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Sum Theatre’s The Reel Whirled Promises Fun, Vibrant, Outdoor Experience with a Message

By Ezekiel McAdams

May 15 2024


SUM Theatre’s annual production of 2024 is, The Reel Whirled.


The show runs from May 16-June 28 2024 throughout different parks in Saskatoon. Dates for Regina and across Saskatchewan have not been announced at this time


The plot focuses on three young friends, Gladly, MeowMeow and BIM, who go on a journey in the digital app, The Reel Whirled.

Jenna Berenbaum, Rebecca Spilchak, John Reaney (l-r) TITP 2024 Britainy Zapshalla.jpeg

The play is co-directed by Mackenzie Dawson, Sum Theatre’s new artistic director this season.

Mackenzie Dawson SUM Theatre.jpg

  Co-Directing is S.E. Grummett, an actor, playwright and director that last directed Live Five’s Bat Brains. They have previously been involved in works such as, SCUM: A Manifesto, Creepy Boys, and Something in the Water which toured around the world.

SCUM A Manifesto Poster.png

  Kris Alvarez, actor and playwright, who is known for her previous works, What Kind Of Brown Are You? Her other known work is Burnt Sienna. Alvarez has previously been part of past SUM Theatre productions as well.


  The cast includes Rebecca Spilchak, Jenna Berbaum, John Reaney, Jesse Fulcher-Gagnon, Ed Mendez, Katie Moore and Megan Zong.

Rebecca Spilchak, Ed Mendez, Jenna Berenbaum, John Reaney (l-r) TITP 2024 Britainy Zapshal
Megan Zong, Katie Moore (l-r) (3) TITP 2024 Britainy Zapshalla.jpeg
Katie Moore (2) TITP 2024 Britainy Zapshalla.jpeg

  The music director is Oli Guselle with design by Amberlin Hsu, Kei Tanaka and Rowan Pantel


  SUM Theatre began in as idea in 2011 by one of the founders, Joel Bernbaum, who joined forces with Saskatoon actor, former CBC radio host, side hockey commentator and s life coach, Heather Morrison.


  The very first production was an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in 2013


  The company brings theatre to different parks across Saskatoon. This year, they will be in Saskatoon before migrating to Regina and across the province with dates to be determined.


  Dawson, holds BFA with honours in Fine Arts as well as a Bachelor in Science with honours in physiology and Pharmacology from The University of Saskatchewan. Dawson became Artistic director last year in 2023 and talked about the balance of being both artistic director as well as a co-director on this production. “You have your hand in every cookie jar all the time and you have more then you can eat. I want to be in the rehearsal space to get the art and playing in but I also have all this administrate work, community relation, community associations, which is over twenty five.  And all the sponsors, funders and making sure all the administrative stuff is getting done outside the rehearsal space is really difficult for me.” “And that’s where having a co-director in Grumms, is a huge asset. So when I need to step out and Grumms can work with the crew and cash and I so much trust in them and if they need to step out, it’s a give and take.” Dawson said.


  Alvarez, was very excited to join SUM Theatre in a new capacity as playwright. “While as we began to brainstorm on what is relevant and what the community needs to hear. And by community, I was thinking of family, young people, mental wellness and how it is related to the digital world. And that’s why the story is in the digital world and we’re seeing three young people, traveling an information highway doing a journey out loud on the stage and they’re inside a digital world called The Reel Whirled.”


  Both Dawson and Alvarez shared their joy of the collaborative process of designing the show. “The Team approached me and I was elated to do that. This work is very collaborative, the ensemble gets to pitch in when I offer a story and think about songs and it’s very generative. It doesn’t feel like my play, feels like our play.” Alvarez said with Dawson adding “It all starts with the team and they find the story, the design, the music and the whole show. It starts with the people. I like to think that’s a value how I operate the company we have our people first and have our people guide the work. Build the core team and I wanted Grumms, to be our co-director, so working with them. Kris has worked with us previously, could be a mentor and guiding force and she’s a playwright, so let’s get her to write the story.”


  When it came time finding the right design for the worlbuilding of this digital space, Dawson found it a fun challenge. “Then we built the team in conjunction with that, so we have folks who can improvise, make music and the design element. It’s unlike any design work our designers have ever done before. No one is used to making theatre outside in a field. There are elements of wind, how do we make sure everything stands up?  It has to be light and visible but at the same time it has to big and visible so it fills the park. It’s a catch twenty two. You want it to be giant and massive without being heavy. It also has to be weather proof. So we came to a really vibrant world of doors, and portals that jives with the digital world. It’s really colorful, bright and exciting and brings the story to life.”

