Sum Theatre aims to make performing arts accessible to all with northern tour

After 10 years of performing in Saskatoon and Regina, the Sum Theatre Artistic Association plans to take Theatre in the Park north.

From June 15-18, Sum Theatre will perform the original tale “wâhkôhtowin” in four different northern outdoor locations, including Prince Albert. Co-director and Sum artistic associate Mackenzie Dawson said they’re trying to attract a more diverse audience compared to a regular production.

“We try to make theatre for folks who often don’t go to the theatre,” Dawson said with a laugh. “For anyone who thinks, ‘I don’t know, I don’t really like theatre. I’ve never been to a play before,’ we welcome them with open arms. That’s actually most of our audience.”

Performers land in Prince Albert on Wednesday, but the journey north has been years in the making. Dawson said they’ve always wanted to boost theatre in areas outside Saskatchewan’s two largest cities, but haven’t been able to do so until now.

Sum’s Theatre in the Park production is a six-week tour that stretches across the province. The goal is to give families a look at professional theatre performances, and Dawson said making it free and accessible in outdoor public spaces is an easy way to make sure that happens.

“Some people will hear about the show in advance and they’ve planned it out,” Dawson explained. “But more and more, especially as we get into reaching newer communities, it’s just someone walking along in the evening and they see there’s a show.

“In Regina we had a show this week where there would be kids walking along, they find out there’s a play, and then they say, ‘okay, I’ll go grab five of my friends and I’ll be right back.’”

The title of Wednesday’s show, “wâhkôhtowin”, means “all my relations” in Cree. The show uses live music, giant puppets, and audience participation to focus not only on human relationships, by human connections to the earth, water, and sky.

“We have all felt the loss of connection over the last couple of years,” actor and Sum Theatre artistic association Krystle Pederson said. “The performance is a call to rebuild what’s been broken and heal.”

“(Viewers) can expect to have a lot of fun,” Dawson added. “We don’t do anything that’s not fun. They can expect to see a giant setup that kind of looks like a jungle gym. It’s part jungle gym, part discotheque, part giant puppet extravaganza.”

The Prince Albert performance runs for about 45 minutes, and begins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. outside King George Public Elementary School. Admission is free. An ASL interpreter will be available.

The company also has performances scheduled for Waskesiu, La Ronge, and Stanley Mission, the latter of which is under review due to the wildfire evacuations.

Ideally, Dawson said, this will be the first of many trips north for Sum Theatre.

“Any of these northern communities that we are connecting with, we want it to be an ongoing relationship,” he said.

“We’re not just here for one time. We want people to get to know us, and then they can be looking for us the next time we go to do a show.”

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