The Yukon fall theatre round-up
During this very strange year, Yukon theatre companies are finding creative ways to present work. Many have adapted shows and developed unique formats to fit with our new reality. Some projects are going outside while others are going online. Indoor venues are being redesigned for smaller audiences. Perennial favourites are returning, with some adjustments and modifications. Thanks to the inventiveness of the people who present them, the shows will go on.
The Guild Hall
The Guild Hall in Porter Creek has headed outdoors with ‘Round Back. The fall series takes place behind the Hall, in a location where things have historically “gone to rot,” according to artistic director, Brian Fidler. The series runs Thursday to Saturday from late August to early October. The rustic outdoor theatre was “slapped together” from pieces of previous sets, so Guild regulars might recognize a piece or two. Designed by Al Loewen, the space features 12 islands as audience seating, and a stage in the middle of the round. There’s also an outdoor bar. The program features a variety of shows, ranging from comedy to music to dance.
The first performance of the series was Mr. Burns: a Post-Electric Play, which was cancelled earlier this year. The Guild Comedy Night features a line-up of women comedians. Other weekends highlight local musicians including Ryan McNally, Blues Cargo and Café des Voix. Claire Ness is releasing her latest record, Broccoli Farm, on a Sunday afternoon with a kid-friendly show.
A new theatre company, Sigil Theatre, is presenting a piece by playwright and director Brandon Wicke. Yukon Theatre for Young People is showcasing teen talent (and the teen lockdown experience) with Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation. Velvet Antler Productions is staging Best Little Vegas in the North, a variety show that promises its audience that “what happens ‘round back, stays ‘round back.”
Once ‘Round Back wraps up, the Guild will move things back inside the theatre with a series of short plays called Nimble Productions. Seating will be cabaret-style to allow for distancing. An audience of up to 25 is possible, but Fidler acknowledges audience capacity may be further reduced, or shows may have to go online. The Guild’s fall season also includes learning opportunities, including Fidler’s improv class and Donald Watt’s set design workshop.
Colin Wolf is mastering the art of adaptation. Wolf, artistic director at Gwaandak Theatre, has piloted six projects, from live to online formats, since COVID-19 hit. He feels confident that Gwaandak can continue to be flexible and adapt as necessary, with programming planned into July 2021 and a whole stash of branded pandemic masks, handmade by Wolf’s wife, Sydney.
First up this fall, Gwaandak is contributing to ‘Round Back at the Guild Hall with a variety show called Have You Tried This?
Wolf describes it as an “a la carte” evening featuring rants, poetry, music and interviews with a knowledge-holder and a knowledge-seeker. There’s also an appearance from a specialist whom Wolf describes as someone with special skills, such as a trapper. Gwaandak is commissioning new pieces for the show, which is meant to challenge performers to try new things and to do something the audience wouldn’t expect. For example, Wolf says, imagine Sharon Shorty doing a rant rather than telling a story.
Have You Tried This? is a trial run to see if the variety show format will be viable as a monthly gathering through the winter, with indoor shows slated to take place at the Old Fire Hall in November and December.
Gwaandak is also presenting The Born-Again Crow, or There is Violence and There is Righteous Violence and There is Death, by Métis playwright and performer Caleigh Crow, who is Wolf’s sister. Wolf says the play is about the way our society views and handles violence. It was part of Gwaandak’s 2019 Indigneous Summer Play Readings and was programmed by former artistic director, Patti Flather, before Wolf took over the position earlier this year. Crow will travel to Whitehorse from Calgary for performances in October. During self-isolation, Crow will break the play into three episodes. One episode will be presented each weekend from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31. The shorter episodes allow for three shows a night and smaller audiences.
The Born-Again Crow will also be live-streamed and filmed, to be shared with a wider audience.
Fall is a quieter time for Nakai, but that doesn’t mean artistic director Jacob Zimmerman hasn’t been busy. Zimmerman, along with other Nakai staff, have been trying to lay the foundation for future programming, at a time when the future is uncertain. Right now, Nakai has plans for something similar to its annual 24Hour Challenge, likely for the first weekend of November. Zimmerman isn’t sure exactly what it will look like this year, but Nakai is “committed to the spirit of the event,” which gives people 24 hours to get creative and share the results with one another. Certain traditions (including the event-ending communal meal) might be impossible this year, but, on the bright side, Zimmerman says more people might be able to participate if the event is online. The forced downtime has also given Nakai the chance to focus on long-term plans, which include a partnership with Gwaandak Theatre.
Nakai is also offering workshops in digital literacy for the arts sector. Online skills are important for artists, who need to be comfortable with the digital reality, says Zimmerman, a self-professed geek. Proficiency with Excel may not seem very exciting, but he says it helps when it comes to making theatre happen.
Brave New Words is also being reconsidered for the fall. The monthly gathering for writers may go ahead as an web-based event, but Zimmerman is conscious that some people are experiencing online fatigue. Nakai is also building towards the Pivot Festival in early 2021, locking a few things down, while recognizing that even the best-laid plans may need to change.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Ramshackle’s Theatre in the Bush. Brian Fidler, artistic director, says the event will bring back a few folks from that first year, including Whitehorse poet Michael Reynolds, who read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for the inaugural event in 2010.
As for new presenters, Fidler says some great submissions are coming in, but it’s too early to announce the line-up. For people who can’t make it to the shows, Theatre in the Bush will be filmed by Brendan Preston, with Elyssia Sasaki directing.
Fidler is also planning to workshop a new piece called A Crazy Little Puppet Show About Death, featuring Death as a finger puppet. Death will debut in a snippet with Velvet Antler Productions at the Guild’s ‘Round Back series, with the full piece being presented later in the year.