On Thursday, December 12th, Arbor Theatre — in partnership with Mysterious Entity — makes its long-anticipated return to Showplace Performance Centre in downtown Peterborough with the original production Real Rad Red Riding Hood, written and directed by Em Glasspool.
While this is the only public performance, school performances are also available on December 9th, 10th, and 12th that members of the public can attend if they wish.
Arbor Theatre’s annual Christmas productions have been a holiday tradition for families and schools across the Kawarthas, but Real Rad Red Riding Hood is Arbor’s first show since 2017. It marks a new direction for the long-existing theatre company under the leadership of new creative director Em Glasspool of Mysterious Entity.
Bringing a mostly new and dynamic creative team to Arbor Theatre, Em has maintained the theatre company’s special recipe of combining young performers with celebrated local performers to create a lively and fun show suitable for audiences of all ages.
Although Arbor’s holiday shows have been a staple of the season, my visit to a Sunday morning rehearsal of Real Rad Red Riding Hood at Adam Scott Collegiate Vocational Institute was my first with the theatre company.
For this production, Em and his team have amassed a huge cast of nearly 50 performers ranging from the age of four to 77, with the majority of them being under the age of 10.
Yet, despite the young age of the performers, I was impressed by the group’s focus, organization, and excitement. The kids were engaged in the rehearsal and, most of all, learning real lessons about performing on stage.
Taking the helm as Arbor’s new creative director in May of this year, this is Em’s first production at the head of Arbor — which has come with a lot of new challenges for him.
“Arbor Theatre was looking for a new creative director who had a lot of directing experience and someone who is established in the theatre realm,” Em explains. “I was one of a number of people who were contacted, and part of it was that I had the ability to write. Typically I work with adult, and very small casts. For this show, there are 50 bodies on stage and most of them are children.”
“So that’s been a big learning curve for me, but I think it’s a great fit. I enjoy working with the team and the kids are amazing.”
Working alongside Em to create the new face of Arbor Theatre is long-time general manager and producer Beverly Breeden, stage manager Cheri Patrick, costume designer Melanie McCall, and choreographer Dreda Blow. They are joined by long-time set designer John Fewings and Em’s song-writing partner Curtis Driedger. With the exception of Beverly and John, this marks a brand new team of people taking Arbor into new territory.
“It’s been a great revitalization,” Em says. “Sometimes new ideas and new people are what a company needs. I’m honoured and excited to be brought in, and I think there is a real desire and thirst for young people in the arts. More can be done to teach and train and engage with the kids, and not just put them on stage.”
With over 20 years of holiday shows under the company’s belt, Arbor has covered most of the classic stories and fairy tales through the years. So when it was suggested that this year’s show be an adaption of Little Red Riding Hood, Em had his work cut out for him in creating something relevant for his first show.
“The company said they wanted to do Red Riding Hood and I thought ‘Oh dear, I don’t know about that story,'” Em recalls. “There are some problematic things with that story in today’s world. My goal was to modernize it. It’s contemporary, and there are very strong female characters in it. The mother, the grandmother, and Red are all very strong and prominent.”
“I used the story to talk about preserving nature, and our role as humans in doing that. It’s about interacting with animals in the woods, so our characters are trees and flowers and wolf cubs and other animals. It’s also about relationships. The trees are played by teenagers who are Red’s counterparts, and we talk about bullying.”
“I think people will be surprised with the show I’ve created. There are many elements to it, including music, and it’ll be a tiny bit more political — if we can do that in children’s theatre. My social justice side has leaked into the work.”
Sitting in on the second act during the rehearsal, I noticed the themes and lessons learned are plenty and span a great range. The show looks at respecting the environment and wildlife, bullying, toxic masculinity, non-violence, and even a thinly veiled line about consent. Furthermore, the show has both indigenous and LGBTQ+ representation.
However, while all of these themes are within the show, they are not presented in a preachy way that bogs down the show, nor do they take away from the fast and fun script.
“I’d say that it has a lot of deep messages,” says 13-year-old Max Hoen, who co-stars as the show’s narrator and Red’s friend Tree. “There are layers to it. Most of the time it’s a comedy, but sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s sad.”
