It takes about two minutes for a character in the play Wake and Bake to drop the f-bomb.
That’s bold for a play that’s intended to be staged in schools across the Yukon this autumn.
But Whitehorse playwright Dean Eyre knew that to win the trust of hard-living teenagers in the audience, his characters would need to be true to life. And that meant having them swear.
“Once the audience is on your side, you have a lot more freedom as a writer,” said Eyre.
The play’s named after the practise of smoking marijuana immediately in the morning. “It’s a fairly common way for kids to start their day in the Yukon,” said Eyre. “And adults.”
Eyre researched the prevalence of drug-use across the territory by meeting with youth in Whitehorse, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing and Watson Lake. The stories he heard were, in turns, “horrific” and “hopeful.”
Two sisters travel along these diverging paths in the play.
Cheryl is a Justin Bieber-listening “straight arrow” attending high school in Whitehorse. She abstains from drink and drugs until the arrival of Tammy, her drug-dabbling half-sister from one of the communities.
Tammy likes how marijuana “carves all the edges off things.” Cheryl turns to oxycontin because it makes her feel like “nothing bad could ever happen.”
Addiction’s downward spiral is hastened by the hypocrisy of their adoptive mother, Josee, who partied hard when she was young. As Tammy says, “there’s a path grown-ups want us to stick to, but it’s not usually the one they took themselves,” and “there’s no secrets here except from the adults who just don’t want to look at what’s right there.”
Eyre didn’t want the play to be preachy, knowing that kids would quickly tune out.
“I just wanted to write something fairly honest,” he said. “You have the power to make choices in your life, and they have effects.”
Teens tend to have better “bullshit detectors” than adults, he said. “Most of our training as adults is to absorb boredom. Kids aren’t fully indoctrinated.”
Eyre should know. When he worked as a substitute teacher, he spent a lot of time with troubled youth.
He also has an 11-year-old daughter. And Eyre spends his days tuning up mountain bikes at his shop, Cadence Cycle, where kids are constantly hanging around.
The interviews Eyre held while researching the play reinforced his view that Yukon teens with troubled upbringings remain “articulate, smart and resilient.”
“They try their best to keep things even-keeled, and often they do,” he said.
“When you’re 16, no matter how shitty everything is around you, your whole life is still in front of you, and that’s pretty exciting.”
The play is being produced by the Yukon Educational Theatre, which put out a casting call last week. Health Canada paid $128,322 over two years to fund the project.
That money will help pay close to 20 people involved with putting on the production, from professional actors and stage managers to set designers, sound and light technicians, and publicists. Bringing the show to each Yukon community is expected to eat up much of the budget, said director Arlin McFarlane.
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