The thing your average parent should probably know about Peter Pan, the season-opener at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, is that this new adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic book started life in a microbrewery.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
Friday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 27
Tickets: $22-$30 at mtyp.ca
Specifically, the idea for the show germinated — or maybe fermented is the word — in Old Flame Brewing in Port Perry, Ont. It was there, says actor and adapter Fiona Sauder, where Landon Doak, an associate artist at Toronto’s Bad Hats Theatre, got the idea of putting on a show over the holiday season.
"His parents own the brewery in Port Perry where he’s from," Sauder says. "He had done a couple of shows out there in the brewery itself and he was looking for something to do over the holidays."
Sauder is the artistic director at Bad Hats, a multidisciplinary theatre collective. She also happens to be something of a Peter Pan buff, to the extent that her personal fashion choices skew Neverland-ish, she admits. She once came out of her house thus attired and met Doak, who commented on the similarity.
"He said, ‘Hey you look like Peter Pan,’ and I just tore into him about how obsessed I am with the story and the book."
"He decided right there he was going to ask me to write an adaptation and produce it at the brewery over the holidays, which he did," Sauder says. "And then that grew. He called me a couple of months later and said: ‘I don’t think we can do the show unless you play Peter Pan. You’re just our Peter Pan, so you have to do that.’"
That was five years ago.
"We all kind of devised the thing together, and then the next year my company, Bad Hat Theatre, decided to take it on," Sauder says. "We organized a brewery tour in Ontario.
During that tour, the show was discovered by Soulpepper, Torornto’s largest, not-for-profit theatre company. "We’ve been at Soulpepper for three years and we’ve done a tour of Niagara," Sauder says.
"And now we are ready to license the show across Canada, which is very exciting," she says. "So now, here we are in in Winnipeg."
So... how does a kids show have a brewery tour? Isn’t it a bit of a risky proposition for a show about a boy who refuses to grow up?
"It’s a little bit unorthodox," she says. "But the reason we thought it made a lot of sense came from our general manager, Laura Vandervoort, who had a two-year-old daughter and she was talking about all her mom friends, saying: ‘I want to go somewhere with my children where I can drink! I want to drink beer! Parents want to drink beer!’
"So we thought these breweries were already community hubs," Sauder says. "Giving them a reason to bring their families made a lot of sense. (In Port Perry), the thing was sold out within a week of us putting it on, so it was a big success.
"Craft breweries are not like going to a seedy bar with a dartboard and a bunch of old booths," she says. "Generally, the people that are going to those breweries aren’t going to get sloshed. They’re going to taste really good quality beer and maybe have (just) one or two."
"It’s really just been five years of amazing experiences with our friends doing the show that we absolutely adore putting it on."
All those brewery productions necessitated creativity in Bad Hats’ use of space. The MTYP stage, Sauder says, is the largest area the production has ever had. The brewery performance space could be as small as 10 feet by 10 feet, "with 11 actor-musicians inside of that space, jumping and lifting each other around.
"So we’re adapting to fill all that space while having very little set," Sauder says, itemizing the show’s non-human elements. "We’ve got the instruments for the show, a trunk, some fake swords, a big sheet and basically some tennis balls. That’s the whole props list, essentially.
"So filling out a big space with the show is definitely a new way of adapting it," she says. "But the show is incredibly adaptable.
"Part of the magic of the show in the way it’s been devised and designed is that there is very little to it, besides the characters that fill it out in the storytelling that takes place," she says. "The intention behind that is to draw the audience in and have them complicit in having to tell the story.
"The audience will have to participate in imagining there is a kitchen or a window and they become implicated in things like flying and fairies and fairy dust and all those things," she says.
"We don’t have any fly-lines. It’s not fancy. There’s no revolving set or stage. There’s no tree props," she says. "But you’ll believe we’re in a forest or on a ship or in the sky."
Even without beer.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.