The most famous dog in the Yukon is about to have his story told in Whitehorse again, this time on the mainstage of the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) with a 40-person ensemble of performers and production crew.
In January 2008, a German shepherd – rottweiler cross named Trevor entered the canine legal system. He was found abused and neglected, chained up outside his home with flesh growing around his collar. Bylaw officers brought him to the Yukon Humane Society, where he was nursed back to health, re-socialized and adopted.
By August 2009, Trevor the dog had become a household name in the Yukon. After biting three people and being dropped off at the Whitehorse dog pound, he was on death-row. He fought for his life at the Supreme Court of Yukon, making headlines across the territory and becoming the poster pet for animal-lovers.
Dogtown: The Musical is inspired by Trevor’s true story and is playing at the YAC Sept. 7 to 10. Written by Roy Ness in collaboration with composer and musical director Grant Simpson, it has been in development since 2010 and was first produced at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in 2016.
“What drew me to the story was the conflict,” said Ness, “and the way the whole territory was basically split down the middle. There were very few people sitting on the fence. It was kill Trevor or give him another chance.”
Ness was in rehearsals for another musical at the time of Trevor’s court hearing and said a rule had to be put in place to stop everyone from talking about it backstage. Amidst the heated debates over Trevor’s fate, he knew he wanted to tell this story onstage.
“I just thought – musical,” Ness said. “I always saw it as a big production, and this is what we’re doing now.”
He wrote a court scene for Homegrown Theatre Festival and then David Skelton, Nakai Theatre’s artistic director at the time, expressed interest in workshopping the script with DD Kugler as dramaturg. Simpson came on board in 2012 to write the music.
Claire Ness, Roy’s daughter, stepped up to produce and direct the 2022 remount. According to Simpson, she had been a driving force of the project since its inception.
“She was always moving it forward and pushing it up,” he said.
Ness co-produced the 2016 version with the Yukon Circus Society but was having a baby at the time which limited her involvement.
This time around, she wanted to put as much of herself into the show as she could. Her main priority was to bring her father and Simpson’s vision to life.
“We wanted to have it on the mainstage with proper lights and sound and flying ravens and an orchestra pit,” she said.
“From the very beginning, I’ve always wanted to see the ravens fly,” her dad added.
Three ravens, played by Brandon Wicke, Paulina Gonzalez and Jordan Kaltenbruner, narrate the play and take flight intermittently with the help of three backstage ‘riggers.’ Using the YAC’s fly system, theatrical rigging allows for choreographed flying sequences of the performers to happen while being suspended high up in the air.
“Flying ravens are a big part of why we’re here and what we’re doing,” Simpson said.
Additionally, the production includes five real dogs in the opening number, which adds another element of surprise and layer of unpredictability to the show. One of the dogs, Lilou, plays a starring role and is passed around on and offstage by many of the performers and crew.
According to Simpson, Ness’ script writing does an excellent job celebrating the quirky traits of dog owners in Whitehorse, where the dog to human ratio is considerably higher than in other cities. It’s also “funny,” “satirical” and “joyful.”
“It was important to me not just to honour this brilliant work, but to put something out there that helps us laugh at ourselves.” Claire Ness said.
“We take ourselves so seriously these days and there’s a lot of tension around what’s wrong and what’s right, and I think it’s important to be able to laugh altogether in a big room of 400 people. That doesn’t happen very often.”
While Dogtown: The Musical is a comedy at heart, Roy Ness says it also brings tears and some really deep messages.
It mirrors human society and the debate of capital punishment, according to Claire Ness.
“When is it okay to put someone down?” she asked. “If they’re dangerous and must spend the rest of their life in jail, do you keep feeding them and letting them watch movies and learn Tai Chi? Or do you just give up on them? It’s a tough situation for everybody.”
Trevor’s story is one of hope, love and second chances. There’s something in it for everyone, whether or not you’re a dog person and whether or not you believe in the possibility of rehabilitation.
Dogtown: The Musical opens at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. and runs until Sept. 10 with an additional 2 p.m. matinee scheduled that afternoon.
Tickets are $30 and available at yukontickets.com.
Contact Magan Carty at firstname.lastname@example.org