75 minutes (no intermission) | Drama | PG
Theatre for football fans; football for theatre fans; storytelling for all.
Let’s start with theatre for football fans.
From the tailgate party an hour before the show, to the green and white flags hung prominently, the green and white pom-poms, green bench and green cowboy hat on stage, to the pre-show announcement by Rod Pederson, voice of the Saskatchewan Riders, there is no doubt. This is a show about football. Canadian football. And the passion of the fans as they cheer on their teams, and trash-talk their rival supporters.
The semi-autobiographical RiderGirl explores that passion through two main characters: brash and salty-tongued Sandra and her protégée Colleen who meet as members of the Riders’ Pep Band. Sandra learned football from her parents. Teenaged Colleen joins the band to play her saxophone and earn a trip out of province to “Saskatchewan’s biggest city: Calgary”. She’s bored with everything: football, her minister father’s church, her home town. Then Sandra awakens a passion for life in Colleen, starting with football, teaching Colleen the rules, both of football and of life. “This ain’t no place to keep quiet, Girl!”
In 60 performances in a dozen cities and towns across four provinces, RiderGirl has touched the hearts of Roughrider fans. They recognize and respond to both the pride of (sparse) victories and the bitterness of (many) defeats. It’s tough being green (and white) when your team has won only 4 out of 101 Grey Cups. RiderGirl is a high energy recharge for those fans. They laugh; they cry; they empathize with Colleen. She is one of them: the communal 13th man.
Note to RedBlacks fans: if you want to know how you can help your team win, learn from RiderGirl. NOW!
It’s not just Rider fans who respond to this show. Fans of other teams show up in their colours to join in the trash-talk and the tailgate parties. But it’s the stories that grab them. Colleen discovers that adulthood and a secure career as a musician leave her feeling on the sidelines of life, with no goal other than a government pension and benefits. She aches for something more: a passion in life to match her passion for football. She takes a serious gamble to find that passion by changing careers. She takes lessons from football to guide her: “Hold the ball; keep marching; don’t fumble.”
Football fans of all stripes identify with her struggle, drawn in by Sutton’s powerful drama and by empathy for her character. They may not cheer for her team, but they are soon rooting for her. She first wins them over with humour via her faltering steps as a student actor. As the stakes get higher, they feel the pain of her battles and the steepness of the path she has chosen.
Next, football for theatre fans.
For theatregoers unfamiliar with and intimidated by the arcane rules of football, Sandra’s lessons about football teach both the young Colleen and the audience. But this is much more than lessons about a sport. It is this story of Colleen’s search for passion and meaning in her life that makes this play powerful theatre. Sports and theatre fans both identify with her desire for more meaning out of life.
Finally, storytelling for all.
Were this just a play about passion for sports and about individual discovery it would be a good night out. But there’s another storyline that makes it transcend both sport and theatre. Colleen makes a friend in a new neighbour: Bill, who is also a Rider fan, but has never been to a Grey Cup game. Together they watch Rider wins and losses, and make plans for Bill to attend his first Grey Cup.
But Colleen soon discovers that Bill has a struggle of his own. Packages of medicine and equipment arrive for him that she signs for in his absence. Soon she is cheering for her friend even as she cheers for their team. Bill’s ups and downs parallel her own. The triple denouement of their two stories and the 2009 Grey Cup game reaches a poignancy that turns a good play into an exceptional one.
Be you a fan of sports, theatre or just plain good storytelling, I encourage you to check out RiderGirl. And remember: “This ain’t no place to keep quiet!”
A note to parents: while I have rated RiderGirl as parental guidance, please note that there is plenty of coarse language (hey, it’s football). So you may decide that it’s not suitable for your teenagers. However, if they’ve attended live football games, they’ve heard it all before and will find nothing shocking. Plus they’ll learn valuable lessons about life. Your choice.
RiderGirl by RiderGirl Productions is playing at the Undercurrents Festival at the Great Canadian Theatre Company February 15th at 7PM, 16th at 9PM, 20th at 7PM and 22nd at 3PM. Single tickets are $15 + HST. A three show pass is $40 + HST. A six show pass is $60 + HST.