I had the pleasure of attending the Wagonstage Theatre’s performance of The Little Forest by Clem Martini on August 18 at Bowness Park in Calgary. From June to August, the show ran in several locations around the city, featuring emerging performers from the School of Creative and Performing Arts, including Iván Guevara García, Liam Akehurst, Sebastian Salomon Arriagada, and Sophia Garcia. Below is my honest review of the performance.
The Little Forest is an enchanting tale of four siblings living in a landscape devoid of nature. Youngest (Iván Guevara García), Athletic (Liam Akehurst), Economic (Sebastian Salomon Arriagada), and Scientific (Sophia Garcia) come together to create a thriving forest where none had existed before – planting dreams, defeating obstacles, and experiencing transformation along the way.
The play raises thought-provoking questions on how we as a society place value on money, vanity, and personal accolades, often at the expense of the health of our environment. It prompts us to rethink our priorities and prioritize the conservation of our planet over personal gain and recognition. As the siblings work together and remain committed to their cause, the play delivers a powerful message of collective action to create a better world for both people and nature.
The performance occurred on the grass between two playgrounds in Bowness Park, making it easily accessible for onlookers to join in and providing a quick escape for young children who may lose interest. The park had a lovely peaceful yet lively atmosphere despite the early afternoon timing. The audience consisted of joggers, dog walkers, and families of all ages.
The slightly chilled weather was accompanied by the smell of smoke from the B.C wildfires. Despite this, the organizers did not cancel or move the event indoors, which I was thankful for. I found that the scent of smoke only accentuated the play’s message about the importance of taking action to protect our environment.
The performance was engaging for all ages, akin to a live showcase by the Wiggles. The play began with a land acknowledgement, followed by actors distributing flowers to children in the audience, which played a role in the plot and set design. García, Akehurst, Arriagada, and Garcia displayed exceptional dancing, singing, and acting skills. In addition, Garcia’s multi-instrumental talents, including the melodica, ukulele, and slide whistle, added a unique layer of musical accompaniment to the performance.
The magic of storytelling in the performance was undeniable. The actors were captivating, and observing the young audience’s complete engagement with the play was a delightful experience. Even as an adult, the actors’ animated performances and infectious energy radiated from the stage, making the show an equally compelling experience. After the show, the actors gave seeds and stickers to the children in the audience, potentially inspiring a new generation of gardeners to take an active role in planting and caring for nature.
In light of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, free events like this play a vital role in providing entertainment for families. By offering free performances at various venues in the city, the Wagonstage Theater demonstrates its dedication to engaging with the local community and making theatre accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Nevertheless, the performance is not free from criticism. Although the website stated that the show would run for an hour, it only lasted around thirty minutes, which could be a letdown for some audience members. Additionally, earlier signage in the park could have improved the accessibility and visibility of the performance, attracting a broader audience and fostering greater community engagement.
The play’s location on the grass may have posed accessibility challenges for wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments. Relocating to an area of the park that offered a mix of grass and hard surfaces, such as concrete, would have improved accessibility for everyone. Moreover, the absence of a sign language interpreter could have hindered deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences from fully engaging with the production.
While I found Youngest relatable and compelling, I did not feel the same way about Athletic, Scientific, and Economic. Although they shifted from a self-centred focus to a more collective-centred perspective, their motivations still felt underdeveloped. However, the play still delivered a strong message of hope and highlighted the significance of unity in creating a better world.
The Wagonstage Theatre’s The Little Forest by Clem Martini was a perfect example of the power of community theatre, showcasing local talent and engaging audiences in a relatable and relevant way. I highly recommend Wagonstage Theatre to anyone in Calgary seeking a delightful, family-friendly performance.