When siblings embark on a new life together in unfamiliar surroundings, it can often result in confusion, conflict, even betrayal.
Especially if one is working hard to keep everything together and the other’s life is a mess.
That’s the premise of Wake and Bake, a new play by Whitehorse playwright Dean Eyre, which is currently on tour across the territory.
“It’s a play about two sisters whose relationship goes through some difficult times, partly due to problems with drug,” Eyre says. “And it’s a play about betrayal.”
The two central characters in the four-person drama are Cheryl (played by Caili Steel), a young woman who has moved to the city from a small community, and her half-sister Tammy, played by PJ Prudat.
“There’s a certain destiny that you’re stuck with when you come from a small town that can be hard to shake off. And [Cheryl’s] working really hard to have that, in a way,” Eyres explains.
“Then her younger sister arrives in town to stay with her and the foster parents she’s staying with. She’s pretty messed up, and things kind of snowball from there.”
The play is a collaboration between Yukon Educational Theatre and the territory’s Health Promotion Unit. While it is not an anti-drug polemic, the government website says it “looks at the deeper reasons youth may be drawn into drug use, and explores how to help youth make different choices.”
The title is borrowed from a common term in cannabis culture.
“One of the characters starts off the play with a monologue where she talks about getting up every morning and smoking up. That’s what the title comes from; the practice of starting every day with a joint,” Eyres says.
“I think actually within the school culture it’s not that unknown. A lot of people will know what we’re talking about.”
Eyre began writing Wake and Bake about two years ago. The development process included a number of trips to meet with young people in various Yukon communities and schools.
“We spent about a year doing that. Every couple of months, we’d go out and meet a bunch of kids. That was a really interesting and valuable process.”
While the feedback was helpful, the playwright says he didn’t feel constrained by considerations of age-appropriate language in framing the play’s dialogue.
“I don’t think there’s any point in trying to write to age unless you’re writing for grade ones or twos,” he says.
“Teenagers are pretty sophisticated in the content they’re exposed to and that they’re able to handle. I think it will work just as well for adults as for teenagers, but the market that I’ve been asked to aim it at is teenagers.”
The play, directed by Arlin McFarlane, does come with a “mature subject matter” warning, however.
Eyre considers Wake and Bake the best of his six plays produced to date, including a previous government-funded YEC production, Diabetes: A Love Story.
While he was wary about the possibility of bureaucratic meddling in the artistic process, he says that didn’t happen.
“I was pretty much able to just write the play I wanted to write. There were a few places where we had to push to get things past people, but it wasn’t very difficult.”
Still, he’s prepared to hear some complaints about the play’s subject matter, or his treatment of it.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some criticism, but I think it’s an attempt to be pretty accurate in its portrayal of at least two people’s lives,” he says.
“It’s not attempting to be a universal story. I think you find the universal in the particular. It’s a very specific story that I think works for audiences.
“I think it’s compelling, and you care about the characters, and there’s enough action for it to be exciting.”
Besides Steel and Prudat (who starred in last season’s Gwaandak Theatre production of Café Daughter), the cast includes local actor Vanessa Marshak as Josée and Toronto’s Manesh Sharma as Vic.
Wake and Bake is not explicitly set in the Yukon, and there is no local significance to the characters’ names. Eyre says he likes using the same method of selecting names that First Nations playwright Thomson Highway uses.
“You randomly open a phone book and stab your finger,” he explains.
“Characters are their own people, and if you’re trying to make up everything about them on your own, then I think you’re not admitting that. So, by giving yourself some parameters right from the start that you don’t control, I think you end up with a more honest take on character.”
Although writing a play on commission, especially one aimed at a specific audience, may come with agendas or expectations that are not always obvious, Eyre doesn’t involve himself in that side of things.
“I’m sure that the people who are going to go out there with the Health Fair and the government people will have their own bunch of expectations and goals and things they’ll write into final reports, but none of that concerns me. That’s not my job,” he laughs.
His own expectations for the hour-long play are straightforward.
“Every time you write a play, you hope that people are entertained, and that they feel something. That’s all I’m hoping for.”
Wake and Bake opened October 12 in the Yukon Arts Centre studio theatre before travelling to Haines Junction, Watson Lake and Teslin.
It will be at the Nakwataku Potlatch House on McIntyre Drive on October 20 at 6 pm, before going back on the road. The tour ends in Old Crow on Tuesday, November 8.
The full schedule of school and community performances, can be found online athttp://www.hss.gov.yk.ca/wakeandbake.php. You can also learn more about the production on Facebook by entering “Wake and Bake the play” in the search field.