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Monday, April 15, 2024
Chatting Robin Hood with Yellow Door Theatre Projects Andorlie Hillstrom

Yellow Door Theatre Project is inviting local residents to take time out this holiday season to see its Canadian musical Robin Hood, which runs Dec. 14 to 23 at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (PAC) in Robertson Theatre.

“This is a premier, it’s a brand-new work,” says Andorlie Hillstrom, artistic director of the show.

“This isn’t a typical ‘Oh, it’s Robin Hood, so it must be medieval,’ — it is not, it’s contemporary.”

Hillstrom and playwright Lezlie Wade have adapted and contemporized the classic Robin Hood legend to appeal to a wide audience, describing the play setting as, “somewhere close by, but perhaps no longer recognizable.”

“We wanted material that is going to be appealing to a family, a broad spectrum of individuals — not just other kids, but to our adult members,” says Hillstrom.

“And something that, you know, for instance, especially like this time of year at Christmas, people are going to think how this would be a great little afternoon or evening for a family.”

Presented in modern times, an ensemble of 37 children makes up almost the entire cast, accompanied by Shaw Festival actors Jenny Wright and William Vicars.

The play also includes a new character by the name of Anwin, and three reporters that act as narrators.

The story follows the group of children who have been hiding in Sherwood Forest after losing their parents to the sheriff over his plans to build a new subdivision by way of clear-cutting trees.

The parents have been imprisoned for protesting the sheriff, played by William Vickers, and his associate, Anwin, played by Jenny L. Wright, both seasoned performers of the Shaw Festival.

“And so, there’s a pushback — and I want everyone to know that there is no connection here between this show and what’s happening in Niagara-on-the-Lake right now,” says Hillstrom.

She says the writing and commissioning of the show started well before any of the recent development issues in Niagara-on-the-Lake began, but finds it interesting the storyline is running somewhat parallel to what’s going on in town at the moment.

In this rendition of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham has proposed to develop Sherwood Forest.

“It has truly, you know from the kids’ perspective, made them really think about their community, just environmentally how important their spaces are to them, the world and our care of it,” Hillstrom says.

She says both Vickers and Wright are worth the price of admission, with Vickers making “a great bad guy” as the sheriff and Wright epitomizing a strong matriarchal role as the sheriff’s crony who ends up having a significant impact on the outcome of the play.

“Anwin (Wright) goes from being someone who is literally a ‘yes person,’ someone who is ‘weak minded,’ to an individual who is strong and powerful,” Hillstrom says.

“It’s pretty exciting to just watch the journey that particular character takes.”

As for the casting of Robin Hood, Hillstrom decided to choose a female to perform the role, as opposed to the traditional renditions, in which Hood is male to keep, with the medieval feel.

“The whole idea of having a girl do the role of Robin also was just kind of intriguing,” said Hillstrom.

“It was, ‘Okay, so let’s shake it up a little bit,’ and it has made it far more interesting than just regurgitating a legend or story.”

Naomi Shad, who’s in her second season with the company, was chosen to play Robin Hood, and according to Hillstrom, she brings “everything to the table” with her “very gifted vocals.”

“She’s got the most amazing voice,” she says.

“She’s one of those singers that just touches your heart and there have been more than one instance where I’ve heard Naomi singing – whether it’s in competition or in concert – where she’s had me in tears.”

Maid Marion’s character is played by award-winning singer Sydney Cornett, who Hillstrom believes will one day become a very strong musical presence in Canada, if not the world.

“So we have these just incredibly strong young women,” explains Hillstrom.

Shad and Cornett are “very different,” Hillstrom said.

“Physically they are very different, vocally very different, but they both bring something very unique and special to these particular roles.”

Hillstrom says the music, composed by John-Luke Addison and directed by Patrick Bowman, is supported by strong driving rhythms.

“There is a kind of an overriding feeling throughout a lot of the music that is sung by the children of kind of Celtic [feel] – something older, something you might even think in terms of something that’s ritualistic,” she says.

“The harmonies the children sing are challenging – there’s such depth to it, it’s ethereal at points.”

Hillstrom says the are also up-tempo points to compliment the sheriff and his scenes, which are much more comedic.

“I think that John-Luke has done such wonderful work on the show – I know he’s really proud of it, he feels it’s some of the best work he’s ever written,” she says.

“It isn’t like anything I’ve heard before, people have to come and hear it.”

The performance is set in Robertson Theatre, a black box in the PAC, which has allowed set designer Corwin Ferguson to create a series of platforms and backdrop areas to make it look like many different areas.

“You want pieces on stage that can become relevant for the sheriff’s office, for instance, or now we’re in the forest and we’re in the layer where the children are living, or it could be any of a number of other types of scenes that it will be used for,” says Hillstrom.

“There’s lots of little hiding places for them as well, like there are a few doors that pop up and out and there are barrels that the kids are hiding in. And so, it just becomes quite fun as they begin to emerge from these spaces where they’ve been hiding.”

Hillstrom says to expect some audience interaction as well.

While the children are moving in and out of the performance space, they get very close to the audience, though they do not “break the fourth wall,” whereas the sheriff and his cronies, and the three reporters who play narrators, do break the fourth wall and engage the audience.

Special effects also occur in the show, with an emphasis on projection work, something the company is introducing for the first time.

“We have projection work happening behind the kids on stage which will just add another layer for the audience and I think it’ll be great fun,” Hillstrom says.

“We have a huge storm, I love storms on stage … we have lightning and thunder, and the winds blowing, and so all of that’s going to be great fun for the audience.”

The company has been working on the show since the early Spring, with auditions that followed in June, and rehearsals that started in September.

“These are extremely talented young people, and some of them now have been with us for four years. That’s how long the company has existed,” says Hillstrom.

“And because we provide a strong mentoring and skill training program as well, I’m beginning to see the results of those efforts in the work that these children are doing and with what they provide just for the company in general.”

The show is recommended for ages five and up.

“There’s no reason for anyone to think that the show is dark, it isn’t at all because we have all of these elements of comedy throughout the show,” Hillstrom explains.

“I would just love to see it full for the kids. They’ve worked so hard for this, so deserving. And people need to come and see them and hear them.”

This is Yellow Door Theatre Project’s fourth annual fall production, which runs this year from Dec. 14 to 23. The production has been commissioned by both the company and the generous support of Niagara Investment and Culture, the third year the program has given grants to commission the company’s shows.

The premiere is already sold out. Tickets can be purchased at firstontariopac.ca.

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