There Are Stories You’ve Never Heard, Brilliantly Told: a review of The River

I went Saturday night to The River, a Nakai production, with Michael Greyeyes directing a play written by David Skelton, Judith Rudakoff and Joseph Tisiga.  To be frank, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in what I thought would be a sermon on homelessness.  I just didn’t want the guilt.  (And yes, I’m ashamed I actually said that—but I’m human and honest, and homelessness seems so much larger than I can comprehend–and I don’t know how to react “properly” or have any effect on the problem.  I suspect avoiding the issue is part of that problem–and yet, it’s the easiest thing to do.)

But local playwright David Skelton co-wrote the play, and I’m a huge fan of David and Nakai.  So I went.

I was blown away.   It wasn’t a sermon.  It wasn’t a guilt trip.  It was eye-opening, and it was riveting, and it was brilliant.  

For more of my review of The River at What’s Up Yukon

In a nutshell, brilliant writing, directing and acting take you into the vulnerable world of the homeless in Whitehorse.  Inspired by first person stories, collected by the writers through interviews over several years, that interviewing technique gives this play a realistic quality you won’t find in stories about homeless people.  You want to catch this play fast.  It’s here for a limited time, limited seating.  You won’t be disappointed.  I predict a long life for this play, and many, many performances across Canada.

(For more stunning photos of The River by photographer Richard Legner, visit this page.)

Researching for Longest Night (Dec 20, 21): We Are Not Alone

Researching for Longest Night, I was told that Daniel Janke wanted real reports of UFOs during my segments.  Over the last week of researching,  I’ve become a bit jittery.  There’s a lot more than I really want to think about.  Check out this footage from NASA.


Don’t know about you.  But when I come across video footage from NASA, I start to believe.  Don’t know if you already believe or not.  But we’ll be looking at several high profile cases at the Longest Night performance this year–in between puppetry and music–since their theme is We Are Not Alone.

I’ll post more research here and let you know how it’s coming.  But you can come see the finished product DEC 20th and 21st, 8pm.  Yukon Arts Centre.  Tickets available now.

Aboriginal Playwright Reading Series begins Wed. June 23

Gwaandak Theatre is putting on a reading series this summer in Whitehorse, featuring three plays written by First Nations playwrights, borrowing the skills of some local First Nation actors—some who are brand new to the theatre stage.  I’m excited to see these plays put on as readings.  They’ll really showcase what aboriginal playwrights are doing in Canada.  

The first of the readings (June 23) is Sixty Below, Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather’s play, produced down South.  It  had an extensive run up in the Yukon as they both took the play to the communities in 1999.   It has a Yukon setting and was hugely popular when it toured.  And now gets a special reading this Wednesday night.  

“Sixty Below is the story of Henry, fresh out of jail and ready to straighten out his life. Of course it’s not that easy: his old buddies just want to party, his girlfriend’s moving ahead of him, and then there’s the ghost of Johnnie, everyone’s hero, who just won’t leave the northern lights. And to top it all off – the longest night is just around the corner. Cast features Kevin Barr, Boyd Benjamin, Jared Lutchman, Rae Mombourquette, Sean Smith, and Ciara Stick. Reading is directed by Mary Sloan,” says Sarah Moore, Gwaandak Theatre’s publicist.   

The second (July 7) is a play from Kenneth T. Williams called Bannock Republic, using characters from his earlier play, Thunderstick.

Bannock Republic tells the story of Jacob, a videojournalist for APTN, Isaac, a new chief—both friends in the earlier play– and introduces Destiny, a woman and third party representative, who comes to financially take over the reserve drowning in debt.

The third play (July 14) is Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters featuring “seven of the greatest roles ever written for women,” Flather says.  Highway’s work, probably the best known of the four playwrights, was produced in Toronto, earned several Dora awards for theatre, and featured a hilarious knock-down drag-out fight between all seven women. 

Gwaandak Theatre believes all of the plays capture the strength, resiliency and humor of aboriginal culture despite adversity, the affects of colonization and discrimination.  “And these plays, they don’t hold anything back,” Flather says.  “They celebrate the human spirit.”

Linklater and Flather formed Gwaandak Theatre back in 1999 to remount Sixty Below for a millennial production.  They felt like there was a need for a company that would focus on underrepresented groups—specifically First Nation groups—and give them a professional theatre company to tell, and produce, their stories. 

Williams believes that what Gwaandak Theatre does is extremely important for every community. 

