It’s not often I can easily perk up in the morning without a rather substantial dose of caffeine. That’s why when I arrived at Carruthers Hall at 10 a.m. for an interview last week, I was shocked that all I really needed was a good dose of fun—easily achieved by spending an hour with Queens Theatre’s Barefoot Players.
The Barefoot Players are comprised of Talia Acker, Kevin Doe, Laura Gooding, Dani Kostrich, Sean Ogle, Evan Stern, Steven Suepaul and Allison Vanek. They’re so close, they continually finished each other’s sentences throughout our interview. An eight-member troupe, the devoted student actors relish in spending their summer thrilling, exciting and enlightening children with their musical and dramatic amalgamation of fables, fairy tales and legends. This year’s diverse group is directed by Kim Renders, Artistic Director of Theatre Kingston. The group credits Renders with the success of the hands-on, community-oriented nature of the play. Countless members of the Kingston arts and entertainment world have worked with her before in her children’s theatre exploits. Her open-mindedness, natural skill, creativity and commitment to the production are what the Players say make her such a great leader of their team.
The actors explained the importance of children’s theatre in the community. When the troupe was started 10 years ago, it wasn’t intended to be a children’s entertainment group. However, that was the demand of the time and hasn’t diminished.
Designed to inspire Kingston children to stretch their imagination and suspend their disbelief, the plays are intended to spread awareness of theatre around the city. More specifically for schools unable to have a drama program, the Players are brought on board to perform and give the kids a taste of theatre. Though the cast changes from year-to-year, previous groups leave handbooks behind, giving feedback to the following year’s performers with tips and tricks of the trade to ensure the continuation of the Players’ mandate.
Behind the scenes, the troupe’s members are expected to take responsibility for certain aspects of the company’s business side such as props or publicity. An unexpected task for stage actors, its clear it was an experience the actors enjoyed, helping to make the production more suited to their goals for the summer.
This June and July, the Players are performing Myth Takes—an original play written by local Kingstonian author and teacher Gord Love. Accompanied by the music of local artist Rick Cairns, Love weaved together his story from four different myths from around the world—“The Sphinx” and “The Twelve Labours of Hercules” from Greece, a creation myth from India, and a moral myth from Nigeria.
I was lucky enough to see a snippet of the piece accompanied by a song, and was blown away; not only by the talent in the room, but the energy the actors brought to the table. It quickly became evident to me why this year’s cast was selected with their seemingly undying enthusiasm. Equipped with a great message, and attention grabbing scenes, “The Riddle of the Soup Smell” is assuredly just a glimpse into the story of a handsome prince and beautiful princess.
When asked how the eight entertainers confront the fun but exhausting task of instantly turning on their energy while keeping composed, remembering their lines, and holding the attention of dozens of children, they stress the importance of the audience’s role. The actors agreed they have to adapt their performance style from day to day as well as feed off of each group’s needs—a delicate balance.
It’s clear that over the past months the group have become a little shoeless family, finishing each other’s sentences and sharing well-being tips are the result of a constant feeding off of one another during performances, playing off one another to create a balanced and dynamic play. They emphasize the importance of health, good relationships with one another, and a lack of stress in becoming the unified and strong team that perform daily.
The group has mastered the art of holding the children’s attention, evident in their style of performance and commitment to performing for the kids and provoking their creative sides without babying them. This is partly an influence of Renders, who they say has mastered the art of appealing to the children’s more mature side, acknowledging their ability to pick up on jokes without a constant play-by-play and explanation of every action and occurrence.
The excerpt I witnessed has been selected to perform in this summer’s Theatre Kingston festival A Moveable Feast. The feast presents a lively and assorted group of more than 20 performers, writers and artists taking their delicious pieces to the stage to address the provocative issue of hunger through stories, songs, images and performances.
An annual partnership between Theatre Kingston and the Queen’s Department of Drama, the cast of students will perform their repertoire free of charge at parks and various events all across Kingston throughout the remainder of the summer months. The students are definitely getting creative with picking and appreciating a summer job—a rare and coveted thing these days.
Whether barefoot in the park, or at a library, the Players are committed to bringing the magic of theatre to Kingston’s audiences both young and old.
The Barefoot Players will perform July 1-25 in select venues and parks around Kingston. See queensu.ca/drama for show times and information.