the fact she'll be clad in the hues of green and white that draw catcalls and boos in these parts at the annual Banjo Bowl showdown, Sutton believes there's something in RiderGirl for every football fan -- and for non-sports fans, too.

"The idea of the show is a lot of heart, with a real story and a real message, but a lot of fun," she says. "This is actually a very human story, set in the world of Canadian football. I intentionally set out to write this in a way that you don't have to like football or understand football to enjoy this show. But if you are a football fan, what you're going to see onstage is a voice that's rarely heard in theatre: A) a football fan; and B) a football fan who also happens to be a woman."

Show your colours, save a toonie

SHE'LL be wearing her beloved Rider green and white, but Colleen Sutton wants CFL fans of all colours and wardrobe choices to know they're welcome at RiderGirl. So much so, in fact, that she has declared that fringe-goers who turn up in any CFL team's jerseys or shirts will get a $2 discount off RiderGirl's $10 ticket price.

"I love the idea of people out and about in their colours, promoting the CFL," she says. "I have six shows before the Bombers open (their home season on July 26), and I've asked the Bombers to help out, and I'll have some Bomber gear to give away.

"I really want to play up the rivalry while I'm in town, and who knows -- maybe we'll convince someone to go to their first CFL game."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2012 D5

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