Suitcase Theatre


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

A Call For Help…

I received an e-mail from a Mr. Whitney Smith. His e-mail told me that he was interested in contacting Ontario festivals and events. He wanted to tell them about his theatre company’s “puppet musical”, The House That Jack Built. He thought that festival organizers might be interested in having one of the company’s plays at their event. The e-mail intrigued me and I wanted to find out more, so I asked Whitney to call me. He did, and we talked about his theatre group and about the “puppet musical” His group is called the Suitcase Theatre and they have a mobile theatre that can be set up inside and out. They also have 2 or 3 plays available. The plays are geared towards children. The Suitcase Theatre is a non-profit organization and a program of the Seeds of Hope Foundation. After our conversation, Whitney invited me to come to Toronto and see one of their productions myself. The play was running during the Spring Break. I happily accepted the invitation. So, here I am on a sunny Thursday afternoon in downtown Toronto. (Well, near downtown, Bloor Street West and Avenue Road) The play was being held in the Parish Hall of the Church of the Redeemer. I was a little early, but I went downstairs to the Hall. Inside I was given a friendly greeting from the Theatre’s staff. I was given my ticket and told that the doors would be opened shortly. I sat down and listened. Behind the doors I could hear the sound of the performers rehearsing! It sounded great and I could hardly wait to see the play!

The House That Jack Built…

The doors to the Parish Hall opened and all of us who had been waiting entered the Hall. The play’s scenery had been set up at the front of the Hall. The set was very simple and consisted of a painted backdrop and a roughly made house (puppet house). Once the audience had filed in and had settled in their seats, the lights were dimmed. The music started and the players entered the stage area. They were all dressed in white and once on stage began to recite the poem, The House That Jack Built. This was the start of the play. In this article I won’t try to describe the whole play and, I won’t try to critique it (I am certainly not qualified!). I will say, though, that I thought that the play was artfully created and performed and, I enjoyed it very much! Judging by the reaction of the audience, especially the children, I know that they enjoyed it too! As the title and poem indicate, the play is loosely based on the well known poem, The House That Jack Built. The play is a “Puppet Musical” that combines actors and puppets. I believe that the script is original as are the songs and lyrics. The combination is very clever. I am including a 2 part compilation video of the play that illustrates what a “Puppet Musical” is. If you get the opportunity to see that the play, I would definitely recommend it and, make sure that you take your children or grandchildren!

After The Play…

The play ended with the entire cast on stage to sing one last song! Then Whitney Smith (the music man) joined them on stage and invited the audience to ask questions about the play. Many of the young theatre enthusiasts ask questions plus told Whitney what they liked best about the play! As soon as the questions were over, the audience was invited to go behind the scenes to see where the cast made their costume changes. During all this bedlam I was able to catch a few words with Whitney. We talked about the play and the Suitcase Theatre. The House That Jack Built is one of three plays that are available through the Suitcase Theatre. Whitney and his group hope to interest festival and event committees in booking one of the plays for their event. They want to take the “suitcase” theatre “on the road” and bring it directly to communities across southern Ontario. Whitney feels that the plays will add a great deal to the festivals and events that enlist their services. Especially those events that cater to children! I couldn’t agree more and hope to see Whitney and the cast at the festivals and events we visit.