Gwaandak Theatre’s fall production, There is Violence and There is Righteous Violence and There is Death or The Born-Again Crow, is a family affair. The play is written and directed by Caleigh Crow. Her brother, Colin Wolf, is artistic director and producer, and one of the actors. Crow and Wolf are Métis, born and raised in Moh’kins’tsis (Calgary). Wolf moved to Whitehorse last year to work as artistic director for Gwaandak Theatre.
When Wolf was still in Alberta, the siblings founded a small theatre called Thumbs Up Good Work Theatre, who is partnering on the Yukon production of The Born Again Crow. Crow and Wolf are accustomed to working together, and juggling several roles.
“That’s how we’re used to working, having to wear a lot of hats because we come from a really indie theatre where we don’t have the money to hire four designers and consultants and this and that – we have to figure it out on our own,” Wolf explains. “So it’s interesting that we only have to wear two hats [for this production] instead of four or five or six like sometimes in the past.”
The two are taking a break from rehearsal when I speak with them. Crow tells me about the origins of The Born-Again Crow, which was inspired by a news story about a nine-year-old girl who lived in the Pacific Northwest and fed birds in her backyard. Eventually the crows started bringing her gifts, “little shiny bits and bobs” as Crow describes them.
“I was really struck by this story,” Crow says. “It was right around the time I was getting into birds and birdwatching so I was learning a lot about birds and bird behaviour and I didn’t know that this was a thing that could happen.”
From there, Crow started wondering how she could take the story and “make it kind of spooky and scary – I love genres like sci-fi and horror and fantasy.”
“So I followed this story as I was writing it, incorporating my own ideas about transformation, change, finding your place in the world, being a misfit, [and] not understanding yourself,” Crow says. “And then my work usually has some sort of comment on what it’s like to be a worker, what it’s like to be a marginalized person and what it means to be on the bottom rung of capitalism.”
The latter theme – the plight of the worker – has been experienced in real life by the cast due to Covid-related concessions. The actors are required to wear masks during rehearsal and performance, and so the play was tweaked to be set during Covid. A few lines were added. This has taken a toll on the performers.
“It’s added a lot of pressure and it’s exacerbated a lot of what Caleigh’s talked about already about being at the bottom rung of the working class realm,” Wolf says. “ A handful of lines about Covid have added so much pressure and really raised the stakes there.”
Two members of the cast, Meredith Pritchard, who plays Beth (the young woman who befriends the birds), and Wolf, who plays the crow, performed a scene from the show at Theatre in the Bush. It was an opportunity for Pritchard and Wolf to perform outside, unmasked. The cast is rounded out with local performer Elaine Schiman as Beth’s mom, and Alberta actor Andrés Moreno, who plays four roles.
Covid has also required some experimentation in how the play is presented. It’s being offered as two episodes over the last two weekends in October, so that the audience is only in the Old Fire Hall for half an hour. Wolf says they will livestream the show if possible, or present a digital version. This means that people can attend one episode live and watch the other at home if they like. This will also allow folks from across the country to see the show.
In spite of the many challenges, Crow and Wolf are happy to be working together, as once Covid hit, they weren’t sure the production would happen. “We’re super grateful to be able to gather in one place and work on this, not exactly in the way we used to, but the things that are awesome about the process of live theatre and the presentation of live theatre are still preserved,” Crow says. “There are just certain accommodations we have to make but we’re more than happy to do it for the cause.”
Tickets for The Born-Again Crow are available from yukontickets.com. There will also be performances in Dawson November 4 and 6.