BY GEORGE MARATOS

Joseph Graham was volunteering on an archaeological dig near Beaver Creek in 2003 when he first heard the story, Timber Rabbits – A Northern Mystery of Men, Madness, and Mutilation.

As was customary at the end of the day, staff working at the Little John site would gather around the campfire for a few drinks and listen to campfire tales read by Norm Easton.

On that particular August evening, it was Timber Rabbits, a story published in the memoirs of Knut D. Peterson, which was being told.

“I remember saying to Norm, ‘Now that would make a great play’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s write it … together’,” explains Graham.

So they did, penciling the first draft at Nakai Theatre’s 24-Hour Playwriting Competition in Whitehorse that fall.

For Graham, it was an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his mother and grandmother, both writers, but for Easton, who has dreamed of being a writer since childhood, it marked a chance to shake the blue funk that had been miring him for the past year and a half.

“I wasn’t writing a thing, not even for my teachings,” laments Easton, an anthropology professor at Yukon College. “But because Joe was so into it, it motivated me to start writing again. He knew it would be good for me.”

Simple acquaintances prior to 2003, the two playwrights are now close friends who both say developing the script together has come without much conflict.

“He always submits to my dominating personality and I’m smart enough to know when he’s right,” laughs Easton.

Listening to them both describe the five-year journey it has taken to finally get the play on stage, it seems the Timber Rabbits story was never destined to grace the theatre.

First there was the 24-Hour Playwriting Competition.

Shortly before it was to begin, Easton was called out of town for work.

As a result, he was forced to communicate with Graham via Internet and telephone.

“In the middle of the night, we lost our connection and I was forced to finish the play on my own,” recalls Graham with a smile. “I started rewriting things and taking good parts out.”

Needless to say, the initial draft of Timber Rabbits was not received with open arms.

In fact, for the next three years the budding playwrights seemed to run into one roadblock after another.

The soft-spoken and reserved Graham is hesitant to vent his frustration at the tedious process.

“There were a lot of walls.”

Easton is a stark contrast and without discretion shares his bitterness at the lack of support that was shown to both when they first began work to get the play on stage.

“For years we shopped this around,” explains Easton as he takes a long drag from his cigarette.

“You have to have more of an arc … it’s missing an arc.

“I don’t know, it’s just not convincing,” continues Easton, while wailing his arms in the air to mimic one of the critical dramateurs they had read the script.

“They just didn’t get it,” explains Graham.

“They didn’t read it,” pipes Easton.

Listening to them share the elongated process it has taken to finally get the play staged, it is admirable that they did not just give up.

But then you hear the stories of their late night writing sessions and other evenings where friends would come over and act out scenes in Easton’s living room and you realize they were not going to let their goal of staging Timber Rabbits fall by the wayside.

Then a big break came in 2006 after sending the play to actor, director and long-time drama instructor Mary Sloan.

“Mary read it and called us up and said she wanted to meet with us,” explains a giddy Easton. “She got it right away and said, ‘I want to direct this’.”

But despite having Sloan on board, there was still the task of finding a venue and a company to produce it.

“It got to the point where we were, like, if we want to do this we have to produce it ourselves,” said Easton.

So they did.

And while both are eagerly anticipating Opening Night on Nov. 26 they are still too busy to get overly excited.

“We’re authors, we’re supposed to be able to say, ‘Ship it out’ and then sit back and relax,” said Easton.

Such is not the case.

They’re building sets, designing posters, making programs, finding costumes, whatever needs doing they’re doing it, driven by their passion for their work and the desire to see a home-grown, Northern story staged.

“We’re looking at 30 to 35,000 dollars expenditures on this production and at the end of the day we might end up with $2,000,” explains Easton. “But Joe and I feel like we’re doing the first true community production in years here.”

“This is real home-grown stuff. The story comes from the history here, it is set in the place and it’s written by people that have lived here long enough to know the place.

And the production team we’ve marshalled together is a home-grown group of people, too.”

So after five years, numerous rewrites and endless other challenges, both are confident Timber Rabbits, which they describe as a “dark comedy, two per cent true”, will entertain audiences and have them talking for years.

“I think audience members will come out and say, ‘Wow, I never seen anything like that before … that was worth 20 bucks,” said Graham. “It is something they’ll never forget.”

“If they can come out and say, ‘Howza!’, that’s when we will get our final confirmation. That’s the final test. Despite being a believer until you get that, you’re always going to be a little unsure,” adds Easton.

“Of course we love this though, it’s our baby … it’s my baby and it’s a beautiful bastard.”

Timber Rabbits – A Northern Mystery of Men, Madness, and Mutilation runs Nov. 26 to 29 and Dec. 3 to 6 at the old Legion Hall on Alexander Street and continues until Dec. 6.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE massierick@hotmail.com