Sum Theatre takes to outer space with Theatre in the Park

A group of students join in for a performance of Zero Gravity by Sum Theatre. -- Submitted photo.

After a successful first year in Prince Albert, Sum Theatre is back in the north with an expanded schedule for Theatre in the Park.

The outdoor theatre group debuted in 2022 with a performance of “wâhkôhtowin” outside King George Elementary School. On Tuesday’s they be back in the Gateway to the North performing Zero Gravity, an original science fiction play that aims to get students talking about the environment.

Zero Gravity co-director and Sum Theatre artistic director Mackenzie Dawson said they had a great response to last year’s performances, and that inspired them to return in 2023.

“A lot of folks just letting us know there was a really strong need for free, accessible, professional theatre, so we’re just really happy we have the means to bring the show back to PA,” Dawson explained. “We’re showing up on the final day of school for a lot of folks so I think it’s a great alignment for theatre in the park to help people kick off their summer in a really good way.”

Zero Gravity follows the exploits of Dr. Einstein Reez as he tries to build a spaceship and search for a new place to live because the earth is becoming uninhabitable. Dawson said they came up with the idea after hearing so many concerns about climate change. He hopes the show can be a fund and light-hearted way to get people talking about taking care of the Earth.

The title is a play on words, with “gravity” pulling double duty as both the thing that is absent from space, and the flippancy and lack of urgency residents, businesses, and governments have in addressing environmental concerns.

“In a lot of cases, people speak about climate change with zero gravity, like it doesn’t really matter, like it’s something down the road and a future problem,” Dawson said. “We want people to be talking about it today. It’s a today issue.”

Dean Stockdale plays the role of a neighbourhood kid who talks his way onto the spaceship. Like Dawson, Stockdale said climate change is an issue that doesn’t receive enough urgency. He’s hoping the outdoor performance of Zero Gravity can change that.

“For me, this play is a way to do something, to get people talking about it, and to give people hope for the future,” Stockdale said in a press release.

In keeping with the theme of environmental protection, costume and set designers relied on a variety of repurposed and recycled goods. The list includes a pair of old hockey pads, re-used laundry hampers, and an out-of-commission golf cart which serves as the spaceship.

“Every couple of days we visit Value Village, Salvation Army, and the Restore looking for things we repurpose,” designer Taegan O’Bertos said in a media release. “Weird things that are bright, colourful, waterproof, going outside the box and thinking, ‘what can I make this into?'”

“I’ve got to give massive credit to our design team who have used almost exclusively upcycled, recycled, pre-owned materials to reduce our footprint in building the show and just create some really novel props and set pieces,” Dawson added.

“It helps us, I think, by using a lot of these day-to-day items in new ways. It also helps the audience be surprised by how these different things can come to life and become a puppet or become part of the story.”

Last year marked the first time Sum Theatre performed an outdoor play in Prince Albert. This year, it’s Stanley Mission who gets the honour.
Dawson said there’s a huge demand for cultural and artistic programs in the north, and that’s inspired them to take Sum Theatre to Stanley Mission for the time.

“Our goal is always to reach as many people as possible in as diverse a community as possible,” he explained.

“Stanley MIssion just felt like the next step and a really good fit for us to share the show with.”

Zero Gravity will be performed at 7 p.m. in Kinsmen Park in Prince Albert on Tuesday, June 27. Sum Theatre then performs at Keethanow School in Stanley Mission on June 28, and Morley Wilson in La Ronge on June 29. Showtimes are 1:30 p.m. in Stanley MIssion and 7 p.m. in La Ronge.

Admission is free. Residents are encouraged to bring their own blankets, quilts, or chairs.