By Tim Ford
CALGARY – The Giggle Gang. That’s the internal nickname for the dynamic trio of Rebecca Northan, Bruce Horak, and Christian Goutsis, three of Calgary’s best-known theatre artists. Previously collaborating on Slipper at Alberta Theatre Projects, Northan, Horak, and Goutsis have forged strong personal ties as well as professional ones. “We like to laugh,” Northan says, “But we like there to be heart.” It’s a succinct turn of phrase for shows that the Giggle Gang have created, but especially true of Zorro: Family Code, which is being presented by Alberta Theatre Projects as their holiday performance.
Northan and her collaborators picked up on the classic pulp action hero from their superhero fandom. “Bruce and Christian and I are all fans of the superhero genre,” she says. “Bruce and Christian more than me, because they grew up reading comic books. I didn’t know, for example, that Zorro was the template for Batman…the night that Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, they’re seeing The Mask of Zorro in the theatre.”
The co-creators saw Zorro as a heavyweight title, and as an opportunity to create a work that would be fully scripted, instead of utilizing the pantomime or semi-improvised format of Slipper or of Northan’s famous show Blind Date.
In adapting the work, Northan and her co-creators sought to update the legendary Zorro for ATP’s family audience. “We’ve basically imagined a whole other story,” she says. “We have middle-aged Zorro. He’s a widower. He’s got a 9 year-old son and a 19 year-old daughter. So you have the masked vigilante getting on in age, and how does he be a single parent, and keep his identity from his kids while thwarting his enemies.”
As they present a Zorro evolving with the times, Northan and her collaborators are also evolving as artists, in stature in and in vision. Northan recognizes the influence that work like Blind Date has had on her career, as both a “blessing and a curse” in how she’s perceived. “People think I only do improv,” she says. “There’s a bit of re-education over time.”
Nevertheless, she maintains close ties with her seminal work, with productions of Blind Date opening up in places like Norway, and with the creation of Queer Blind Date through Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2016. At the same time, Northan is seeking to branch out and try new things, and finding success.
“It’s nice to be at a point in my career where I can pitch ideas to artistic directors, and they want to have a conversation,” she says. “Because they’ve seen our past work, they’ve said ‘what’s your next idea?’ That’s an exciting place to be. For the first time ever, I’m thinking two years in advance.”
Whatever comes next, Northan sincerely hopes she gets to work with her Giggle Gang family for years to come, creating work that, in her words, asks, “What is love? What is true love? And how would you express it? I love the audience, and I want you to feel loved in the space, on the stage.” That is a core message Northan echoes in Zorro: Family Code. “What do we want to put out into the world?” she says. “Are we kind to people, we value everyone’s life? I hope that families ask each other: What do you think our family code is?”
Zorro: Family Code is now playing at Alberta Theatre Projects until Dec. 30 (6:30pm weeknights, 1pm & 6pm weekends), and is recommended for ages 5+. Tickets are available online at atplive.com or at 403-294-7402.Alberta Theatre Projects, The Giggle Gang, Zorro, Zorro: Family Code