Theatre in the Bush is held in the fall, and with a start time of around 8:45 pm, it’s held in the dark.
The darkness and the bush are integral to the event.
This year the show was on a Saturday evening in mid-September. ‘Theatre in the Bush’ was projected onto Brian Fidler’s gravel driveway; guests had to walk over the shadow-letters to get to a bonfire, where around 140 people awaited instructions.
The crowd was divided into groups of about 25, and each group was assigned a guide.
Fidler says the guides are integral, too: “They come early to talk to the artists to see how their group can interact with the performance.”
The guides lead groups through the dark bush, from one installation to the next. Each installation lasted ten minutes; time was marked by the ringing of a bell.
Seven artists were set up throughout the property.
The magic of the evening came while stumbling along in the dark with a group of strangers who at first don’t speak above a whisper. Trails were lit with mini-lanterns; their weak light amplified the darkness of the forest. Disjointed sounds wafted in and out of earshot.
Each installation was different.
For example, in a radio story people say what drew them to the Yukon, and why they stayed. The curator passed out mulled wine to the audience, who congregated around plastic folding tables and sawed off boards with indiscernible words spray painted on them. This display was all about the sound.
Urgent moans distracted from the radio story when it was nearly over; they came from a neighbouring installation. It was all about the light. The artist sat behind a lit-up sheet and performed in silhouette. Her character gave birth to a rose during the climax of the story. Hence, the moans.
At the Stardust Museum, harmonica music accompanied kaleidoscope-like light displays on a projector, and poetry about the universe and our place in it scrolled down another screen.
Some artists danced.
One used bed sheets like curtains by hanging them on trees, and created a square space in the forest. She played scratchy Billie Holiday tunes and slow danced with the crowd, one person at a time. Her partners, in turn, danced with someone else. After her ten minutes were up nobody was whispering.
Theatre in the Bush has been going on for five years now. It’s a fundraiser for Ramshackle Theatre Society, of which Fidler is the artistic director. He curates the show by picking seven artists. He says he picks ones he thinks are interesting. After that, the artists have free rein.
The artists come to Fidler’s place a week before the show for a barbeque. They tour the forest that will be their stage, and then they each pick a location out of a hat.
The artists have a week to put together an installation.
Before Theatre in the Bush came into being, Fidler had been chewing on the notion to host theatre installations in the forest that surrounds his house and studio, but it wasn’t until his second child was six-months-old that his ideas turned into being.
Fidler wasn’t working, he was hanging out at home. He didn’t want to write a grant, and he wanted to stay close to home. He became more familiar with special characteristics of the forest on his property — a bowl that forms a natural amphitheatre, and several natural stages. These are the places that groups are led to, once a year, to this day. In the dark, the logical performance locations are transformed into intimate pockets of golden light that would be difficult to find in the dark without a guide.
The first Theatre in the Bush was formatted as it is today, and it was well received. This year it was sold out the first day it was announced. Fidler says 140 guests is the maximum the event can accommodate.