Oh my god...what is this place?

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Talk about a journey, a celebratory ride, the best director, playwright, cast and crew a person could ask for.  Open Pit Theatre has raised the bar in my mind of the way a company should treat their staff, the talent and the art form.   Great accommodations, great rehearsal venues, good pay, great snacks, great coffee and mostly an incredible respect for process and artistic evolution.   Never have I been told by a director to just trust where I organically land.  

It was a difficult ride, I haven’t worked 8 hour days in a long time let alone 6 days a week.  I also suffer from osteoarthritis in both knees and throughout the rehearsal I came down with pneumonia.  This made it extremely hard to get up in the morning, to remember my lines, to get my blocking,  …. but I was always encouraged to take care of myself, to rest, to do what I needed to do to make the rehearsal process work for me.   I never felt any pressure... the concern for my health and well being was genuine and was a priority.   Everyone in the cast always felt safe and supported.  

So here I sit and my fellow actor mates sit in their homes, after a 7 week soulful arc, most of us flew back from Whitehorse to our cities down south.  My heart broke once again as I sat on the plane watching the sun disappear … and I shake my head thinking did all that beauty really happen?

Have you heard the north call?

"In 1992 I was 25 years old and I bought a 1966 red VW pop up simply because it was the year I was born and it had a set of horns on its dashboard . It didn’t even work.   I had just been cast in the theatre production of “The Rez”  and my friend Dean Eyre asked if he could fix my VW could he borrow it for the summer and go to Whitehorse?  I said yes but the night before he left I called him and I said can I come with you? and he said yes… and my agent kindly reminded me that I would never be able to do theatre again in BC and I never did. 

This three day journey was a majestic and awesome one, I learn’t how to drive a stick and at one point we saw one of our tires bounce ahead of us on the Alaska highway and down a ditch, When we finally arrived to Whitehorse, we helped a banjo busker (Kim Barlow) move her things to an abandoned house down the long lake road affectionately called “the Daisy House’.  Before we did that though we had a couple of beers at the Capitol which is now the Dirty Northern and watched strippers strip down to their birthday suits and dance on stage around a pole.  Welcome to Whitehorse and welcome to the Yukon!

That summer we parked our van outside the Daisy House where about a dozen of us squatted  ( Kim Beggs, Zola, Karen Sullivan, Joe Bishop etc) We would cook on an outdoor fire and camp stove and we washed our dishes in the Yukon River.  At night we would pass two or three guitars around the fire and take turns playing songs by Dillon, Chapman, Morrison and Mitchell.   We enjoyed almost 20 hours of sunlight each day and we loved, grew up and supported each other the best we could. Most of us had temp jobs and most of us stayed past the summer to become legit sourdoughs.  I never returned back to BC and I abandoned my life there and stayed another 8 years here"

This is my Busted Up Yukon Story and its always a magical one, one you share with your family and friends, the type of story that has the weight you would want to pass to your grandchildren... just ask anyone who has ever come up here right ?  So here I am 25 years later where the Shipyards are now manicured, there is no Capital, or Taku and hardly anyone wears long johns anymore and they all wash their hair, not very people even own a truck and no one even hitchhikes anymore .

Busted Up is an echo of everyone’s story that has ever come up here… thats why it resonated for some many people , thats why it affected deeply  the guest artists who came up here for the first time.  There are so many passages in the play that people could relate to , that people have heard, that people have said …. so many people laughed and cried, others got angry but most of all people started dialoguing, there was a buzz in the street to go see that play, to go see that love letter to the Yukon.

My heart and head are moved once again in an enormous way by my experience with my dear cast mates, by Open Pit Theatre, with Busted Up: A Yukon Story and by the silence, the northern light and the thick healing energy of the Yukon!

And that’s your gift for today and yesterday and tomorrow… and yet mosquito...

The jobs of these Animals

Full disclosure, I may be a bit drunk on life (and alchohol) when I start to write this.  An evening of fire, singing songs and laughing about the last month and a half of experiences will do that to you.

You know, sometimes you take a gig and you by the end of it you kind of feel like...

Thankfully, this hasn't been the case in the slightest.  It is always a pleasure when the people you work alongside have passion and are genuinely good humans.  We all know that the arts bring drama, and not always in the good on stage for everyone to enjoy way.  People as in any profession can be difficult at times, impossible at the worst times even, but in a 200 pounds of beautiful way, that wasn't the case here.  I'll miss these knuckleheads and the laughs we all enjoyed together.   