Real Rad Red Riding Hood stars 12-year-old Eloise Harvey as Red, a strong-willed and rebellious teenager who, despite her mother’s orders, goes into the woods to visit her grandmother. There she meets a lonely wisecracking tree (Max Hoen), who becomes her companion through the forest.
Along the way Red also encounters the Big Bad Wolf (Aedan Shaughnessy), who’s trying to raise his pack of cubs to be big and tough like him, although his oldest son Basher (Nathan Bertucci) just wants to be friendly.
One of the most important things that Em wanted to do when developing the characters was to make Red stronger and more independent — not the traditional lost little girl in the woods being victimized by the big bad wolf.
“In this show Red is a teenager and rebellious,” Eloise explains. “Her mother tells her not to go through the woods, and then she meets a forester who gives her all kinds of rules. But my character does what she wants to anyway, and she gets in all sorts of adventures.”
As is tradition with the Arbor holiday show, adult performers from the community take part in the show and, once again, the majority of the adult performers are new to Arbor this year. Bringing their knowledge as mentors to the young performers, and adding their own colourful personalities to the roles they play, are Naomi DuVall as an uptight forest ranger, Bruce Levia and Bob Forsey as the sun and the moon, David Batemann as Pansy of the forest, Rebecca Desjardins as Red’s mom, Aeden Shaughanessy as the (not so) Big Bad Wolf, and Caitlin O’Connor as Red’s grandmother.
I was delighted but curious to see award-winning performer and playwright David Bateman among the adult performers listed for the show.
“People who know me know I work with David, and his shows aren’t the kind you bring children to,” Em admits. “But it’s wonderful to cross over and have David work with kids. David is one of the most fun characters. He’s so funny and a wonderful.”
Em also brings award-winning indigenous artist Nimkii Osawamick to the show in the role of Grandfather Wolf.
“Nimkii is a champion pow wow dancer, and he wins tons of awards for his work,” Em says. “As Grandfather Wolf, he will be dancing as well. He has his own company called DNA Stage and their mandate is to go to schools and teach kids drumming, language, storytelling, singing, and traditional indigenous arts. He has a really interesting take in working with kids and it’s great having him on board.”
What impressed me the most about the time I spent with the people at Arbor Theatre was how they weren’t just running their performers through the rehearsal. They were taking the time to teach theatre techniques and performance. They talked to the group about preparation and motivation, and were instilling actual lessons in them instead of just leading them on the stage to be adorable living props.
“A huge goal of mine is that rehearsals are a learning opportunity,” Em says. “We do a ton more than just tell the kids ‘Go here, say this line, and put this hat on.’ We’re really looking on the basics of acting, techniques ,and things the kids can take away with them so they can continue to work on as they continue in theatre.”
The lessons are obviously working. When talking to Ella Swit, a passionate young lady who plays a wolf cub in the show, she eloquently expressed to me her love for the theatre and for being on the stage.
“I just get to go into my own little world.,” Ella says. “In each play, you get put on costumes and make up and become someone you’re not — and that’s awesome.”
With a new creative team and a new direction in storytelling, Real Rad Red Riding Hood is an exhilarating rebirth for Arbor Theatre, and a welcome return to this favourite holiday tradition.
Real Rad Red Riding Hood will be performed for the public at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 12th at Showplace Performance Centre (290 George St. N., Peterborough). Tickets are $18 adults ($15 students/seniors) plus fees, available in person at the Showplace box office, by phone at 705-742-7469, and online.
School Performances of Real Rad Red Riding Hood
There are also school performances of Real Rad Red Riding Hood taking place at Showplace Performance Centre at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, December 9th, Tuesday, December 10th, and Thursday, December 12th.
The cost is $12 per student, with free admission for teachers and supervisors with every eight students booked. Discussion periods will take place at the end of each school performance to give students a chance to ask questions of the cast and crew, and to encourage their interest in theatre.
To book your class or school into one of the performances — or if you are a member of the public who wishes to attend a school performance — call 705-295-4248 or email email@example.com.