Busting up in the communities

Open Pit Theatre is excited to be taking their play, Busted Up: A Yukon Story, on the road. They’ll be coming to Dawson City on September 29, Carcross on October 2 and will be back in Whitehorse for a show on October 3.

The play already premiered in 2017, as part of Canada 150, playing in Whitehorse and Haines Junction, but according to director Jessica Hickman, some things have changed this time around.

“There are two new actors, which will bring a different feel to the piece, the staging is different and we’ve added tiny things and removed things that aren’t relevant this time around,” she said.

What is the same, though, is the play’s format, which is presented in verbatim style rather than a traditional story line. A verbatim (word-for-word) style of theatre uses the real words from real people to construct the play.

“You go out, interview people and take their words directly—one-hundred per cent,” said Hickman. “What’s amazing about verbatim style is that you don’t know how the show will end up when you set out.”

Hickman says it all started in 2014 when she and Open Pit co-artistic director Genevieve Doyon wanted to tell a story about the Yukon. They decided to go out to the communities with broad questions such as, What does living in the North mean to you?

“We began by wondering about the different ways of living on the land. We didn’t know how people would respond or what they would want to talk about,” said Hickman.

In the end, people wanted to talk about everything, including how they came to the Yukon, why they stayed, their beliefs, their roots and their fears, relationships between indigenous people and settlers, natural resource extractions, the growing immigrant population and the changes the North is experiencing.

Doyon then spent two years crafting the play, always keeping in mind the ethical line, in verbatim theatre, of not changing the intent or words in the editing process.

“It’s really important to honour the people we were speaking to by getting the context of what they were talking about. It was a long process, but we’re proud of it,” said Hickman.

Once completed, she and Doyon sent the finished script to the interviewees to look over, talking to them on the phone, as well, just to make sure everyone was OK with the result.

Hickman says she was nervous for the 2017 premiere in Whitehorse.

“There’s lots of beauty [in the play], but it also challenges the audience. It’s interesting to watch a show where you can’t distance yourself—you can say not my community; but in the end, it is. People felt disgust, pride, beauty, compassion—it was overwhelming. It’s such a magical piece.”

This year’s cast of Busted Up includes three local Whitehorse actors and four guest actors from across Canada. Each actor plays six different characters, changing the way they speak and move (rather than changing their clothing) to reflect different genders, ethnicities and ages.

“It was very challenging for the actors,” said Hickman. “What was that real person like? Do they have a voice in the higher register? What are their mannerisms? … all the ums, sighs, snorts—everything is included. It’s very detailed and very real.”

In fact, the play is so real that Hickman feels there are elements in it that every single person can relate to. She recounts how during the 2017 premiere in Whitehorse, tourists in the audience didn’t necessarily understand the subtleties, but they understood the themes.

“They’re pretty universal,” she said.

Because of the strong impact of the show, both Hickman and Doyon will be available after the performance for a talk back, during which audience members will have the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and ask questions.

Hickman says that even though touring is a lot of work, they are looking forward to getting out into the communities. They are also excited to bring the play to western Canada, as part of a tour, starting in 2020.

For more information, please visit: www.OpenP.it.

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