Wood Buffalo coming to Saint Andrews

(Submitted photo) Theatre New Brunswick is taking playwright Len Falkenstein’s production Wood Buffalo on tour this month and will stop in Saint Andrews for a performance on Nov. 18.

SAINT ANDREWS – Following a week in Fredericton this month, Theatre New Brunswick will take its latest production on the road, with a stop in Saint Andrews.

The W.C. O’Neill Arena Theatre will host Theatre New Brunswick’s Wood Buffalo on Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. The tour also features performances in Florenceville-Bristol, Dalhousie, Bathurst, Moncton and Saint John.

Noting that one of his inspirations is Angels in America by Tony Kirshner, playwright Len Falkenstein said his play is about the Fort McMurray region of Northern Alberta.

“We’re billing it as an epic, it’s kind of a big play,” Falkenstein said. “It’s got a lot of characters, it encompasses a lot of history, it’s about one very specific place, but it’s also about Canada as a whole.”

Theatre New Brunswick called Wood Buffalo a sweeping Canadian epic that tells the story of the Wood Buffalo region from colonization to the year 2070, through the intertwined narratives of a set of characters from across the country who are drawn to Canada’s oil sands to seek a better life.

Falkenstein said there will be 15 to 18 speaking roles for the cast of five and each act represents a year of history.

“There are some well-known Canadian figures, some well-known Canadian politicians make a brief cameo appearance. Justin Trudeau gets a cameo and Rachel Notley, and a few others,” he said. “Characters also play animals because there’s a chorus of animals who represent the land and environment.”

The characters include a crow, beaver, buffalo, fur traders, explorers, Indigenous community members alongside modern-day characters.

“It mainly focuses on the events of the last decade or so,” said Falkenstein. “The play is primarily the story of a group of characters from across Canada and across the world who end up in Fort McMurray for work. It’s a story about a place that’s told through them but it’s also, in a way, a story of Canada as a country that has been built on the extraction of natural resources, whether it’s oil, or furs, or timber, or fish, and our relationship to the environment in a time of environmental emergency.”

Etched with compassion, humour and magic, Wood Buffalo examines through the lens of individual lives the environmental cost of keeping homes comfortable and the economy humming.

Though centred on a bustling Alberta community, the story of Wood Buffalo is a universal one.

“It’s by no means a straight-forward narrative and we will be aiming to make this large, complicated story as entertaining as possible,” said Falkenstein. “I guess the main goal of the play is to inspire some thought about all of us, as individuals, what our choices are. As far as the environment goes, perhaps to inspire some possibilities for change, but it’s probably more than that, about how we’ve gotten to where we are, and by implication, what we could’ve done differently, what we could still do different.”

Falkenstein grew up in Macklin, Sask., on the border with Alberta, just south of Lloydminster, and witnessed first-hand how resource development changed nearby communities.

“When I was a child, it was just a farming community but it’s also a region that is heavy oil. By the time I graduated high school, oil wells had sprung up all around town and were a big feature of the landscape,” he recalled. “I think what happened to the place I grew up in sort of informed my perspective.”

After living in Alberta for a decade, Falkenstein was hired as director of drama at the University of New Brunswick in 1999.

Falkenstein started Wood Buffalo in 2016 while Playwright in Residence at Theatre New Brunswick.

During the play’s early development stages, Falkenstein said he made several trips to Alberta’s Wood Buffalo region to interview local people, including politicians, newcomers, oil and gas employees, retail workers, food bank volunteers and people from Indigenous communities.

“I also aim in the play to just talk about how very complicated the situation is, how there are no simple solutions, how the people made the choices they have for very good reasons as well, how our country has really benefitted from and prospered off of, not just the oil industry, but all these extractive industries that have really built our economy,” Falkenstein stated. “It’s very important to me that the play be fair and not one-sided. Part of that is, I have done quite a bit of research. It is a very factual play.”

Falkenstein teaches theatre and playwriting and directs productions for Theatre UNB. He is also artistic director of Bard in the Barracks, Fredericton’s outdoor Shakespeare company, and NotaBle Acts, a developmental theatre company that stages an annual festival by New Brunswick dramatists.

His plays, which have been staged with his company Theatre Free Radical at Toronto’s SummerWorks Performance Festival and at Fringe festivals and other locations across Canada, include Lac/AthabascaSoft TargetUtopiaDoppelgänger, and Free/Fall.

Despite his many achievements in theatre, this will be Falkenstein’s first professional play.

“This will be my first big professional production happening rather late in my life so I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer,” he noted. “I’m thrilled beyond words really. This is a dream come true to have (Theatre New Brunswick) producing this show.”

Tickets are available at hLps://www.tnb.nb.ca/wood-buffalo/ and to watch a trailer, visit hLps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h3PIKyWlAE.

“No matter what your politics are, there might be something in this play that will force you to perhaps rethink some of the things that you think and believe,” added Falkenstein. “It is action-packed; there’s a lot of action, a lot of fun in it too. I’m telling people I’m aiming for it to be the most fun you can have at the theatre, while also maybe deciding to leave your car in the parking lot at the end of the show.”


Jake Boudrot

A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and a resident of Arichat, Jake Boudrot is an award-winning journalist with decades of experience as a freelancer, reporter and editor representing media outlets across the Maritimes.