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Play gets to the youthful heart of a northern crisis

Few adults know what it means to "wake and bake." But this play wasn't written for adults. In her beginning monologue, Cheryl, the main character, asks audience members to admit to waking and baking.

Few adults know what it means to “wake and bake.”

But this play wasn’t written for adults.

In her beginning monologue, Cheryl, the main character, asks audience members to admit to waking and baking.

“C’mon,” she says. “I won’t tell.”

Few adults may know what “beans” are either. Or “oxy.”

And, after learning their references, even fewer adults would like to know their kids are familiar with the terms.

But that is what Health Promotions and Yukon Educational Theatre’s newest production is all about: talking about something people either don’t know about, or don’t want to know about.

Dean Eyre has written scripts like this before.

A few years back, he turned diabetes into a teenage love story.

This time, the theatre and health partnership approached him to write about drugs.

The play is fictional, but is securely based on real Yukon experiences.

Eyre’s research was largely made up of visits to the territory’s communities and high schools.

“We went and talked to a lot of kids in high schools here,” he said. “And we went out to Pelly and Carmacks and Watson Lake and just talked to kids. Most of those schools have some sort of an alcohol and drug support group that meets informally. So we met with a lot of them, and most of the time we just kind of shot the shit.

“A common story was siblings introducing each other to drugs. There was a lot of sibling concern, like a sense of responsibility, but also a sense of what they were doing was fine. Drug abuse is common and it’s OK. The adults do it. And if sisters and brothers want to do it, they’ll help them to make sure they don’t get in too much trouble.”

The play, which will be touring Yukon communities from now into November, focuses on the relationship between two sisters.

Cheryl, the eldest, was taken out of their unidentified smaller home community at a young age, while littler sister Tammy, stayed back with their addict mother.

Cheryl is uptight. She studies hard, stays away from drugs and alcohol and is determined to “get out.”

But when troubled Tammy is placed under Cheryl’s wing, due to an abusive relationship “back home,” she lays on the guilt that often comes when small town people have goals of leaving it all behind.

Enter Vic, the soon-to-be love interest of Cheryl’s, who is a savvy drug dealer from Outside.

“Fucked up is the new normal,” Vic tells Cheryl.

He eventually convinces the studious nerd to try drugs by appealing to her heightened stress level, stemming from Tammy’s return and looming post-secondary applications, her feelings for him and her faith in the scientific.

He offers her a prescription painkiller, Oxycontin, assuring her it is what doctors give out.

The gateway drug of choice was definitely character-driven, said Eyre.

“And I think it shows the way that drug use crosses over into the mainstream so seamlessly from illicit drugs. We over-prescribe drugs. It’s useful to bring that in.”

While Oxycontin was never directly named by the youth in Eyre’s community meetings, his other research shows its prevalence in the North.

And the addictive painkiller’s reaction with alcohol has proven a popular and lethal mixture, especially in remote northern communities.

The biggest note the writer took from his meetings in various communities was the naive optimism so many Yukon youth have.

“Despite kind of shitty lives, lots of times it was interesting to see how hopeful they were,” he said. “You kind of forget that with young people, things are happening for the first time. Their lives are very exciting, even when it sucks.”

The play, on the other hand, doesn’t carry too much optimism.

“That’s realism,” Eyre said with a shrug. “And it’s important to confront people with the way things can go and the way they often do go. You don’t have to look too hard to find people in Cheryl’s position. Or someone like Tammy.”

During a preview of the play at the arts centre on Wednesday, Eyre’s realistic writing was the most commended.

“It was like watching a reality TV show,” one audience member said during the obligatory discussion with alcohol and drug workers, held after the play.

And it is Eyre’s believable script that keeps the stereotypical chain-link, graffiti-covered cement, heavy metal, leather jackets and ripped denim that tends to accompany all adult-prepared teenage productions at bay.

“Storytelling is one of those things,” said Eyre. “You have to respect your audience. I think people are really smart, and when you write with that in mind, you’re less likely to go wrong.

“And I’m not trying to write a public service message. I’ll leave the public service message to the people afterwards. But I hope people will remember the characters and maybe be affected emotionally during the course of the show. I mean, that’s all you can really ask for, that people remember what they experience and that, hopefully, they experienced something that feels real to them.”

A health fair, drug and alcohol officials and a counselor are accompanying Wake and Bake during its tour of the territory. The play will visit almost every Yukon community from Haines Junction on October 14, to Watson Lake on the 17, Teslin on the 18, Carmacks on the 24, Mayo on the 25, Pelly Crossing on the 26, Faro on the 27, Ross River on the 28, Dawson City on November 7 and Old Crow on the 8 - with numerous stops in Whitehorse in between.

For a full list of communities, search “wake and bake the play” on Facebook.

(For those of you still wondering: waking and baking is the practice of smoking marijuana right after waking up (it is extremely common with people throughout the territory, Eyre found), beans are ecstasy pills and oxy, obviously, is a reference to Oxycontin.)

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at