Larrikin Entertainment’s new musical, Wyrd, is coming to the Yukon Arts Centre stage March 16–19.
The idea for Wyrd first came about after playwrights Katherine McCallum and Angela Drainville met for the first time in 2017. The two spent an evening drinking wine and chatting about their past relationships, acknowledging a humorous side to a delicate subject, in a cathartic way. The next morning, McCallum received a short text from Drainville saying that the two had to turn the experiences they’d talked about into a musical. Eventually, the planning and writing of Wyrd was underway, albeit with a different, less print-friendly title.
“We laughed so much when we were talking about it,” McCallum told What’s Up Yukon. “We wanted to sort of examine and investigate why you can always look back on it and see the ridiculousness of it, but when you’re in it, it feels so serious and hard to get out of.”
As the artistic executive producer of Larrikin Entertainment, McCallum began applying for funding to make Wyrd happen and, by 2021, had put together a group of talented creatives—all women, female-identifying or non-binary—to bring the musical to life. The team spent two weeks in the Old Fire Hall, channeling their rage, as well as their senses of humour, into creativity and artistic expression.
“While parts of it are super sad in terms of all our history with relationship abuse and oppression, parts of it are funny and laughable,” McCallum said. “We found it more funny than sad, once we got through the rage, and we’ve sort of created a musical comedy that helps to shine a light on a serious subject matter.”
Wyrd involves several of its cast and crew doing multiple jobs, and everyone was able to channel their own perspectives and experiences into the storyline, something McCallum said was cathartic for everyone involved. McCallum goes as far as to say that once the show was underway, it was no longer just her show, as everyone who walked into the room was able to give input and to have their voice and experiences reflected in the play. The plot changed significantly from what McCallun and Drainville had originally imagined, as more and more voices were added and more people were able to inject their lived experiences and perspectives into the show. McCallum hopes audience members will find parts of the story they can connect with, as well.
“We were very aware that the content needs to take care of everybody who sees the play and that we need to be careful—because it’s volatile, this topic,” McCallum said. “We’ve been specific enough to make it so that it makes sense, as a story, but we’ve been careful to make sure that everyone who sees the play can relate to it in some way.”
Along with McCallum and Drainville, the story was written by Melaina Sheldon, Jenny Hamilton, Selina Heyligers-Hare, Jane Gaudet, J. McLaughlin, Becky Johnson, Meg Braem, Britt Small and Ashley Robyn. It was directed by Britt Small, with musical direction by Ashley Robyn; musical composition by Shirley Gnome, Ashley Robyn and Selina Heyligers-Hare; and the dramaturgy and script editing were handled by Meg Braem. The stage play features Isabelle James Walker, Jordan Kaltenbruner, Victoria Parker, Selina Heyligers-Hare, Hannah Mazurek, Erin Pettifor, Jamie Lee Tognazzini, Yasmin D’Oshun and Ashley Robyn.
“One thing that really struck me about those first two weeks in the Old Fire Hall, in August 2021, is [that] at the end of the two weeks, we looked back on it and said that there hadn’t been a single moment where anyone felt negative feelings towards anyone else,” McCallum said.
“We started calling ourselves The Coven, and that’s because we felt quite witchy and sort of underground about it, too, in that women have been oppressed so much, in the past, that if we had gotten together like that 300 years ago, we would have all been drowned or burned at the stake.”
McCallum goes on to raise the point that witches were never actually drowned or burned at the stake—the accused witches who historically faced this treatment were just “women who dared to have a fucking opinion.”
The plot of Wyrd centers on a woman who has just fled an abusive relationship and finds herself in a motel in the middle of nowhere. Inexplicably drawn into the woods, she wanders off the beaten path and finds herself in an ancient bog where, before long, she encounters the Lake Erie Storm Hag, Black Annis, and Nelly Long Arms at their annual hags’ reunion. The story involves flatulating mushrooms, horny herons, a random game-show dream sequence, punk rock crones and a visiting hag from “down south” who may or may not need an abortion. The host of characters guide the woman through the bog, on her journey, to rediscover her inner strength, happiness and, possibly, a career in a punk rock band. The music is a mixed bag of styles, as well, as is necessary for a stage show with so many different weird and wild elements.
“There are so many musical genres in this show, and I am excited to put people on the auditory roller coaster and see how loud they scream,” said Ashley Robyn, Wyrd’s musical director, a co-composer of the score and an ensemble member in the show, who came up from B.C. to work on the show. “It has been such an incredible journey, this last year and a half, and I have definitely gotten ‘the Yukon bug’ from all of my visits. I’m one outdoorsy husband away from moving into a wood cabin and never looking back.”
Wyrd will be playing at the Yukon Arts Centre March 16–19, before stopping in Dawson City March 31–April 1, in Haines Junction April 7 and heading down to Victoria May 18–20. Tickets for the showings are available online.
“I think I’ve learned a lot of skills from being around these people, for the last two years, and being able to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what ‘sticks’ in terms of other people’s experiences and where they’ve been,” McCallum said. “I feel like a stronger person because of the show, for sure.”
For more information, visit larrikinentertainment.ca