By Andrew Ross
Unlike the subject of the classic jazz tune Birdland, Featherland is–or rather was–a real place. Built in the middle of the last century by married couple Cecil and Adele Hyndman, Featherland was both an avian sanctuary and a human home.
The eponymous One Yellow Rabbit play is set in the fever dream of Cecil’s biographer Bill Burns, where the late Hyndmans and two eagles–conjured up in human form–relate their lives and relationships to him. These relationships are amicable and amorous, crossing interspecial boundaries in both cases. However, it is important to note the relationships are of a romantic nature, and do not merely represent bestiality.
To playwright Denise Clarke, birds of prey, and especially raptors (eagles, hawks and falcons), have a certain undeniable allure.
"Their eyes are the same as ours. It creates in us a sense of like kind," says Clarke.
The golden eagle in particular is quite stunning, achieving wingspans greater than eight feet.
OYR’s Clarke based her play on both Cecil Hyndman’s and Burns’ accounts of events, and she also stars as Susan, a golden eagle. Clarke–the biggest player in Calgary theatre, if not Canadian theatre–was drawn to the story by the tenderness of the relationship between the couple and the romantic relationship they had with the birds.
"I like stories that are about genuine feelings," she says.
Featherland is an even more unusual piece of theatre when one considers it is written in rhyming verse. Clarke insists that this was unintentional, a sort of happy accident.
"I didn’t decide [to use rhyme], it just happened," says Clarke. "[Rhyme] makes it funnier and more charming. I think it suits Cecil and Adele. He was a poet and his poetry rhymed."
Poet though he may have been, Hyndman also wore many other hats: he was an animal behaviourologist, he built, owned and managed a bird sanctuary with his wife and he was also the CBC’s first sound effects specialist, capturing rare bird songs on tape.
"They [Cecil and Adele] were so many things: funny, eccentric, the real thing as far as research and way ahead of their time," says Clarke. "This is people working in a time when eagles were seen as vermin."