Throughout the pandemic, Jacob Zimmer thought we’d be out of the woods by 2022. Nakai Theatre, the Whitehorse-based organization (of which Zimmer is artistic director) had planned to host its Pivot Festival 2022 from January 11 to 22. The plan was for minimal COVID restrictions, but the spread of the Omicron variant set most of Canada back several stages in its pandemic action.
“Last year, it was sort of easier because we knew everything was going to be terrible,” said Zimmer. “This year, we hadn’t counted on Omicron. We had, like many people, hoped that by this time we would be back to something.”
According to Zimmer, making the call to cancel something is tricky, as cancellations can often come too early or too late. It wasn’t feasible for Nakai Theatre to wholly reschedule an entire two weeks of programming. Instead, the organization made the decision to adapt this year’s programming into more pandemic-friendly settings. Luckily, says Zimmer, creative types are usually good at adapting to change.
“Working with improvisors and storytellers and clowns does make it somewhat easier,” he says. “Part of the strategy was to keep the kinds of shows we would be bringing to something that could be flexible.”
As of time of writing, some events are able to go forward as planned, including the Jan. 11 poetry crawl kickoff. Patrons walk through the snow, stopping to hear various poets read their material along the river from Shipyards Park to the Old Fire Hall. The Air North Sun Room will also return this year for the duration of the festival, and can be booked in 20-minute time slots for social bubbles. Other events have been adapted into online formats, including some panel discussions and workshops. All indoor performance events have been cancelled or postponed.
“To me, the key thing a festival in January in the Yukon does is add some delight to the cold and the dark,” says Zimmer. “If the festival isn’t going to be delightful and everyone is going to be scared and all we’ll be doing is worrying, it’s not worth the effort and we’ll just shift what it is so it can be delightful.”
With certain components of the festival taking place outside, weather is obviously a concern, as the Yukon has seen some incredibly low temperatures this winter. While Zimmer hopes conditions aren’t too rough, he is confident Yukoners will face the cold to get out of the house for some of Pivot’s programming.
“Yukoners also like challenging that cold and still going out and doing things,” he says. “But -20 degrees C is one thing, and -40 degrees C is another.”
Zimmer and his small, dedicated team at Nakai are moving forward with careful optimism. Zimmer is grateful to still be presenting performing arts right now, though he’s aware things can change at the last minute any time.
“At this point, it’s kind of my job to worry about things,” he says.
To learn more about Nakai Theatre and see what’s going on at Pivot Festival 2022, visit www.nakaitheatre.com.