For nine years, Burning Away the Winter Blues was a grassroots event that allowed Yukoners to come together at the Spring Equinox as a torch-wielding mob to, well, burn away the winter blues.
This year, however, the entire world is invited to watch as Yukoners and guests bang on drums, chant and cheer as an effigy is ceremoniously tossed onto a giant bonfire at Robert Service Campground.
The artistic director of the Yukon Educational Theatre, Arlin McFarlane, who in past years has done everything from passing around the Blues Bag for burning to chopping away at ice on the path, will be the on-air host.
A crew — that consists of a camera person, two people to hold lights, a person to hold the laptop and one other to hold the Navigo unit and battery pack – will follow her as she follows the path from the S.S. Klondike to the campground.
“When you are walking along a candle lit path for 15 minutes, you need someone to say, ‘Now’s a good time to go to the bathroom’,” says McFarlane.
In other words, she will maintain a patter of commentary that she hopes to have help with.
McFarlane hopes Yukoners will send messages around the world and tell friends and family to join in online. They can then find her film crew and shout out a “Hi Grandma!”
The idea developed last year during the Canada Games. McFarlane saw how many people wrote down the things they wanted to rid their lives of and placed them in the Blues Bag. She knew then people wanted to be part of this.
So, the technology was gathered up and, without advertising, a pilot project was launched on its website, www.burningawaythewinterblues.com.
The Blues Bag is already filling up for this year as people from “I don’t know where” have been sending McFarlane e-mails. She will print them off and place them in the Blues Bag.
With the aim of improving the event every year, McFarlane says Valerie Salez has been summoned from Dawson City to perform her snow-shovelling artistic performance at the S.S. Klondike.
Since the organization can’t afford two buses to ferry revellers from the campground (where the vehicles are parked) to the S.S. Klondike for the start, it was found that entertainment would make the waiting a little easier.
Other improvements include better masks worn by participants as mask-making workshops have been held.
And the drumming will be better, too, thanks to musical therapist David Sutton who taught stomp and rhythm to a group at another workshop.
Returning this year will be the Dragon of Spring, which was created by Christine Spinder “out of the goodness of her heart”, says McFarlane.
It takes three people to animate it and these are found throughout the night.
“I count on participation,” says McFarlane. “This is not a performance.
“Last year, we had an 11-year-old boy who had a great time … I phoned his Dad for this year.”
The effigy is built by different artists each year and, this year, it is David Skelton. As a theatre designer, he is an artist, too, says McFarlane.
“The effigy represents people’s blues and the burden of winter that often feels heavy,” says McFarlane, then quickly adding that she hopes the effigy, itself, isn’t heavy.
“About five to 10 pounds would be nice.”
After the effigy is burned, children will pass out sunflower seeds. But they are not for eating, says McFarlane. Instead, she wants them planted to “carry the message of seasonal change throughout the year.”
She has seen these plants given away, later, as presents.
Then there is just time to stand around the bonfire and chat with strangers and visit.
Even in the procession along the Yukon River, McFarlane says groups develop as older folks hang back, younger ones race ahead and drummers seek each other out.
“It is a real social time.”
Participants are asked to leave their vehicles in the parking lot of the Robert Service Campground and take the shuttle to the S.S. Klondike between 8:15 and 8:45 p.m. on March 22.
The webcast begins at 8:30 p.m. and the procession begins around 9 p.m.
Those wishing to volunteer are asked to contact McFarlane at [email protected]