The ship is made of found materials. Built from the ground up, it was designed to be a working musical instrument. The performers walk onto the stage and the set of The Hudson’s Bay Epic comes alive.
Telling the story of the 1611 mutiny against Henry Hudson, this theatrical piece of historical fiction is nothing short of whimsical as the cast of three perform ten different roles, create their own sound effects and use every piece of the ship as a percussion instrument.
Written and produced by Mudfoot Theatre, The Hudson’s Bay Epic has evolved since its debut three and a half years ago. Theatre founders Ian McFarlane (BFA ’10) and Geneviève Paré (BFA ’11) talk about the story behind The Hudson’s Bay Epic and the origins of Mudfoot Theatre, which is based in Calgary.
“It all started at the University of Lethbridge,” says Paré. “Ian and I worked together on a TheatreXtra production. We became fast friends and roommates.”
As the two became closer they began working creatively together. Through various performance opportunities at the University it became clear they were intrigued by improvised sound. Paré looks back fondly remembering when briefly, a living room was set up in University Hall to encourage anyone to sit and perform in public. She and McFarlane used the space to experiment with the sound of soapy water.
Later, Paré and McFarlane traveled to Malawi for a field study focusing on health education through theatre; it was then they became a couple.
“We ended up embarking on two journeys,” recounts McFarlane. ”We were going to this new place and starting a new relationship.”
Upon their return, the duo partnered with Terry Ecklund (BFA ’11) to create a performance piece based on their experiences in Malawi. This was Paré and McFarlane’s first creation as a team.
“Looking back, my career started at the University,” says Paré. “Students should take advantage of the structure and support offered by their professors. Volunteer, join workshops and extra-curricular activities. I am where I am today because of those opportunities.”
While Paré was finishing her degree, McFarlane found himself in Calgary performing with Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre, a unique company known for devised theatre in odd places.
“They found this house that was about to be demolished and asked me to turn the kitchen into a performance piece,” says McFarlane. “That’s when I met Lane Shordee and a creative relationship blossomed. I love working with him; he thinks so far outside the box.”
Shordee now works with Mudfoot Theatre and created the set for The Hudson’s Bay Epic.
After graduation, Paré joined McFarlane in Calgary and they got back to work creating and performing under the name Deux Fous Frivoles (Two Frivolous Fools), which soon evolved to Frivolous Fools Performance. It was then The Hudson’s Bay Epic began to take form.
“I was interested in a machine you could perform amongst and around, that you could use to create a soundscape,” says Paré. McFarlane adds, “We wanted to drum and tell a story.”
They became enthralled with the idea of telling a folk tale focusing on Canadian History.
“The story of Henry Hudson has so many holes in it,” exclaims McFarlane. “It was begging to be turned into fiction.”
This play helped shape the mandate of their theatre company and illustrated their potential to retell the stories of Canadian history.
“All around the world cultures have a mythology surrounding their history. My family has been in Canada for many generations and I feel more Canadian than anything else, but we haven’t been here long enough to be a part of a more ancient and mysterious narrative,” says Paré, quite passionately. “I would connect more with my Canadian identity if there was that mythical element to it. So why not create folk history for ourselves?”
Initially, the piece was performed by the two of them acting out all the characters and creating a chaotic and fun atmosphere. Later, Paré and McFarlane approached Lindsey Zess-Funk (BFA ’09) to direct the work when they submitted it to Edmonton’s Ignite! Festival.
Through Zess-Funk’s ability to bring mythical elements to the stage and make objects come to life, she guided Paré and McFarlane through a revision process of The Epic. She suggested adding a third actor so the characters and set could be more efficiently played.
“Her focus during this process has been critical in the midst of a million unfiltered ideas,” says Paré.
After the addition of fellow actor Ryan Reese (BFA ’13) and more than three years of growth, the original chaos of the play has remained.
Paré and McFarlane found themselves applying for grants and working with ensembles of artists to develop their production. The addition of Reese rendered Two Frivolous Fools obsolete and a new name was needed as they sought to rebrand their company.
“We were driving through the mountains and pairing words,” McFarlane explains. “What we do is very human driven. We try to separate ourselves from technology and use handcrafted and reclaimed materials. We needed something that speaks to that earthiness.”
Out of the all the word pairs they explored, Mudfoot stood out.
“If your feet are in the mud, you’ve done something right, and it had a nice acoustic sound,” says Paré.
Their audiences readily accepted the name and they have been known as Mudfoot Theatre for nearly a year.
“This came so organically to us,” says Paré, “Ian and I never said, I want to start a theatre company that uses only found materials and focuses on Canadian history, but that’s where we are.“
While Paré and McFarlane are no longer at the U of L, it is evident they are fond of their time here.
“They were the best years of my life and I didn’t know it,” recalls McFarlane. “In university the stakes are low. You can make mistakes and you have these loving professors who offer constructive critiques.”
The story of this young couple illustrates the possibilities and potential for aspiring artists in Alberta. They offer encouragement to students with a passion for the arts.
“The U of L gave us a foundation of knowledge and experience, which also gave us confidence,” says Paré. “Having a BFA makes you very employable. Employers are always looking for a mind that exists outside the box; they want creative problem solvers.”
Mudfoot Theatre debuts their next production entitled River: A Puppet Myth in Calgary next year. Created by Zess-Funk, Paré and McFarlane, the puppet-play features set design by Lane Shordee and original compositions from Jesse Plessis (BMus ’10). River is another piece of historical fiction that tells the tale of the birth and death of the Bow River.
For more information about Mudfoot Theatre and upcoming events visit mudfoottheatre.com.