The air crackles with energy as members of the Ynklude Art Troupe rehearse for their next stage outing.
Laughter and chatter abound as producer Julie Robinson explains changes in the lineup, adding a few more saxophone solos by Hayley Hulushka as bookends at the show’s beginning and end.
There’s just a week left before the troupe heads out to perform at the national conference of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) in Whistler, BC. The schedule has been discussed and the performers are clearly pumped.
The 18 cast members were set to fly out of Erik Nielsen International Airport early Wednesday for the October 22 performance, their first outside the territory.
Some are seasoned travelers who have represented Yukon with distinction at Special Olympics events at the provincial and national levels. For most of them, however, the five-day trip marks the first time they have visited Whistler.
For Hulushka, who first started singing in the choir at the Halifax School for the Blind, the flight itself is a special attraction. She likes to sit where she can hear the plane’s engines.
“They’re just kind of musical to me. On the old 737s, it kind of reminds me of an organ, a Hammond organ.”
She should know. Besides singing and playing the saxophone, Hulushka also plays piano and organ.
Is music important to her? The response is immediate and enthusiastic, “Yes, yes, yes!!”
Back in the rehearsal hall in the Yukon Association for Community Living (YACL) premises on 4th Avenue in Whitehorse, the show is starting to gel, under the watchful eye and gentle prompting of Robinson and choreographer Monique Romeiko.
The program consists of various songs with special significance to individual performers, as well as movement, mime and even some wheelchair dancing by Carrie Rudolph, who has been with the group from the beginning.
Chris Lee, who joined the troupe last year, picked the 1977 hit Hotel California for his solo.
“It’s one of my favourites by the Eagles, and it’s about drugs and the indulgence in the music industry in California,” he explains.
For her song and dance number, Rudolph chose a favourite of her own, the no-nonsense Carrie Underwood tune Before He Cheats. By the time she peels off her sleek blue gloves at the end of the number, it’s clear she won’t stand for any nonsense.
The first run-through ends, but the energy of show biz in the making spills over into the break. It’s obvious that these performers enjoy each other’s company.
Chris Lee may speak for everyone in the group when he sums up the importance of Ynklude in his life.
“It gives me an opportunity to be around people with an intellectual disability like myself, and it gives me a chance to have fun,” he says.
The YACL, which has advocated for social inclusion for over 40 years, established the Ynklude Art Troupe to explore innovative ways to include individuals with intellectual disabilities in mainstream community life.
Ynklude provides outlets for creative expression in writing, visual arts and performance.
While the group has given memorable performances in Yukon venues such as Sourdough Rendezvous and Nakai Theatre’s Pivot and Homegrown festivals, the Whistler event is something special.
It represents a recognition of YACL’s innovative approaches to social inclusion.
For Carrie Rudolph, that’s the most valuable aspect of the trip.
“It’s very important that I have the opportunity to let people know nation-wide that people in Yukon with disabilities are able to do what they are able to do.”
The second run-through is now over. To an outside observer, it is remarkable how much the show has taken shape in a short, two-hour rehearsal period.
These performers mean business. By the time they take the stage in Whistler, they’ll be ready for prime time.
But will there be stage nerves?
“Yeah, but I can do it,” says a feisty Mallory Pigage. “I just picture everybody in their underwear.”
Now, there’s inclusion for you.