Alligator pie, alligator pie,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
But don't give away my alligator pie
For those of us who grew up in the Canadian school system, the opening lines of Dennis Lee’s seminal children’s poem “Alligator Pie” have an almost magical ability to take us back to the days of crowded schoolrooms, snowy reading days and stolen moments reading with a flashlight under the covers long after bedtime.
Lyrical, funny and slightly gross, Lee’s poem, accompanied by Frank Newfeld’s whimsical illustrations, was the perfect gateway book for kids to reading – I certainly still treasure my copy, originally tucked into my Christmas stocking oh so many winters ago.
The story was even adapted as a short film for ABC back in the 1990s, though that particular iteration seems lost to the ages. Happily, another opportunity to see and hear Lee’s creations come to life is coming up with Soulpepper’s original production of Alligator Pie, created in partnership with the poet himself.
Raquel Duffy in Alligator Pie.
“Dennis has been so generous with us,” says Gregory Prest, one of Soulpepper’s resident actors and creators. “He gave us full permission and rights to just go through his books and pick what we liked, take it, cut it up and rearrange it.”
The process went far beyond simply translating Lee’s work for the stage – after all, it’s a fairly short poem, so there needs to be enough stuff happening to hold the attention of both young and old for 60 minutes. As with many Soulpepper productions, this meant a lot of collaboration and workshopping.
“We have this thing called kernelling,” Prest explains. “We came in to rehearsal with a poem out of Lee’s canon, and we might have a whole song written for it or an image for it. We sort of tinkle around with it, add music and create little tiny pieces that we string together. It’s a lot of fun.”
It’s also very much in keeping with the company’s eclectic and often unexpected offerings. Of course, they still run classics like the recently finished Death of a Salesman, but Alligator Pie is equally at home with a theatre troupe that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still maintaining an exceptionally high calibre of work.
“I think Soulpepper is really thinking outside of the box with its mandate,” Prest says. “They’re really interested in creating shows with real diversity.”
Ins Choi and Ken MacKenzie in Alligator Pie.
With such an emphasis on collaborative process, Soulpepper’s penchant for keeping contract performers and creators makes real sense. Many of the members have been working together for multiple shows, helping to foster solid working relationships. It also helps that people like Prest aren’t having to scramble constantly for the next job.
“It’s really great,” he says. “It feels like a real acting company, similar to that of a European company. It’s so different than walking into a rehearsal out of town, meeting the person who will be playing your mother, and then eight weeks later you’re convincing people that you have the intricacies of that relationship. I know I’m very fortunate.”
Prest is particularly excited about Alligator Pie and the chance to bring a story from his own childhood to life onstage. Like many of us, his affection and appreciation for Lee’s words only seem to grow with time and age.
“What I appreciate now as an adult is how local his poems are,” Prest says. “They’re about Toronto, and streets and intersections that I go by every day. I also love his encouragement of fun. It can be really silly without being patronizing. It feels like he goes straight to the heart of the humour without trying to preach anything.”
Fri, Oct 26 to Sun, Nov 25
Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts
50 Tank House Lane