The 3rd annual Pivot Festival: Floating, swimming, flying

The Pivot Festival is upon us — and with it comes a huge ton of theatre.

You have six shows you can see at multiple times, all wildly different, appealing to both broad and specific audiences. It’s like a carnival of mad, wonderful theatre taking over the town for a week.

Feeling a bit like the barker in this scenario, David Skelton is proud of this third-year line-up.

“The third, fourth and fifth year of a new festival are always the times when you ask — will it float, swim or fly?” Nakai’s artistic director says.” ‘Cause when you’re making a festival, you’re always reshaping it.

“It takes time to figure out how you can fit this into the community … and we are refining and we know better what the festival is about, and we’re more confident.”

The first two years — full of great stuff — was a learning experience of understanding how Pivot fit into Whitehorse and the Yukon.

Here’s what he’s learned so far: “Whitehorse audiences are diverse. You have to bring up people that will appeal to everyone, even as you bring up acts that challenge and enlarge the understanding of what theatre is.”

Pivot began as a festival to bring up acts that Yukoners might not get a chance to see normally. “It creates an opportunity to invigorate and challenge performance — to say that there’s a lot more than can be ‘theatre’. Local performers can also see where they can ‘go’ in terms of theatre — further afield than the fourth wall, proscenium theatre.”

Bringing up acts can lead to collaboration, too. Joseph Tisiga and Taylor Mac collaborated on a performance piece while Taylor was here last year. It’s really a chance for people to try out new things in theatre.

He admits it’s also, mainly, a chance to entertain folks. And he’s excited by this year’s offerings.

Who are we gonna see? I asked him.

Ron James: Canada’s premier standup comedian (Jan. 29 to 31 at Yukon Arts Centre)

“He loves it up here. Just hyped the show while he was hosting CBC’s New Year’s Eve show. His only regret is that he wishes he could go fishing again while he’s up here.”

Ron James has been to Whitehorse now three times, and the shows sell out. He’s also offering a workshop to the local comic community.

“Writers of comedy, whether standup comedians or playwrights, novelists or filmmakers, will all get something out of the workshop,” Skelton says.

Nina Arsenault: The Silicone Diaries (Jan. 28 to 30 at The Old Fire Hall)

A one-woman show about “change and identity”, Skelton says, and he’s truly excited to bring her up. It chronicles her journey of 60 surgeries to “turn from an average looking man to a bombshell woman”.

“She’s a daring and brave person for this journey she’s chosen for her life — and that she’s chosen to recount this journey at all to an audience.

“The way she recounts it is unflinching. Totally authentic. She observes her changes, acknowledges her weaknesses, vulnerabilities, contradictions and she’s inspiring.

“The kind of strength that it takes to change. It’s not so much a story about sex, as it is about change.”

Skelton reminds me Arsenault’s show is a comedy. Her shows sell out in Toronto, and she just finished a run at Buddies in Bad Times.

Etiquette (Jan. 26 to 31 at Baked Café)

From Britain’s Theatre Rotozaza comes an intimate form of theatre. Participants come to Baked Café, put on headphones and talk to each other using only the lines they hear in the headphones. Skelton brought this to Whitehorse because it asks the question: Is this theatre?

“Well, it’s an experience that involves a narrative, characters, witnesses, physical space where it happens, props and a set — that’s a classic definition of ‘theatre,’ — except you are the audience and the characters and the lines are given to you to deliver,” Skelton says.

He notes that people don’t have to worry about performing in front of Baked Café. “It’s a very intimate conversational theatre — no one hears you but the other person participating.”

Etiquette also happens to be the basis for this year’s Pivot poster (the controversial note — you know the one).

Brian Fidler’s Broken (January 26 to 27 at The Old Fire Hall)

“Brian is one of the Yukon’s most prolific theatre creators — Cam & Legs, Hat Trick, Cloaker and the Cabinet, among others — and this live performance with found objects tells a story of a boy struggling to maintain a relationship with a grandfather who is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

Broken will share the stage with two other performers: Hazel Venzon from Vancouver and Whitehorse’s Amber Walker.

Hazel Venzon’s Embrace, shares stories of our local Filipino community. “Hazel is moving up to Whitehorse, and this performance is from the interviews she did with local Filipinos,” Skelton says.

Amber Walker’s His Story explores one First Nation’s man’s “starlight tour” (“the word for where the police take an intoxicated person and dump him or her at the edge of town”).

“Brian Fidler and Amber Walker also fulfil Nakai’s mandate of taking local theatre to the next level. We hope to do that every year.

We have Tanya Marquardt lined up for next year and, last year, we had Joseph Tisiga. We want to continue the process of developing local theatre and, hopefully, as often as we can, seeing it through to production.”

All of this theatre — and the carnivalesque talk —begs the excited Barker question … so I ask it: Will they be amazing, stupendous, everything we ever dreamed?

Skelton smiles: “How can any one work of art or theatre or anything live up to that expectation?”

He laughs and then gets really serious for a moment. And I think I’ve left the carnival for the classroom.

“Theatre … religion … art … science — these are all devices cultures use to investigate themselves and the world. We define and redefine ourselves through cultural activities.” And then he stops, leans back, becomes casual again, giving up the classroom for the carnival.

“So, that’s Pivot,” he says. “As we’re reshaping and defining this festival, it’s reshaping and redefining what we think of as theatre.”

Pivot is from Jan. 26 to 31 and will include talkbacks and workshops. More information can be found at

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