  Tanaka, a illustrator and theatre designer is  one of the two designers of the production. Tankaka also found the process very collaborative and fun. “We come from different backgrounds, I come from studio art, Amberlin comes from theatre design and Rowan is our puppet person and we all have different ideas and backgrounds that put it all together in the mixing pot.”


  Music was very important to this production and Guselle was able to fit the 90s ascetic and vibe that the team were looking for. “I said I have young people in my house and they’re all wearing 90s outfits and listening to 90s music, which I was in University ‘So, I said, why don’t we put a 90s vibe to this app called The Reel Whirled.’ And everyone in the crew, who’s younger then me, the ensemble was, they all grew up in that time but they were in a different place. They were in school, watching Saved by the Bell or Rugrats and they really dug in from a young person’s perspective, which is better because that’s who the audience is.”   Alvarez said.


  With the story, design and music being worked on all they needed to, was assemble the actors.


  Spilchak, just finished her third year at The University of Saskatchewan and is just on the path of beginning her theatre career. This is Spilchak’s first time with the theatre company. “I think that above the show itself, this event is about community and gathering. One of SUM Theatre’s core values, is meeting new people, so that at every events, introduce yourself to two people you’ve never met before. So it’s a really great community event and it’s free!”  Spilchak explained.


  Spilchak talked her character, Gladly. “Gladly, is a little girl, who likes to play The Rheel World video, and see meets her two best friends MeowMeow and BIM and she’s a big fan of the influencer, Gigi5G.”


  Spilchak is very excited about the premise and hopefully the message the audience will take away from it. “This production aims to teach the balance of technology and plying outside. Technology is so amazing and can be used to find communities of the same people who share the same interest but it’s about the balance. It’s also about friendship and knowing who your two friends are.”


  Berenbaum, a Saskatoon actor who has been in multiple productions is playing the role of MeowMeow. “The character I play is MeowMeow. I’m one of the main three trio. Three friends who live in the digital world together and throughout the process discover themselves and the positive aspect of being online but also offline and disconnecting. It’s really a wonderful journey of self discover.”


  Berenbaum talked the fun of being part of the production and being with SUM Theatre again. “It’s so much fun to connect with the kids in the audience. I’m excited to get out there and so them what we can do” “The music is awesome and so much fun and it’s about connection and community and a lot of love.”


  Reaney, born and raised in Saskatoon, aspiring theatre artist voice artist,, just recorded an audio book for an author based out of BC. “I actually auditioned for theatre n the park almost two years ago and Joel Berenbaum, who is doing what Mac’s job is now and I was moving, but this year Mac called me and it was a good time to do it.”


  Reaney is really excited the journey his character goes on throughout the show. “My character’s name is BIM, that is capitol BIM, stands for Big Middle. And out of the trio, a little reserved, kind of shy, a little inward, but has a love of fashion and designing clothes and as the show progresses, gains confidence and to model the clothes as well. That’s his journey.”


  On what was the most exciting or surprising about part of this production, Reaney appreciated that the show is fun above preachy. “I will say it’s inspiring in the sense that the show really tried to avoid was being preachy about the internet and demonize it. The show did a good job balancing but finding the balance going outside in person and doing things to fulfill you outside.”


  The creative team, cast and crew are really excited to what Saskatoon audiences will think of their latest endeavor. “There’s lots of fun surprises, a lot of opportunities for you to get on the stage and join us.” Berenbaum said while Alvarez added “This is a first year of transition with a new artistic director and team, it’s something exciting and different. The thing I really appreciate about working with SUM Theatre is they want to keep moving forward and trying new things.”


  SUM Theatre’s The Reel Whirled is playing May 16-June 28 2024 across parks throughout Saskatoon. The dates for Regina as well as across Saskatchewan have not been announced. It is a free event and schedules can be found on Sum Theatre’s website.


“I think I like to always emphasize that theatre in the park, is for everyone. Whether you’re a theatre person and you’ve never been before. If you’ve seen it before, come and see it again. It’s a very different show this year. I think t will feel familiar, welcoming, warm public event. It might feel close in town. They key thing is there is always something new in these show to surprise people with whether with music and puppets  or how the story connects in a way they didn’t expect.  I always like to make sure the invitation is open as as possible." Dawon said.

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