Wonderful things can emerge from isolation. Just ask Brian Fidler about the summer he came up with the idea of Ramshackle Theatre’s Theatre in the Bush, which turns 10 this year. The popular multi-disciplinary show takes place every fall on the property Fidler shares with his family.
“Theatre in the Bush began when our youngest son, Jacob, was just a baby and I had taken a lot of time off,” Fidler says. “I was just around the house for summer and hanging around with him and trying to get him to sleep. And so it was interesting because it was a time of isolation for me. I found myself walking around the property here and looking at spots and thinking ‘That would make a great spot for a little show.’”
When fall came around and Fidler didn’t have any work and wanted to do something close to home, the idea was born.
The first year, Fidler invited people he knew to participate in a show on the property. The audience members were mostly friends of the performers. That night, and every show since then, there have been many memorable moments.
“Miche Genest did some lovely stuff with food down at the wall tent … mixing ingredients and getting people to create recipes to give to each other,” Fidler says.
Another special memory involved Fidler’s partner, Emily Woodruffe.
“Emily was in a show and she never does any public performance. But her friend Susan Walton convinced her to do a synchronized swimming piece and she just had so much fun doing it. It was really fun and neat to see her performing.”
One year, when performer Hazel Venzon divided the audience into two groups and invited them to sling (clean) underwear at one another, the ensuing ruckus became a highlight for Fidler. “It was delightful,” he says. “People were so into it.”
Some performances are poetic and beautiful rather than madcap. In 2019, one of the outdoor “stages” had a pile of leaves from which dancer Chris Green slowly and unexpectedly emerged, while Karen Zaidan sang. “It was super powerful,” Fidler says.
Theatre in the Bush was also showcased at national events. These were significant milestones for a Yukon show with humble beginnings. In 2016, Theatre in the Bush was part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival when it came to Whitehorse. As Fidler says, Magnetic North is “a really big deal in the theatre world.”
Magnetic North led to Ramshackle Theatre being invited to take the show to Ottawa for Canada Scene, a national cultural festival for Canada 150 celebrations. Thirteen Yukoners presented three sold-out shows in McKenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park.
In Ottawa, Fidler said the Ramshackle crew was constrained by estate rules, which restricted them from altering the grounds in any way. This is in sharp contrast to the show’s Yukon setting.
“If we need a little brush cleared (here), I get my chainsaw out and we clear it,” says Fidler.
Theatre in the Bush also has very few creative constraints. Artists are limited only by the amount of time they have (10 minutes), and the space they have to do it in.
“I don’t tell them what they’re going to do, and they don’t tell me what they’re going to do,” Fidler says. “That’s part of the magic of it for me.”
Could Theatre in the Bush go on for another 10 years?
“Yeah, so long as Emily allows me and is interested in doing it,” Fidler says. “There’s always new people coming to the territory who have interesting perspectives and who want to perform and experiment.”
As for the impact of COVID on the 2020 version of Theatre in the Bush, Fidler has adjusted by offering two nights of live shows instead of one. He’s also broadcasting a film version on Sunday, Sept. 27. Fidler is philosophical about Theatre in the Bush’s 10th year coinciding with a pandemic.
“It’s an interesting parallel for our 10th year that we’ve all had to spend so much time around our houses. So for me it makes sense to celebrate the 10th anniversary around the house.”
The line-up for the 2020 show is available at RamshackleTheatre.ca.
While ticket sales for Theatre in the Bush live shows are closed, folks can request a link to the broadcast version by emailing Fidler at firstname.lastname@example.org.