The other night I went to a performance of Promise Productions’ Birdie on the Wrong Bus, a delightful and satisfying story written by Ellen Chorley and directed by Andrew Ritchie. I wish I’d been able to share the show with my 9 year old nephew, because I think he would have loved it and learned a lot that would have enhanced a visit to Edmonton. Maybe I can lobby for a remount when my nephew is visiting?
I also liked it a lot myself. For me there is something deeply satisfying about seeing or reading a story for young people that has elements I didn’t get enough of as a kid. A young female protagonist who is bright, stubborn, and not overly cute. An adventurous kid who isn’t punished by the plotline. An odd kid who isn’t shown as being bullied. Celebration of women in sports (I just about squeed myself out of my seat and elbowed the stranger beside me in delight when the Edmonton Grads came into the story.) Siblings who are impatient with each other but not mean. Local mentions, places I know. And an overall message of the rewards of discovering the city for yourself and acquiring a personal story of “Why I love Edmonton”.
The premise of the story cleverly set up the situation of a kid stuck on a wrong bus, with an explanation that fearful kids and worried parents alike could buy into without worrying that a similar thing could happen by accident. Being on the wrong bus alone is intimidating, scary, and/or embarrassing for anyone, but that shouldn’t deter people from supporting kids to ride public transit. Birdie, the earnest and anxious protagonist, was played convincingly by Mari Chartier. She first jumps onto the wrong bus to defy her older sister, as the usual routine has the Grade 4 and Grade 6 siblings expected to travel home together on nights a parent can’t meet them, and the bus departs before she can get off again.
Other roles – teacher, sister, bus drivers and passengers – were all covered by Lana Michelle Hughes and Ben Stevens, with some impressively quick backstage costume changes. Within the environment of a moving bus, Birdie encounters several people she first misjudges and then learns from – a Goth teen with big headphones is not actually a scary vampire, a homeless person collecting drink containers for the deposit money is interesting and friendly, everyone is passionate about some locations in the city because of personal meaning and memories.
Since I was young I have also loved realism in stage set elements, too. The simple portrayal of seats on a bus, with a hint of the proper window shape and the signal cord, gets increased authenticity with a real ETS bus-stop sign, advertising placards, and farebox.