Football and underground theatre don't mix, right?

Wrong, says Colleen Sutton. The Ottawa-based playwright and actress has penned a pigskin-themed comedic romp and has brought it to the Hamilton Fringe Festival.

ii-ridernation

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have among the most vocal, devoted fans in Canadian football. (Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)

RiderGirl re-imagines the Prairie-born scribe's induction into rabid Saskatchewan Roughriders fandom. The one-woman show introduces armchair quarterbacks — er, audiences — to characters that Sutton has encountered since she became a part of Rider Nation 20 years ago.

The Green and White, it should be known, have among the most fervent and devoted followers in the Canadian Football League. (Translation for the theatre set: Think Rent-heads, but louder and more prone to wearing watermelons as hats.)

CBC Hamilton spoke with Sutton this week to get the play-by-play on what Fringe-goers should know about the show. Here's a sports-reel rundown of what she had to say.

There will be a tailgate party before every show. Yes, you read that correctly. Starting 90 minutes before each RiderGirl performance, Sutton is hosting a pre-game party at Rebel's Rock Irish Pub (537 King St. E), where attendees can grab a drink in preparation for a night of Fringe theatre. "The tailgate's not about getting hammered or anything," she said. "It's about keeping up with that experience. You know, people have a drink before a show, so we just put a twist on it."

RiderGirl is about passion. Sutton's voice takes on an added lilt when she talks about "Grey Cup." (No, she doesn't put a "the" in front of it). She's been to "Grey Cup" 14 times, and wants to channel the fun and the festivity surrounding the CFL championships into her art. "Your team doesn't even have to been in the game," she said. "People go to Grey Cup and they wear their team's colours. It doesn't even matter if they've won two games that season. It's that ambience, that feeling and that spirit that I want in my show."

Passion, Part II. The in-the-stadium excitement Sutton describes inspired her to pursue a career in theatre. The 36-year-old spent five years as a professional saxophonist with Canadian Forces' Central Band, a gig she grew to dislike. In 2005, she ditched the job — as well as the pension and benefits that came with it — to make a go at writing and acting. Her years in as a CFL junkie, she said, had more than a little influence on her decision. "Between the team and Rider Nation, I really was inspired to live a life that meant something," she said. "When you're really into a game, you care so much and the stakes are so high…. I want life to be like that. I don't only want to feel that when I'm watching a game."

Sutton planned her summer tour around the Riders' season schedule. She's performing in Hamilton the same week the Tiger-Cats play in Regina. And in early August, the roving thespian will take her show to Calgary, just days before the Riders head to Cowtown to face the Stampeders. She'll be making similarly well-timed stops in Edmonton and Winnipeg later in the summer. The tour itinerary is a perfect fit, she said, because "RiderGirl is a show that celebrates our fans and the rivalries that happen within the league."

The show is about breaking down barriers. Not only does Sutton encourage rival Ticats fans to come to her show clad in yellow and back, she hopes for RiderGirl to bridge the divide between sports nuts and avid lovers-of-the-stage. The majority of people who have seen the show, Sutton said, are "new-time or very casual" theatregoers. "I'm hoping that they leave and think, 'I want to see more theatre.'" As for the artsy-types, she said: "The theatregoers that we have coming, I've had a number of them say, 'You know what? I think I've got to get to a CFL game.'"

Oh, and it contains mature language. Though probably not as much as Any Given Sunday.

RiderGirl performance times:

  • Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 23: 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, July 24 at 9 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 25: 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, July 26: 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 27 at 2 p.m.

Location: The Pearl Company, 16 Steven St. (Tailgate party at Rebel's Rock Irish Pub (537 King St. E), starts 90 minutes before each performance.)

Tickets: $10 ($2 discount for those wearing CFL gear.)