By Shannon Boklaschuk
Several University of Saskatchewan (USask) alumni are bringing theatre to city streets this summer through the latest Sum Theatre production.
The show, titled Turn, Turn, Turn, is a travelling theatre experience that will be coming to neighbourhoods in Saskatoon and Martensville from July 28 to Aug. 16.
Ensemble member and USask alumna Jenna Berenbaum (BFA’15), who studied in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Drama, said Turn, Turn, Turn is “a colourful, musical, and fantastical theatre experience.”
“I would describe the show as a wandering piece of evolving art,” she said.
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Sum Theatre made the decision to swap its usual Theatre in the Park model for a moving performance that community members can enjoy without gathering in large groups. Prior to each show, a start time and a neighbourhood will be posted on social media and the audience can then find the performers—something Sum Theatre is comparing to the excitement of hearing an ice-cream truck coming down the block in the summertime.
The members of the show’s ensemble will follow a pickup truck and trailer pulling props and puppets as they travel throughout the community.
“Turn, Turn, Turn is a community-inspired mobile theatre experience,” said ensemble member and USask alumnus Jesse Fulcher Gagnon (BFA’15), who also studied in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Drama. “It is a high-energy travelling show bursting with colour, music and fun.”
The production, which is inspired by videos, drawings and poems that children submitted to the Sum Creation Studio, is being offered free of charge to the community. Yulissa Campos (BFA’17, BA’18), another College of Arts and Science alumna and ensemble member, described Turn, Turn, Turn as “a show about adapting to new changes” that “hopes to bring joy to our community during this time.”
“It feels surreal,” Campos said, when asked about taking part in the show during the global pandemic. “About four months ago the entire world was in a lockdown. The fact that we can still create art during a pandemic brings hope to me—and I hope it does the same to our community.”
Sum Theatre has become well known for bringing live, professional theatre performances to people of all ages for free. The goal of Sum Theatre, which was co-founded by current USask PhD student Joel Bernbaum and USask alumna Heather Morrison (BFA’08), is to build community through theatre experiences for everyone.
Campos has previous experience with Sum Theatre, having been part of Theatre in the Pool in 2017 and serving as drama facilitator for the Youth on the Rise program. Since graduating from USask, Campos has been involved in several Saskatchewan-based productions and has written a few plays that have been part of festivals, including Saskatoon’s annual Fringe Festival. She has also created her own theatre company, Ay, Caramba! Theatre, which she describes as the first Latinx theatre in Saskatoon whose main purpose is to represent BIPOC community voices.
“The training in the drama department prepared me to be able to take on big challenges,” Campos said. “The program was mainly based on group projects and ensemble productions. We were constantly creating things and forced to think outside the box. It taught me professionalism and the value of teamwork. Those skills are valuable in projects like this (Turn, Turn, Turn), where we are all a big team trying to make magic happen.”
Like Campos, Berenbaum also has previous experience working with Sum Theatre. Since graduating from USask, Berenbaum has worked with Persephone Theatre, Dancing Sky Theatre, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and various independent companies. She said it “feels amazing” to be creating theatre once again this summer.
“It is so great to be around other people again. It is such a gift to create and be back at work. The pandemic has been a difficult time and I think this show will bring the community together in a new way. It is definitely the highlight of my summer.”
Since graduating from USask, Fulcher Gagnon has primarily been involved with La Troupe du Jour, a professional, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of French-language theatre in Saskatchewan. He said his involvement with Turn, Turn, Turn marks his first experience working with Sum Theatre “and it has been nothing but great.”
“They truly have a culture built into their company to go above and beyond—not just when it comes to performances, but with taking care of their team,” he said. “It is nothing but smiling eyes all day—because we are all very good about keeping our masks on.”
Fulcher Gagnon described the show’s ensemble as an “energized group of performers,” and he also praised the production team involved with Turn, Turn, Turn.
“The amazing sound design, the fun costumes, the incredible organization from the group of stage managers, the beautiful vision from our fearless leaders and the breathtaking puppets made by our very own puppet master—all these things have come together in such a perfect way that us performers just sort of get to skip in and have fun.”
Monday marked the ensemble’s first day rehearsing out on the street. Fulcher Gagnon noted that many people came out of their houses to watch on their steps or looked through their windows.
Morrison, Sum Theatre’s artistic producer, said the entire team is grateful to be welcomed back into the community to perform.
“From where the audience members pause to watch they might see the whole show, or they might just catch a glimpse,” she said. “Either way, we promise to make it magical.”