A project created by Geneviève Doyon and Virginie Hamel will bring short performance pieces to audiences that would otherwise be unlikely get to the theatre or an arts show.
Doyon has been the artist-in-residence at Jenni House in Whitehorse through November. There she and Hamel have been working on Look Up, a series of brief story performances that are played out on ceilings. They aim to eventually bring the performances to hospitals, long-term care facilities, daycares and schools.
The work at the Jenni House residency through the Yukon Arts Centre follows initial efforts on the project that got underway in 2020 thanks to an advanced artist award through the Yukon government and further support from the Centre des theatres francophones du Canada.
The idea for Look Up goes back further — four years, in fact — to 2017 when Doyon was in labour with her oldest son in the maternity ward at Whitehorse General Hospital.
At one point, she threw her head back and saw a small drawing of a mountainous sunrise pinned to the ceiling. Below the drawing were the words: “This will not last forever.”
It was a message that resonated with her. In that moment, she felt as if the message was meant for her alone. Had it been posted to a wall, she said, it would have been a very different experience and unlikely to have had the same impact.
“That kind of stuck with me,” Doyon said.
As a theatre artist, she said she often tries to find new ways to communicate with the audience.
The drawing made her begin to think about a new way to do that and a new audience.
Those thoughts took further shape in 2020 when, in her role as the co-artistic director with Open Pit Theatre, a production in Victoria she was part of was cut short amid COVID-19.
Back home, staying in isolation after being out of the territory, she started thinking about how productions could move forward and be done on a different scale for those unable to get out to see performances.
“I decided to dive into it,” she said.
Doyon began working on the concept of delivering stories to those in long-term care facilities and hospitals, using the ceiling as focal point for the visuals.
Knowing she would be working with different components she reached out to Hamel, a visual artist, who joined Doyon on the project.
Doyon highlighted work undertaken since receiving the advanced artist award, funding from the Centre des theatres francophones du Canada and the Jenni House residency.
Along with developing stories that can come to those in hospital or long-term care facilities, work has also been developed for a much younger audience with pieces able to be delivered to daycare and school audiences.
“Everything is live and portable,” she said.
One piece tells the story of a young man being in the North for the first time and his experiences with what is described as “northern silence.” Another comes from a letter Doyon wrote to her grandmother on her 97th birthday.
There’s also an underwater adventure story that could appeal to both adult and child audience while the other two are aimed specifically at younger audiences.
One tells the story of a tree growing in the forest and all the changes the tree observes over time while the other is about a haunted house.
Having the residency for Jenni House (which is actually held next door at Chambers House due to heating available in the winter) gave Doyon and Hamel an opportunity to continue the work they had begun earlier.
“We made space for it,” Doyon said, adding that having a literal space to work from throughout November gave them motivation to make time for the project.
The Jenni House residency would also normally provide an opportunity for the public to drop in and see the work the artist-in-residence has been doing throughout the residency.
While the date for that had served as another motivator for the project and as a potential to showcase some of the stories, it was eventually cancelled due to rising COVID cases that spurred a state of emergency in the territory.
That state of emergency however, gave Doyon an opportunity to share some of the work with two sons who joined her at the Shipyards Park site after the state of emergency was called.
Her oldest child, now four, was amazed by the overhead projector and took in some snippets of the pieces she hopes to one day tour through daycares and schools.
The next step in the project will be taking it to an audience.
As a portable production, Doyon said work will be done with each facility visited ahead of time to adapt it for the particular space they’ll be in.
“We would really need to work with the clientele,” she said, acknowledging it will likely be some time before she can bring the production to a long-term care facility or hospital given the current COVID situation and strain on the health care system. It’s for this reason she hasn’t yet reached out to any of those facilities, though she is planning to in the future.
Doyon may soon get in touch with daycares and schools (depending on the COVID situation) to see about the possibility of bringing the production to those spaces.
“That’s kind of the next step,” she said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com