Running a theatre company is not for the faint of heart. Only those who work behind the scenes in theatre truly know the passion, work, determination, dedication, and creativity required to produce theatre, season after season, year after year.
Audiences grow and diminish, funding comes and goes, trends in the theatre world shift, venues close and venues open. It takes a strong, generous heart to keep a small, independent Canadian theatre company afloat, let alone thrive and grow as Gwaandak Theatre does.
I applaud Gwaandak Theatre for launching their 14th season this fall, not just for the amazing longevity of this Whitehorse-based company, but for staying true to their vision to share stories that aren’t often heard in the mainstream: Aboriginal voices, northern voices, voices from the disabled community, the queer community, youth and women.
I spoke to Gwaandak Managing Artistic Director and playwright Patti Flather, General Manager Marjolène Gauthier, and Marketing an Administrative Coordinator Patricia Duchesneau about the new Gwaandak season.
“Our season theme this year is the love we hold across time and space, borders and brutality,” Flather says. “This season honours the universal power of love against prejudice, ignorance, and violence. And with love, even blissful romantic love, there is the bittersweet side. There is also longing, loss, and grief.”
Love in all its forms is featured on the roster this season. For example, the dynamism of love between a woman and her husband as they search for her beloved sister lost on the Highway of Tears, in Métis playwright Keith Barker’s The Hours That Remain.
Gwaandak featured The Hours That Remain in their annual Summer Play Readings in 2012. Since that first presentation, the play went on to be successfully produced by Toronto company New Harlem Productions and will tour Canada this year.
“Yukon Aboriginal women, like women across Canada, and women of all backgrounds, are very concerned with ongoing violence against women, and the higher rates of violence against Aboriginal women,” Flather says. “The way that Barker deals with this theme highlights the loved ones and families involved. His work puts a human face onto these kinds of really sad events.”
The Hours that Remain will be presented at the Yukon Arts Centre “on the wing,” meaning the play will be presented with the audience onstage with the actors.
At time of press, performance dates for The Hours that Remain had not been confirmed. The Gwaandak website will have up-to-date information: www.GwaandakTheatre.com
In addition to presenting plays in Whitehorse and touring to the communities this year, Gwaandak will continue to develop new plays through the year.
“(We’ll be focusing on) Yukon stories which will honour aspects of Yukon history, legends, people and with a particular, though not exclusive, emphasis on Aboriginal stories involving a group of artists,” Flather says.
Flather, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, is currently working on the script for a play she is calling Paradise, which is being developed for presentation next season.
“Paradise is about people living isolated by different kinds of prisons, and the ways that these characters connect, or don’t connect,” Flather says. “(The play explores) issues around addiction, mental illness, how people lose connections with each other and become isolated.”
Gwaandak has been steadily growing under the close watch of the founding co-artistic directors, Flather and Leonard Linklater, and the board of directors.
“We have gone from that small home office to a real team with a clear articulation of our vision,” Flather says. “Everything we do connects to that vision, from how we plan a season, and develop and showcase artists at the grassroots level to how we need to take care of ourselves, our staff and our artists. We strive for a respectful, healthy balance, and to maintain a genuine community engagement with audiences. We have developed and strengthened relationships with other artists across Canada. Last year we toured two plays, and this year we are bringing artists and their stories here to the Yukon. As we move into touring internationally, we remain rooted in the north, engaged with the world.”
While most of the public events in the Gwaandak season this year will take place after December, you can take part in the power of love by participating in the upcoming first-ever Gwaandak trivia fundraiser event in October in Whitehorse, complete with appetizers and entertainment. Teams will square off in a fun trivia competition testing your knowledge of Yukon arts, and Aboriginal and cultural history.
For showdates, fundraiser details, and more information about Gwaandak productions, go to www.GwaandakTheatre.com
Aimée Dawn Robinson is a writer, visual artist and dancer.