The Globe Theatre’s latest main stage show, Us, explores what it’s like when a minority becomes the majority. It shares the stories of participants at Camp-Us, a summer camp for LGBTQ youth. Instead of telling the typical “coming out” story, Us is about “coming in” – finding your place within the LGBTQ community instead of being the “odd one out” all the time.
Us is written by Regina playwright Kelley Jo Burke, with music by Regina singer/songwriter Jeffery Straker, and it’s the first Saskatchewan-made musical to make its world premiere on the Globe Theatre main stage in decades.
Camp-Us is based on Camp fYrefly, which serves LGBTQ youth in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Burke was an artist-in-residence at the camp in 2014, where many of the youth shared their stories with her, stories that are both uplifting and tragic. Over the course of three years, Burke wove these stories into a cohesive script and collaborated with Straker on the score. It’s a big part of what makes Us feel so emotional and authentic – these are the stories of real young people – their triumphs and their struggles.
The Globe sets the tone for the show with bird and water sounds playing in the theatre while the audience is waiting for the action to begin. The atmosphere makes us feel as though we’re at summer camp with these young people. Chalk slogans are written on the walls: instead of “It gets better,” it says, “It is better.”
One of the camp counsellors makes it clear to participants that this camp is about being part of a team. “Here is not about you – here is about community.” Together, the campers navigate “the intricacies of pronouns” and figure out where they fit under the rainbow – “there’s a letter in the queer alphabet for everyone.” They are also told they must partake in “classic camp”, which includes water balloons, “making useless stuff out of twigs” and “hijinks.”
It’s not all water balloons and hijinks, however. Us deals with some heavy issues, such as suicide attempts, PTSD and violence against people in the LGBTQ community. It stickhandles complex dynamics as well, such as the discrimination that trans people face from others in the LGBTQ community, even though there is a letter in the “queer alphabet” for them.
Cast of Us | Direction by Valerie Ann Pearson. Choreography by Johanna Bundon. Set and Costume Design by Wes D. Pearce. Photo by Chris Graham Photo. Photo Manipulation by Hayley Peters.
Burke’s script melds with Straker’s music seamlessly. The songs are at times joyful and at others heartwrenching. A handful is from Straker’s existing catalogue, with crowd favourites “Birch Bark Canoe,” “Brand New Ocean,” and “Slings and Arrows” making appearances. Fans will note that some lyrics were adapted to fit the characters and plot. However, the vast majority of the 17 songs were written specifically for the play, and they feel that way.
The actors – Daniel Fong, Angela Kemp, David Light and Kaitlyn Semple – do an amazing job with the challenging subject matter as well as the musical and dance elements of the show (my favourite part was the yoga choreography during the nurse practitioner’s solo.) Three of the four actors face the additional challenge of playing multiple characters, which they do with ease. There is a piano player on stage throughout the show, with a bass and guitar on standby for the actors to pick up and play when a song warrants it. These are some seriously multitalented performers!
Us is a glimpse into a world that many of us aren’t familiar with. It is touching, funny, beautiful and not to be missed. As one of the characters says, “We need all the stories.” Regina audiences need to experience this one. The show runs until March 18. Tickets are available here.