Independent theatre may be short on money, but it’s not short on ideas. Theatre is transforming in Saskatoon and University of Saskatchewan students are contributing to this by fostering a conversation on mental health through the plays See Bob Run and Wild Abandon by Tough Choice Productions.
Formed in 2016, Touch Choice Productions is ready for their debut production with the notable Tom Ratzlaff as director. The debut plays feature two actors — Trillian Reynoldson and current fine arts U of S student, Braden Butler, who sat down with the Sheaf to discuss the production and theatre life in Saskatoon.
Starring Reynoldson, See Bob Run illustrates the story of a girl who hitchhikes her way east while running away from home. While travelling across the Trans-Canada Highway, she leaves pieces of her story behind with the different drivers she meets.
These stories reveal the trauma she endured in childhood and through this, the audience discovers her contorted misconception of love. See Bob Run has a powerful script that creates suspense as Bob discloses the awful life she is running from.
Similar to See Bob Run, Wild Abandon, which stars Butler, tackles heavy topics. The story follows Steve, a young gay man who has felt isolated and restricted his entire life because of his upbringing in a strict Catholic home.
While telling the story of his upbringing and adversity, we also witness Steve’s mental processes as he attempts to find a reason to live. The setting for Wild Abandon is minimal because it focuses on the very raw and real emotions of Steve, which allows room for the audience to draw a strong connection to the character.
“There’s no pretence, there’s no fourth wall — we are all here together and you’re going to witness the biggest decision of his life,” Butler said.
Both plays include sensitive material, and Butler warns students to be aware of this before they attend the show.
“It’s heavy subject matter. It is dark material. But it also has its lighter more comedic moments,” Butler said.
Working in theatre can be a struggle and although Tough Choice Productions hasn’t received any grants, they are generating revenue through high school matinees, donations and ticket sales.
“There’s no way to survive as an independent theatre if you aren’t partially funded by grants, whether it’s at a national level or provincial level,” Butler said.
The lack of funding for artists is a difficulty that will not change without communication between citizens and the companies that provide funding.
Butler believes that for theatre to continue to thrive and to captivate audiences, plays need to address relevant topics facing communities today.
“It can’t just be about entertainment value for much longer. In a lot of ways it isn’t, but it needs to evolve [and] it needs to be relevant to the communities it’s being performed to,” Butler said.
For theatre to survive in this technological age we live in, Butler believes change needs to take place.
“The idea of theatre potentially being a dying art is something to scare artists. However, I would say that I don’t think it’s a dying art at all. I think that if theatre is going to survive in this century it’s going to have to re-invent itself,” Butler said.
This is exactly what Tough Choice Production is hoping to do by showcasing relevant topics in need of conversation to Saskatoon’s community.
These two plays feature relatable characters, whom U of S students are sure to connect with.
“The playwright Daniel McIvor says in an essay in the beginning of the scripts, ‘There is a little bit of Steve and Bob in all of us,’ and I certainly find that to be true … Their struggles are unique, but they’re also very human,” Butler said.
Tough Choice Productions will be showing both plays back-to-back running from Nov. 24 to 26 and through Dec. 1 to 3 at PAVED Arts. Tickets are available online at ontheboards.ca or at the door and are $15 for students and $20 for general admission.
Photo: Logan Taylor / Supplied