Everyone came here to work, everyone was easy about it and none of us animals failed to live up to the agreement that we made.  In the end a story of the Yukon that has the voices of 33 characters was formed and as we do our final show in Haines Junction it is without worry that I say I'm confident the performance will be one that will connect with each person in the audience in it's own way.  

We not only managed to chase down those sparks we individually were tasked to chase, but we kept our eye on that fire that they flew from.  

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My time in the Yukon is one I'll always treasure.  This has been a gift to know these people and to experience what and why these characters in this show are saying what they are saying.  There is a real connection here with people to this place.  I feel it, I know it. 

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P.S. Working with Gen and Jess? That ain't work. Eh, Barnes? 

 

Busted Open in Whitehorse

 Photo by Alistair Maitland Photography

Photo by Alistair Maitland Photography

Some have asked me what it’s like taking on my first full-time theatre acting job at 55? How’s it going, how are you feeling Barnes?

Physically exhausted, yet emotionally exhilarated. I’m the kind of tired where I fall asleep within seconds, but with a smile on my face. Being in the moment in a kind of way that realizes every second how incredibly lucky I am to be a part of any of it. Experiencing an instant rapport and comradery I have not felt since I was a young person in community radio.

I am having the time of my life. Every day.

The best part is being and creating with beautiful, committed, loving, self-deprecating, witty, smarter and younger adult humans. That is the prescription for hope if you have ever felt as though you have lost it. Sometimes, I want to live forever in that moment of anticipation holding onto all of you just before we step on stage.

Hello risk. I’ve missed you.

Thank you Busted Up for choosing me to be a part of this. However long it may last.

P.S. I may haunt CCC road after the run looking for Roy back rubs. Oh, also being around Genevieve every day? That ain’t work.

Bust a Leg!

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Alright so, in the spirit of verbatim theatre and Busted Up: A Yukon Story, I thought I would, uh, narrate this, orate this, instead of trying to write something out.  Umm, so I’ll try to keep it to about three minutes, and here goes…

Uh, we just finished cue-to-cue, er not so much finished as got about halfway through. For those that are not initiated, cue-to-cue is this painstaking process that, once you’ve gotten out of rehearsal you, uh, go through with the lighting designer and sound designer every step of the way to make sure, you know, the actors look good.  They’re lit properly, the sounds come in at the right time. It’s not a very flattering experience for a performer because you, come to realize that you’re largely a puppet in a much… uh, broader scenario. I don’t know, umm…  (pause)

But, in some senses that’s what I like about this show. Because, aaaacting is a very self-involved, and or can be, a very egocentric endeavour, and uh, I think this show is… eehhh… collaborative, ensemble-based, community-oriented in the best sense of the word and I’m not trying to blow smoke. I’m just trying to say that, uh, it’s a very good coming together of people who want to tell a story about the place that we love. Which is Yukon, obviously, the Yukon, whatever. 

Bout 10 years ago when I abandoned the idea of, ah, acting professionally and elected to, uh, be an amateur for life, uhh…. I, I felt very empowered because I wanted to do theatre on my own terms. Umm, projects that I felt had merit.  Umm. And, uhhh, that’s been doubled down since I’ve become a father, I have so little spare time.  I want to make sure that anything that I’m going to invest my energy into and my time into, is something that I feel, uhh, is worthwhile. Not only in terms of my growth as a individual performer, but in terms of the audience and the community that the works are being presented to. 

So, I don’t know how this is going to go, because, uh, it it’s a, it’s a brazen thing that that I think Open Pit Theatre is doing here. Umm, it’ll probably be well received because people are polite and diplomatic, umm… But, but hopefully… uhhh, hope, you know, hopefully it, resonates with, er, our community.  And uhhh, helps us reflect on ourselves and actualize or visualize what we want to be into the future.

Umm, the play deals with a lot of themes about, uh, the legacy that we’re handing to our children, and our unborn children. And that’s become a very acute realization for me through this process, having my daughter Lupin present at rehearsals and participating in rehearsals – thanks Jessica. Umm, we want to make sure what we’re doing is propelling us towards a future that that is something that we’re proud of.  And I’m pretty sure even though, uh,  we’re in the melee here, I’m pretty sure I’m proud of this.

Um, so I’m humbled and grateful and thankful to the… all those involved for making this experience what it is. And, uh, it’s a it’s a gift to me.  And I’m pleased to share – I want to share it with you. So, come see the show, it’s opening week!  Uh, and let’s have a good yak about it. 

Much love,

Roy (Performer)

I’m not sure how to say this.

