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Gruff marks the return of Project X Theatre's live park production

The play will be performed in Prince Charles Park downtown from Aug. 3 to Aug. 21. Many early dates are sold out, but later dates have tickets available online at projectxtheatre.ca.
Project X Theatre Gruff summer 2021
Kirk Smith (left) and Laine Gillies (right) rehearse a scene with Chioma Darah-Ani from the upcoming Project X Theatre production of Gruff.

Live theatre is returning to Prince Charles Park, with Project X's Theatre Under the Trees set to stage Gruff officially beginning on Thursday, Aug. 5, with preview shows on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4.

Many nights are already sold out for the limited audience seating available this year, including the two preview shows and opening night. But with the play running until Aug. 21, there are still tickets available for later dates.

Rather than the typical setup with bleachers, audience members this year are being encouraged to bring their own lawn or camping chairs, but folding chairs will also be available.

"Everything is kind of about keeping people safe and comfortable," said Tracey Power, the play's director.

Gruff is a new musical reinvention of the classic fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff. It was written by playwrights Mercedes Bátiz-Benét, Judd Palmer and Brooke Maxwell and the play was the selection of Theatre Under the Trees artistic producer Randi Edmundson.

Power directed the last theatre in the park production by Project X in 2019. The event was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic. She said she's eager to once again present something to a live audience and has worked to make the play her own.

"When I picked it up, I really wanted to make it our own, as a 2021 fable, instead of an old-timey tale from long ago," she said.

The family-friendly rock 'n' roll parable features a vibrant and gritty set based around a bridge, set between two giant trees in Prince Charles Park, which is downtown at Columbia Street and 11th Avenue.

"There are pieces of Kamloops brought to the set, with the bridge and some graffiti inspired by some of the art around town," Power said.

The play has a cast of three, starring Laine Gillies, Kirk Smith and Chioma Darah-Ani.

Smith, who currently works for Western Canada Theatre, also has a history with that company, appearing in a number of WCT productions, including Seussical, Elf-The Musical and Dracula: The Bloody Truth.

But Smith's acting history with X Fest/Theatre in the Park dates back nearly a decade as he has appeared in four seasons with the organization.

"Over the nine years, a lot has changed at Project X. It's definitely more focused on the family and young people's theatre sort of thing, which I think is awesome because there's so many young families moving to Kamloops," Smith said.

But his return to Project X might be secondary to his return to the stage, having been kept from live audiences due the pandemic.

"A chance to finally have a live audience and have people get together and watch something together... it's a lot better than Netflix," Smith said.

Among the challenges being faced by the team so far are smoke and heat, on top of pandemic protocols to keep everyone safe.

But Smith said the experience remains rewarding.

"It's been very fun to step into the character of a goat, but also to just get to play around, be silly and sing songs," he said.

Tickets are available online at projectxtheatre.ca. Prices range from $8 to $31, including fees. Gruff runs from Aug. 3 to Aug. 21. Showtime is 7 p.m.