Claire Ness performs in Café des Voix at ‘Round Back in 2020

Last spring, when COVID-19 put the kibosh on indoor performance, the Guild Hall was prevented from fulfilling its purpose: to present live theatre to the community. In response, Guild staff and volunteers created an outdoor venue.Long-time volunteer Al Loewen built a stage out of old wood. Then he fashioned pod seating (audience islands) out of old set pieces. Within this makeshift outdoor theatre, the Guild put on a series of shows. In the midst of a pandemic autumn when nothing much was happening, ‘Round Back was a hit.“I’m really excited that it’s become a thing,” says Brian Fidler, artistic director of the Guild.“It was a response to COVID, and it was popular, and we saw that it could have a life beyond just a temporary fix that it started out as.”While all of the “audience islands” collapsed under the weight of Whitehorse’s record snowfall last winter, the Guild folks are ever resourceful. They took the wood that was used for the set in their spring production, Dreary and Izzy, and made new roofs for the pods.The venue also has a brand new stage courtesy of Austin Roe, who Fidler describes as a “carpenter, Jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance man.” Kilrich Building Centres donated everything on the Guild’s materials list for the project.Meanwhile, Fidler and his family cleaned up the carpentry shop, which serves as a green room for performers. Now, there’s a place for them to sit and hang out.Next up was financial support. “We’re excited that we got some really awesome funding from Great Yukon Summer,” Fidler says, referring to a Yukon government funding program.One funding requirement is to keep the programming accessible so the Guild is keeping ticket prices low, at only $11 a show. Kids’ programming was all free.With the new and improved venue in place, Fidler set out to curate a series of performances.Here’s what’s up for ‘Round Back 2021:

Week 1 – August 4-8

  • The series kicked off on Aug. 4 with Blues Cargo, an all-star band comprised of Manfred Janssen, Bob Hamilton, Rocky Bergman, Jimmy Salt and Annie Avery.
  • Next up was an evening of storytelling with Ivan Coyote who, Fidler says, “if I’m not mistaken … went to daycare at the Guild when they were a little kid.”
  • Kids’ programming filled the first weekend. The Yukon Theatre for Young People performed two nights of Broadway hit songs. Claire Ness performed “music for the kiddos” at a matinée, and Drag Queen Storytime’s Jolene Queen Sloan (Prianshu Grover) read children’s books.

Week 2 – Aug. 11 to 14

  • Ryan McNally and his band are first up for week two, with music inspired by the southern US – a mix of New Orleans jazz and country blues.
  • McNally is followed by two nights of comedy, starting with the Yukon Comedy Collective on Wednesday with Connor Boyle, Richard Eden, George Maratos, Steve McGovern and Reid Vanier.
  • It’s an all-women bill for the Guild Comedy Night. The night offers a “pretty amazing lineup of people” including Sharon Shorty, Emilie Lefrançois, Jenny Hamilton, Steph Aubé and Brenda Barnes.

Week Three – Aug. 19 to 21

  • The Guild Storytelling Night happens Thursday, Aug. 19. It features performances from folks who participated in the Guild’s storytelling workshop this summer.
  • Café des Voix is next with two nights of song. The many vocalists will be singing “lunar tunes” and songs from musical theatre. They’ll be accompanied by Two Piano Tornado, aka Grant Simpson and Annie Avery.

Week 4 – Aug. 25 to 28

  • The final Wednesday features singer and emerging songwriter Brigitte Jardin. Jardin will be backed by the City Slickers, including Lonnie Powell, Bob Hamilton and Lorène Charmetant.
  • ‘Round Back wraps up with three nights of the Thumbs Up Good Work Theatre Collective featuring Sara German, Colin Wolf and Sydney Wolf.“They’re just such a dynamic group, I’m always excited by what they’re going to put together,” Fidler says.

Although Fidler curated the series, he says that “it’s always a collaboration in putting these together.”Fidler relies on the Guild general manager Brandon Wicke to get the venue ready and look after the tech side of things. Production manager Odile Nelson takes care of all the marketing.“I feel like we’ve been in a relationship in the last year and a half,” Fidler says, referring to the trio’s efforts to stay afloat through a pandemic.And it’s not quite over yet. Although restrictions are loosening, by its very construction ‘Round Back offers physically distanced seating. Plus, it’s outside.“It’s a good starter venue for getting people back to watching live performance,” Fidler says.To see the full ‘Round Back lineup and to get tickets, visit Yukontickets.com.

A staged read of Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play performed at ‘Round Back 2020. Left to right: Odile Nelson, Brandon Wicke and Austin Roe. PHOTOS: Erik Pinkerton