With the arrival of spring, Gwaandak Theatre introduced the Awaken Festival for the first time ever!  The Awaken Festival took place this year online from May 1-10, and set out to share the work of artists, expand on creativity, tell stories, but most importantly create connection and community as we reorient ourselves during times of change. Gwaandak Theatre is the only Indigenous-centered theatre company in the Yukon, and has been empowering Indigenous and Northern voices since 2000. The theatre company has been committed to presenting artistic programming that promotes meaningful reconciliation and deeper understanding between Yukoners, both Indigenous and settlers. The Gwaandak Theatre shares stories that explore themes of decolonization, cultural identity, social justice, and human rights.

One meaning of the word Gwaandak in the Gwich’in language is “storyteller.” The Awaken Festival was crafted with the aim to put forward indigenous or marginalized voices through sharing stories and highlighting different perspectives and diversity within the territory. “For us it is important to represent artists from all over the territory. Yukon means the full territory and we wanted to show how very diverse we are,” shared Paige Galette, Gwaandak Theatre Managing Director.

In conversation with Galette she also explained that the name for this festival was inspired by the natural flow of mamma bears coming out of hibernation and the change of seasons. 

“Spring is a time of awakening, much like how theatre is an awakening of all the senses,” expressed Galette. Gwaandak Theatre had chosen the name for their new festival prior to the pandemic, explained Galette, and faced the challenge of moving the festival onto an online forum, but also saw this as a perfect opportunity to help connect people in positive and creative ways during a time of drastic change. “This was definitely another awakening in itself and an awakening of where theatre will be going in the next few years,” added Galette. 

The Awaken Festival presented many events, led by some of Canada’s premier professional artists. Falen Johnson a writer, producer, director, and actor from Toronto offered a series of master classes designed to create a brave space for women identifying and non-binary individuals to share their stories and develop those stories through creative methods. 

One of the highlights was the Indigenous/Queer Cabaret mentorship opportunity for Indigenous, Indiqueer, 2spirits and queer folx in burlesque, drag, and other types of cabaret performance lead by Vancouver burlesque troupe Virago Nation. This was such a success that “after the cabaret to this day we still have people trying to register, participate and join” shared Galette. 

Local Whitehorse performer Léa Roy-Bernatchez and Vancouver performer Nyla Carpentier performed their developed creations of their Creators’ Lab residency, and the Storytelling Café offered a space for folks from different communities to share their thoughts and feelings about how they are finding, or missing connection, community and family while unable to physically gather. 

“It was really nice to be able to connect people from the communities to the festival,” shared  Galette.

The Gwaandak Theatre plans to continue the Awaken Festival annually especially after receiving such positive responses. The goal for the future of this festival is to have a mixture of both an online and live festival to reach out to the most people possible within the Yukon Territory and across Canada. This year the Awaken Festival focused mostly on Yukoners and how they are coping with the pandemic. Although the festival has now come to a close, stories written during the festival continue to be shared, and the festival has left a positive impact throughout the community.

Gwaandak Theatre welcomes all feedback and is excited to bring back the Awaken Festival next year!

The shows must go on!