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Trading places

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to trade places with another family, living a completely different life from yours in some completely different part of the country?

If you have, you should get in touch with Heather Kaisler at Partners in Motion, a Regina-based television production company. She’s the producer of their popular program Trading Places, which airs on the Life Network and will soon go into the production of its second season.

The show’s concept is simple. A family from one part of the country travels trades places with a family from another part of a country. For three days, the two families live in each other’s houses, go to each others’ jobs, experience each others’ social activities, play at each others’ hobbies. Camera crews record the results.

Thirteen episodes of the program, featuring some very interesting trades, have already aired.

For instance, there was the Prince Edward Island Supreme Court judge and his wife, a professor of nursing, who traded with a harbourmaster and his wife from Vancouver Island who owned and operated a bed and breakfast.

In another episode, an officer from a penitentiary in New Brunswick and his wife, a bartender, traded places with a plastic surgeon and his wife, a physician, in Prince Edward Island. “They didn’t switch that great a distance,” Heather says, “but in terms of lifestyle and occupation it was quite diverse.”

Diversity is what she looked for in arranging last season’s match-ups, and what she’s looking for this season. “Contrast,” she says. “That’s the key for us. The more contrast you can get the better for the show.”

Families first submit an application (you can fill it out online) or call expressing an interest. Partners in Motion then collects additional information, looking for people who will make interesting television. If a family seems promising, Heather will ask for an audition tape.

Personality is important, she says. “I’ve had a few applications where the personality just jumped right off the page.” She also looks for interesting occupations, hobbies, and quirky friends and neighbors.

Once the selection is made and the match arranged, the families are transported to each other’s homes, with Partners in Motion picking up the tab (a tab that varies in size depending primarily on the number of people in the families and how far they have to travel; as well, Partners in Motion uses its own Saskatchewan-based crews to tape the episodes, and so has to pay for their transportation as well).

During those three days, “They live in the home. They pretty much do as much as we can have them do. They don’t drive each others cars because every province has different rules, but short of that they really do get a flavor of each other’s lifestyles.” They go to each other’s jobs, engage in each others’ social activities, even send their kids to each other’s kids’ schools…if both families have children.

(One trade in the first season was particularly interesting in that regard: a couple with two children left them at home for the other couple, who were thinking about having children, to look after and host a birthday party for. “I think it was a birth-control situation,” Heather jokes.)

Taking over someone else’s job can be quite nerve-wracking, Heather notes. For instance, the harbourmaster who traded with the judge had to oversee a pre-trial conference. He was a big, strong outdoorsman, she said, but in the judge’s chambers he was nervous, “completely out of his element.”

So far Trading Places had included two Saskatchewan families. One couple was a hairstylist from Regina (Heather’s hairstylist, in fact) and her husband, a machinist. They traded places with a family from Kelowna, where the wife was a private elementary school teacher and the husband a financial analyst.

In the other Saskatchewan trade, a family from PEI traded with a farm couple from Major. “I think they went away feeling they really benefited from the experience,” Heather says, adding, “I have to fight feeling offended when people say on their application the place they would least like to go is Saskatchewan. I mean, how do they know?”

Heather hopes to expand the show’s horizons in the upcoming season. “We’d really like to push the envelope a little bit more,” she says. Among other things, she’d like a wider variety in the type of families profiled.

“What would interest me to do is maybe something a little different, maybe a single dad with kids,” she said. She’d also be interested in trade involving a gay couple. “Families come in all shapes and sizes,” she notes.

This year they have a bigger pool of families to draw from because, now that the show has been on the air, people know what it’s all about. As a result, “I think we’ll be in a better position to increase the contrast in the matches. We’ll be able to up the ante a bit, make the scenarios a little more challenging for the families.”

Partner in Motion’s other recent series have included Disasters of the Century and Weather Untamed, upcoming ones include Crime Stories, a three-part series on sensational Canadian crimes and Future Medicine, a series on technological advances in medicine. In 2001, the company won a News and Documentary Emmy Award for 13 Seconds, The Kent State Shootings.

Heather joined Partners in Motion just before that win. “It was thrilling,” she recalls. “It’s surprising to me how many people are surprised that this kind of programming comes out of Saskatchewan.”

With Trading Places and its other new and continuing programs, Partners in Motion seems likely to continue surprising people—in the best possible way.

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