A young woman from the typing pools at City Hall finds herself sitting in the mayor’s mint green Ford Galaxie 500, surrounded by colourful tissue paper flowers during a sunny parade.
A man who struggles to communicate with his wife whiles away the hours at the curling club once again, drinking beers and eating popcorn while his partner waits at home.
Seeking the affection of an Egyptian princess, a blue hippopotamus vows to change into something, anything, she could love.
These are just a few of the characters who will come alive during “Northern Songs and Stories,” a tour featuring Winnipeg songwriters Christine Fellows and John K. Samson and Whitehorse storyteller Nicole Bauberger.
The trio will visit northern Yukon communities from February 22 to 27, thanks to a partnership between the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) and the Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF).
Fellows has just released her fifth studio album, Femmes de chez nous, the product of several creative collaborations.
Many of the songs on the album were created during Fellows’ 2009 residency at Winnipeg’s Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum, and share the museum’s focus on Franco-Manitoban and Métis history.
Five of the songs were featured in The Monkey and the Mermaid, a 2010 performance with visual artist Shary Boyle, and one song was the result of a commissioned song cycle for a choreographic duet with Susie Burpee.
As a whole, the subjects of the bilingual songs become “our gals” (or femmes de chez nous) as they animate Fellows’ feminist approach to archival research.
John K. Samson, known widely as frontman for indie-rock band The Weakerthans, also records solo material. His latest project is a site-specific series of seven-inch records devoted to the real and imagined people who surround Manitoba roads.
The most recent, 2010’s Provincial Road 222, includes songs about a teacher reflecting on her affair with the school principal, a petition to induct Winnipeg-born hockey player Reggie “The Riverton Rifle” Leach into the NHL Hall of Fame, and a hermitic computer gamer.
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that these are two of Canada’s finest literary voices, in any medium,” says DCMF Producer Tim Jones, who welcomes Fellows and Samson as DCMF’s sixth and seventh songwriters-in-residence, a program offered through the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture’s Artist-in-Residence program.
In addition to having time and space to work on ongoing or new material, the residence program strongly encourages participants to be engaged with the community.
Jones took that one step further by contacting Michele Emslie, community programming director for YAC, to look for a way to share Fellows and Samson’s talents beyond Dawson.
“Tim mentioned that his songwriters-in-residence were looking to do a community tour with a storyteller,” relates Emslie, “and I said, ‘Well, I have a storyteller who would like to do a community tour!'”
That storyteller was Bauberger, who is also a practising visual artist, educator, and writer.
Bauberger views her artistic practices as strongly intertwined and ways to incorporate her love of stories into her works. For example, she has a large body of work called the “100 Dresses” project.
At a number of artist residencies across Canada, Bauberger has used personal and environmental encounters to inspire 100 paintings of dresses related to that community. Each painting becomes its own story, and at times Bauberger presents slide shows of the paintings and relates their stories aloud.
Similarly, Yukon Drives, her 2009 exhibition in Dawson City’s ODD Gallery, serialized highway landscapes painted at 50-km intervals on the drive from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse. Like stories, Bauberger views these painting series as works with temporal structures that require the audience to use their imagination to process what is presented.
“Storytelling does what TV doesn’t do – it requires people to make pictures in their own mind,” Bauberger says.
“My favourite moment in storytelling is when I can tell the audience is seeing the story in their own imaginations. It’s like trying to put a dream into words, but in a way where I’m telling the words, and they’re having a dream.”
Fellows, who toured several Yukon communities in 2003 through Whitehorse’s Frostbite Music Festival, is excited to get on the road again as well.
“Small shows are always better,” she says. “People are usually more inquisitive and more talkative.”
“Northern Songs & Stories” Tour Dates: February 22 (Pelly Crossing), 23 (Old Crow), 24 (Dawson City), 25 (Mayo) and 27 (Whitehorse). All events are free; donations benefiting the artists will be accepted.