It was a visit to the Yukon Transportation Museum that got Whitehorse fiddler and music teacher Keitha Clark thinking about an ambitious project for the 25 young Whitehorse musicians known collectively as the Fiddleheads.
“I thought this would be a funky place to put on a show. It’s an unusual, kind of unconventional space and we have such an interesting transportation history here,” the group’s artistic director explains.
Clark had already met Maureen Routledge, Canada’s first female certified aircraft maintenance person, and wanted to tell her “really neat” story.
“Her story isn’t one that’s super-widely known in the Yukon, and I thought here’s an opportunity to combine doing a play in this funky space with stories that aren’t necessarily well-known, but are really interesting.”
Doing a show with a Yukon historical theme was a natural outgrowth of what the Fiddleheads did last year and in 2014, when they performed The Fiddle History of Canada, which master fiddler Gordon Stobbe had co-created for a community fiddle group in Smithers, B.C.
“When he was up here last year to finish up that show, we talked about the idea of doing this show, and he was onboard from the get-go.”
Clark had known the Nova Scotia-based Stobbe for years, not just from his frequent visits to conduct workshops and classes in the territory.
“It’s kind of a neat relationship, because we’ve gone from him teaching me in fiddle camps in Saskatchewan when I was growing up, to working collaboratively on projects. So that’s been a lot of fun and one of the highlights of working on this project.”
To form the musical core of the show, entitled A Fiddle History of Yukon Transportation, Clark selected various tunes from the repertoires of local fiddle icon Joe Loutchan and fellow Yukon fiddlers Gerald Edzerza and Amelia Rose.
She also picked a tune by Harold Routledge, husband of the aviation pioneer she wanted to honour. Stobbe had worked Routledge’s tune, “Three White Birds,” into last year’s Yukon version of The Fiddle History of Canada, so the young musicians (who range in age from seven to 14) were already familiar with his work.
Clark then turned to local theatre maker Brian Fidler to come up with a storyline to fit the show’s transportation theme.
Fidler quickly dispatched the young players to interview Maureen Routledge, as well as Loutchan and First Nations elder Stan Peters.
“We tried to find people to work into the play who had a connection to both fiddling and transportation. Maureen’s husband, Harold, was a fiddle-maker and a fiddler. Stan Peters is a musician, and his Dad was a musician. And, of course, Joe Loutchan is Joe Loutchan,” Clark says.
Using the recorded interviews, along with archival photos, shadow screens and even a time machine, Fidler came up with an hour-long, multimedia show weaving together the themes of fiddling and transportation.
“It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history of Yukon transportation. These are more like little snapshots of not necessarily the things you think of physically when you think of Yukon Transportation.
“For example, Maureen being the first certified female aircraft maintenance person, or Stan talking about what it was like when there weren’t any roads up here, and how you would build a moose hide boat to cross a river,” Clark says.
“We wanted to do something that was fun. And there’s no more fun way to plug in all those things than having fiddle tunes and a time machine. When you have those things and a whole lot of great kids and a sea of red hoodies, I think everybody’s going to have a good time.”
From his own experience, Stobbe recognizes how big a task it is to mount ambitious projects such as this.
“People have to commit to at least a year to pull them off, because the music’s complex and dense, and the story line has to be written,” explains the man who arranged all the tunes to fit the varying skill levels of the young performers.
“With this one here, there’s a lot of acting, so the learning thing for kids is humungous. There’s a big arc to it, but it’s so rewarding, because there’s history involved, there’s music involved, there’s a lot of different stuff involved.”
There is also a considerable amount of stage movement to master, with the help of choreographer Kate Fitzgerald.
Stobbe is particularly impressed with the way Fidler and Clark approached the task of developing a storyline for the show.
“The whole idea of sending kids out to interview the elders is a brilliant idea. This is community at its absolute best,” he says.
A Fiddle History of Yukon Transportation will play at the Yukon Transportation Museum on Friday, May 13 at 7 p.m. There will be two shows the next day, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office and Arts Underground, or at www.YukonTickets.com.