When you talk about “The Theatre”, these days, it is inevitable that certain eyes will glaze and certain minds will wander.
It’s old and out of date, the YouTube crowd might complain. But perhaps the qualities that prevent live theatre from being trendy are the exact same qualities that ensure it will always remain consistently relevant.
That’s what David Skelton thinks.
Skelton is the artistic director of Nakai Theatre and he finds that there is an exhilaration attached to the intimacy of live performance.
“It’s there, and then its gone. And you’ll never see that exact same thing, again,” he says.
According to Skelton, this impermanence will always resonate with audiences because it holds up a mirror to the nature of life itself. “That’s what happens in human existence,” he says.
“We’re here for a while and then we’re gone.”
According to Skelton, this impermanence of theatre is also accompanied by a sense of danger … something can always go wrong.
This possibility of imperfection is not a drawback; rather, Skelton finds it mesmerizing. “A real theatre artist will deal [with] that, and it’s exciting to see how they do it.”
This sort of on-edge energy, on which a play thrives, creates an excitement in the audience that watching a film can rarely match.
“When people go and see a movie, they might go out for coffee afterwards,” says Skelton. “But after watching a play, people hang out in the lobby and want to talk [about] it and argue about it.”
This is what makes Skelton passionate about theatre, and during his time in Whitehorse, he has found this community to be supportive of the arts in a way that few other cities are.
“In general, there is money for the arts [in the Yukon], and a lot of educated people who are interested in going to these sorts of things,” he says. Skelton estimates that the proportion of people in the Yukon who would go out to see a play is about four times that of Ontario.
This incredible support also encourages local actors.
“There is lots of skill and lots of desire,” he says of our local thespians. By Skelton’s estimation, this skill was particularly apparent during Nakai’s recent production of The Mighty Carlins, by Collin Doyle.
“It featured some extraordinary acting by both national and local actors,” he says. And when asked if the locals held their own against actors from other parts of Canada, Skelton nods his head earnestly.
Still, there is perhaps something ironic about Whitehorse’s support for its theatre community: “We need a stronger critical voice,” Skelton says.
He thinks that, amid the enthusiastic support that theatre receives, the important role of Devil’s Advocate has been neglected. “We need someone with a strong background in theory and the history of theatre to assume the role of critic,” he says.
Some will find it odd to hear an artistic director asking for more criticism, but Skelton believes that, rather than dampen enthusiasm, such knowledgeable criticism will force local productions to meet a higher standard of quality – and this will, in the long run, create a stronger and more-vibrant theatre community.