“There are only a few professional Aboriginal theatres in Canada,” he says.   “Yet, there are many exciting young Aboriginal playwrights in Canada like Tara Beagan, Waawaate Anishnaabe Fobister and Kevin Loring who are shaking things up in the theatre world.   Mainstream theatres are paying attention to us, and that’s great, but it would be unfair and unrealistic to ask them to program an entire season to just Aboriginal writers. It’s about showing the diversity of writing within the Aboriginal community, it’s about sharing stories and learning from one another.  The other benefit is to inspire young Aboriginal people to be theatre artists. Theatre is a great profession. And we need more Aboriginal theatre artists.”

The plays are for everyone—both First Nation and non-First Nation.  They do contain mature content so parental discretion is advised.    Come to the Old Firehall downtown at 7:00 (doors open) for a 7:30 start:

June 23:  Sixty Below

July 7:  Bannock Republic

July 14:  The Rez Sisters 

(part of this post comes from an article written for What’s Up Yukon, slated for Wednesday June 30–“pre”-printed here with permission)

The Laramie Project Shows Stunning Ensemble Work

This is my review from What’s Up Yukon.  

5 out of 5 Stars

I gave Justine Davidson, the theatre reviewer for the Whitehorse Star, a long hug at the end of The Laramie Project, the Guild Society/GALA play.

Both of us were near tears.

She said over my shoulder, “Does this mean it’s good when the journalists are crying?”

We weren’t the only ones moved.

But don’t let this make you think the play is a downer. It isn’t.

It’s mostly a fascinating study of 80 people learning to cope with sudden and abrupt change. The tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s murder happens before the play begins — so this is, in effect, the aftermath.

This is a community coming to terms with what they think about it — and finding themselves at the centre of a media tornado. You find yourself rooting for them as they try to make it through. …

(For the rest of the review, click here to go to What’s Up Yukon)

Etiquette: Let Yourself Be Part of the Play

I was able to be a part of Etiquette, the new play by Theatre Rotozaza from the UK now set up at Baked Cafe, at First and Main.  It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  

Yep, you’re sitting down, yep there are actors and a stage, and lines, and things are acted out, but you are the participants and no one in the cafe knows you are doing it.  It’s visceral and you feel as if you are being used, a bit, by the play.  After all, the voice tells you what to say and what to do.  You will be talking about it for awhile.  

You participate with one other person sitting across from you.  You wear headphones and whatever the voice says to you on the headphones to say or do, you say or do.  But it’s not so loud that anyone will ever hear you.  It’s not embarrassing.  It’s a conversation you are having with another person who is also wearing headphones.  

The play is called Etiquette because it seems to want to examine the whole idea of proper things to say.  Here you are, being the actor, being fed lines, much like you go to a Book of Etiquette to know how to say appropriate things at a wedding, funeral, dinner party.  You are handed lines in those situations.  But there are some situations you won’t have words for…

In the course of the play, you are directed to pick up small objects and figurines, place them on the table, do things with them.  The play uses you to get itself acted.  It’s really clever that way.  

It references at one point Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Doll’s House, and you witness the last scene of that play, where Nora does something that no woman in theatre was ever allowed to do, until then.  She leaves her husband.  He is left nearly speechless.  There’s nothing he can say–nothing that makes any sense.  This is the crux of the play Etiquette, not Ibsen’s scene, but the idea that we need words to understand how to act or feel at certain times.  

There will come a moment when you have to read a note while looking through a glass of water.  Hold the note close to the glass and move it sideways.  It will be clearer if you do that.  If you can’t, just flip it over and read the note outloud.  The rest of the directions are pretty easy to follow–you pick things up and place them on the table in front of you, you turn, look around, look at each other.  

I can’t tell you much more about the play—you have to live it to know what it is.  And whichever character you are, you will only know the play from that perspective.  This challenged a lot of what I think about theatre–about the audience’s ability to stay as observers to the play.  Here, you are forced to BE the play, and you don’t know what the other character will say, or what you will say, until you’ve said it.  But all the elements of theatre are there.  They are on the table, in your hands, out of your mouth.  It’s unique and visceral, and if you get a chance to sign up at Baked Cafe to do it, do it.  It takes 30 minutes, and there are only two tables in the room to use (so only four people can participate at a time).  No one really sees you or thinks about what you are doing.  It just looks like you are having a conversation.  But you are really deep inside a play, while the rest of the world drinks coffee around you. 

Etiquette is brought to you through the 2010 Pivot Theatre Festival arranged by Nakai Theatre.  For more information, see their website.  

Etiquette happens Tuesday January 26 to Sunday January 31,

Baked Cafe, every half hour between 1 and 6 pm, $20/pair

Tickets available at Baked Cafe starting Jan. 26 at noon.