The Danish have a special way to survive the icy temperatures and darkness of a long Scandinavian winter.
Hard to explain and even harder to pronounce, the Danish word “hygge” (pronounced “hooga”) translates roughly to coziness, and is one of the concepts behind this year’s winter sleigh-ride production, Bedstefader, at Caravan Farm Theatre.
“Hygge is a spiritual term,” said Caravan artistic director Courtenay Dobbie, who came up with the concept and is director of the production. “In Scandinavia, because of the long winter period, they do this to keep happy and embrace the coziness and maintain an introspective time at winter. You are supposed to eat with family and friends inside, wear warm sweaters, curl up near the fire, read a book, and bring green inside such as holly, boughs and trees.”
Bedstefader (which means “best father” in Danish) is along the lines of a Scandinavian folk tale, and was also influenced by a Second World War postage stamp from Denmark.
“It showed a folk art drawing of a little girl in a red cloak giving food to the poor. I wanted charity and giving back as important concepts,” said Dobbie who presented her ideas to Toronto playwright Sean Dixon, and he came up with the script.
Bedstefader follows a mother named Falka (played by Rebecca Auerbach) who has left her husband Torgeir (Sean Sonier) and her two little girls, Magdalena (Georgina Beaty) and Ida (Evelyn Chew), to “transform the world.”
“She is sort of a medicine woman in what would now be considered a modern-day Doctors Without Borders,” said Dobbie. “She helps anyone who is sleeping out in the cold come inside for a warm meal and a bed. Until that happens, her work isn’t done.”
Back at home, Falka’s daughters pine for their mother and so devise a plan to help a man they have seen walk by their home.
“He is homeless, but not in a politicizing way. There’s no alcoholism or drug addiction involved,” said Dobbie. “This old man, for whatever reason, does not have a home. The girls’ goal is to being this man inside and rescue him so their mom will come home for Christmas.”
However, the old man (who is played by Toronto actor Jack Nicholsen – not to be confused with Jack Nicholson) is not interested in being rescued.
“He’s cranky and does not want to conform,” said Dobbie.
That is until the girls are approached by a mysterious woman, pulled in a sled by magical “reindeer,” who says she will help them bring the man out of the cold.
They then formulate a plan.
“It’s about being generous. They are giving a gift of providing someone with a warm meal, a hug, a bath and a home,” said Dobbie. “This is a poetic representation of life and like other fables and fairy tales, these are stories that can teach us something. The audience can take away the idea of giving the gift of comfort to someone less fortunate.”
Although the farm’s mighty Clydesdales will be pulling the sleighs filled with audience members, this year’s production will also include a special team of miniature horses.
The horses, Bessie and Dolly, Rock and Sly, and extras Jeb and Ernie, will be driven by their owner Steve Laughlin of Pritchard, B.C.
“Five-to-six years ago when I started as artistic director here, I was at the IPE (Interior Provincial Exhibition) and saw the miniature horses pulling a chuck wagon. I didn’t know what they were at first. I thought they were ponies. When I found out they were miniature horses, I thought ‘we have to have those in one of our shows,’ but it never fit before to have them, until now,” said Dobbie.
Also on board to create the set – in Danish folk art style – is designer Marshall McMahen, who previously designed Caravan’s 2012 winter production, Old Nick, as well as summer productions The Notorious Right Robert and His Robber Bride and Head Over Heels.
Caravan regular Catherine Hahn (who designed the set for last winter’s show, The Contest of the Winds) has created this year’s costumes.
“She has pulled from different eras and drew inspiration from the Sami people (also known as Laplanders), with curled-toe boots, and from indigenous Nordic communities, with furs, animal pelts and reindeer hides,” said Dobbie. “It should be gorgeous, like something out of Danish postcard.”
All that’s needed is a little more snow to add to the magic, she added.
As in all Caravan winter sleigh-ride productions, attendees should bundle up and embrace the “hygge” outdoors for the approx. 40-minute journey in the farm’s forest and fields.
Bedstefader opens at Caravan Farm Theatre Dec. 8 and continues to Jan. 3 with shows at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. (no shows Thursdays or Christmas Day). For tickets, times and info., visit the Ticket Seller box office in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.