National Theatre Festival Comes to Whitehorse

“It’s the only national theatre festival in Canada,” Selene Vakharia tells me. She, along with a handful of other local creatives, are working on the Yukon end of the traveling theatre festival: Magnetic North, based in Ottawa, which moves to a different Canadian town every second year.

“This year they picked Whitehorse,” Vakharia says.

With a name like Magnetic North, you might think the festival already had some ties to Canada’s north. But in their 14th season Magnetic North will visit the true north for the first time to explore this year’s fitting theme: Navigating New Dimensions.

Magnetic North is ten days of theatre and workshops that brings in national acts and artists while also heavily involving the theatre companies of the city it takes place in.

“It’s a really good opportunity for the theatre scene up here,” says Vakharia.

Of the eleven performances featured in this year’s festival, four are homegrown.

These include the perpetually sold out Theatre in the Bush, which will do a special two-night run. Arlin McFarlane’s solo show My Brain is Plastic looks through the lens of neuroscience on the individual’s ability to change themself. Gwaandak Theatre will share from their work-in-progress Map of the Land, Map of the Stars. And Nakai’s Dogtown: The Musical will set the controversial story of Trevor the Dog to music with an all-original score.

Imported for the festival will be performances like Pop-Up Love Party, which takes place in Miner’s Daughter and includes a seven-course snack party. There will be immersive theatre like Landline, which transforms audience into performer, asking participants to have conversations with strangers using text messaged prompts.

“A lot of these are new ways to experience theatre,” says Vakharia. But there’s a fair share of more traditional theatre pieces as well.

“The idea is that there’s a variety of performances for pretty much any type of interest in theatre,” Vakharia says.

The workshop schedule hasn’t been released yet, but will include events for both theatre professionals and the generally curious – like a multi-day story weaving workshop led by a first nations story weaver.

Something brand new to the festival this year is a heightened focus on accessibility: of the fifty scheduled performances over the ten days, twenty will be pay-what-you-decide, and almost all the performances will also have this option during previews.

“If you have zero dollars or five dollars or fifty, it’s what you can offer and feel fits with the performance.” Vakharia says. “It’s not to undervalue the artist, it’s to recognize that art is for everyone. Its value shouldn’t, in that respect, have a dollar amount on it all the time.”

Running from June 9-18, the festival takes up almost two weeks of prime time in the Yukon’s jam-packed summer. It shares its final night with Nuit Blanche, and Vakharia says the two events might somehow coordinate.

“I’m sure there will be other events happening, but I think this one is just going to take over the entire city,” Vakharia says. “It will be a great time to be in Whitehorse, and invite friends and family up here.”

Essentially, Vakharia says, don’t book to be away during Magnetic North. It’s a once-in-a-city’s-lifetime opportunity, not to be missed.

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