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There’s an overwhelming feeling of peace that is present here, in the Yukon. I’ve been in town for three weeks now, working hard, but I’m not stressed, I’m not consumed by worries. This is a magical place.

Working on this show has given me an insight into the community that exists here, and I’m grateful I get to interact with these people in such a unique manner. To learn lines, mannerisms and dialects of real people that may come to see the show is an incredible honour, and quite scary at the same time. What if I don’t represent them well enough? What if I change the meaning of their words with my tone?

Luckily for us, Geneviève (the playwright) is always watching and listening, making sure that we stay on track. In a sense, she’s the guardian of these words that have been gifted to us, and she is upholding her duty to ensure they are conveyed appropriately. As we work through this process, 6 days a week, 9 to 5, I’ve seen that I can trust her to make sure we are being truthful to the people that have lent us their voices.

This play is a huge undertaking, and I cannot wait to experience the payoff. Many theatre companies cannot take new works and build them with experienced, talented individuals -- and yet Open Pit Theatre has managed to do exactly this. I am excited to be working with these artists, with their bright and beautiful voices.

I want to share the experience of Brenda’s laughter enveloping JD’s intensity, Brooke’s soundscapes gliding underneath Roy’s silence.  Each of these people embody the idea of an artist, and I feel that I have been gifted with an environment to grow and explore in.


And the land!

I’ve enjoyed waking up every morning, walking downtown, watching the landscape. The river, steaming in the early morning. Clouds pouring over the mountains surrounding the city. Foxes darting behind bushes near the hospital. The stark contrast of landscape and industry. It’s the perfect setting --

Heck, someone should write a play about it.

- Caleb Gordon (Performer)

Nobody puts baby in a box!

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Wait, that’s not the phrase, is it….

Okay, let me explain. My name is Kaitlyn, and I am a 5’2, small(ish)-framed human with a baby face. I am going to be asked for my ID until I’m at least fifty. Though I am 24 years old, but the roles that I am cast in on the stage typically range from 10-15 years old. Oh how I have longed to hit puberty in the performance world!

Hey, I won’t complain- I have been extremely fortunate to have played amazing young roles in my time thus far. However, through the never-ending cycle of same-age roles, I made myself a happy little home within a cardboard box that the industry had provided me. I found some comfort within the un-comfiness(not a word… but let’s just go with it) that is being an artist. 

Until I began this project.

What drew me to this project was the challenge of stepping outside of my little cardboard box. To oil up my rusty machine of playing roles my own age, and older. This was terrifying. Before I got here, I spent many frustrating hours trying to figure out how the hell a 50-something year-old woman was going to sit in my body. How do I play this role authentically, but still putting it in a place that is real to me?

In reality, I can’t pretend that I am any taller, older, or wiser. But there is a beautiful word in this industry called PROCESS- a word I overuse because of its importance. Process means that you never get it right the first time- or the second, or third, or fourth, or EVER(yikes, imagine that?!). I might get to opening night having not convinced anyone that I have eleven children and got both of my hips replaced. But, when I get to opening night, I will have something that I am proud of. I will have acquired tools that I didn’t have previously. I will have learned so many things I never knew from the wisdom, creativity and support of my cast and creative team. I will approach older roles with a lot more confidence. I will have a greater understanding of my body and what it can do.

I have already learned so much through the guidance of our director, Jessica Hickman, who has provided us with a safe space and incredible tools to be able to explore ourselves, and continuously discover where each of these characters sit within us.

Being an artist has helped me have a much greater understanding on life, as well as performing  (it wouldn’t be a Kaitlyn blog post without a small existential rant). Being happy with your journey, rather than the end result, has helped me tremendously on how I choose to guide my life. I find beauty in smaller moments, I try to remind myself that is is okay to make mistakes, and I try to forgive myself constantly for being human.

I am not a perfect person. I am not a perfect artist. I am always a work in progress and that is something I am proud of.

- Kaitlyn Yott (Performer)

Real Life Characters

There are many different ways for performers to approach verbatim theatre characters. Some productions have their cast listen to all the interviews for them to get a vivid sense of the person behind the characters. Some companies go as far as having the performers wear ear buds and listen to the recordings of interviews as they say the lines so they can replicate as precisely as possible every intonation shift.

Open Pit Theatre decided to go down a different path. None of the performers have access to any of the audio recordings. Jess and I wanted to maintain people's anonymity (as much as a small town allows it) and we especially wanted to avoid having actors imitate or mimic the interviewees.  For us, what mattered was for the performers to be true to the essence of the people we interviewed rather than striving for a documentary-like accuracy.

We started by all sitting down together to talk about these characters. Jess and I shared what we recall of them physically, what they were wearing, how they smelt, their mannerisms, tone of the voice, where the interview took place, etc. With that information and all the insight that the exact transcriptions offer as far as speech patterns, stutters, hesitations and accents, each performer's job was to find their own interpretations of the real Yukoners behind the characters, with guidance from the director and myself as playwright.

We are one week into rehearsals and it has been so gratifying to see all these words I have been reading over and over and over again in the editing process come to life. During our very first read through, I was fascinated to hear performers absolutely nail characters they have never met before. JD, a Saskatchewan raised and Vancouver based actor read the part of Bill, a Yukon miner, with such accuracy that I thought to myself "He knows him!!! How does he know him?!" But he didn't. It's been just as interesting to discover new layers of the script by hearing some of thewords delivered in a slightly different way than how the interviewees spoke them. I love to see these new perspectives emerge and I am finding that they often emerge when a character is being played by a performer from a very different age group, shape or ethnicity. When Brenda plays the role of a character who is described by his peers as "the local redneck" or when our youngest cast member Katlyn plays the role of a woman who's been in the Yukon for over 40 years, I find their stories and statements resonate in a different way. Strangely, I hear the words themselves more.

With several more weeks to go before opening, I can't wait to see how these real-life characters mature in the rehearsal hall. 

- Geneviève Doyon (Playwright/Performer)

Powerful Yukon women in theatre...

5 days until rehearsals begin. 

I was sitting here staring at my never ending to do list when I started thinking about the powerful Yukon women on our team.  I noticed that one of my items on my list was to write the first project blog. Ok, here goes! 

FYI - In keeping with our mandate to have an open and transparent creation process, we will be having each of our performers write a blog about their experience during rehearsals and the shows.  So keep checking back in! 


  Photo by: Emilie Lavoie

Photo by: Emilie Lavoie

First there is Geneviève Doyon.  Some of you may know her.  She spent the last 3 years crafting Busted Up: A Yukon Story, and now not only is she the playwright of the piece but also performing for the first time since her sweet baby Löic arrived. My thoughts go to Kim Colliers acceptance speech for the Siminovitch Prize, "To all women director / creators with children: bravo, be brave and break the mold–carry them in the hall, breast feed between the seats, go on tour together, whisper about process and actors and what worked and what didn’t. Include your kids in your life, let them learn from your passion."  She is the absolute best. 


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Then there is Selene Vakharia, our incredible producer.  Selene has been working her ass off for over four months getting everything ready for the show.  I have never met ANYONE who can have literally 45 tabs open at the same time on her computer.  I feel anxiety even looking at her screen but it doesn't seem to faze her.  My favourite quote from Selene so far is, "I just wish that the internet could follow me around."  She is calm under pressure, always up for a laugh, and has been the force behind this production.  We are so lucky that she wanted to join the team. 


And then there is the fabulous Erin Corbett, our production manager.  Erin knows her shit.  I can't tell you the relief I felt when she said, "Just send me the contract and I will deal with it."  Sweet. Not only can she decipher a contract like no one else, but she also catches my mistakes, which is incredible because I NEVER MAKE MISTAKES. We also have a mutual love for spreadsheets, which I think really brings women together these days.  Nothing like settling in and combing through some formulas to get those endorphins pumping.  She is rad, and I feel super lucky that she is working on this show.  


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New to the game is Rebecca Smith, our technical director.  Although quiet at first, Rebecca has surprised me on multiple occasions.  She seemed uncertain but when I saw that Tech Rider she made, I was like, "yessssssss."  And then that time I asked her to send a sound plot and she said, "I'm on the road travelling right now, I won't be able to do it until we get to a campsite later (I am super paraphrasing)" and then an hour later there was a sound plot in my inbox.  Incredible.  I hope she starts getting hired more as a TD because she is awesome. 


Starting last week (the last to join the team)(it's ok we won't hold it against you), is our stage manager Léa Roy.  I am super excited to have Lea on the team because she is a dancer/performer who is extremely organized and efficient. In my mind, the perfect combination for an incredible stage manager.  She will be able to tune into the performers and call the show in a way that I think brings out the best possible performance.  It's going to be awesome. 

 


A big shoutout to all the women theatre artists working their asses off out there.  I am super proud of our team, and can't wait to get these rehearsals rolling!!

- Jessica Hickman (Director)