Jenny Hamilton doesn’t want to say that if you don’t give kids the opportunity to explore arts and culture in school, they’ll turn to the occult instead. She’s just saying that was the case for her.
Of course, like conjuring spirits, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But Hamilton, a Whitehorse-based comedian, has another month to think about how she wants to explain it.
Hamilton is the September artist-in-residence at Jenni House in Shipyards Park. During the residency, she’s writing and editing her script for Jenny Hamilton Teenage Cult Leader.
She’s developing it for local theatre company, Larrikin Entertainment. Hamilton last worked with Larrikin on Wyrd, which had a run at the Yukon Arts Centre in March.
It was similar, Hamilton says, in that Wyrd was also a musical comedy based on traumatic female experience. The difference with Cult Leader is that Wyrd had a full cast, while Cult Leader is a one-woman show. And its trauma is rooted in Hamilton’s experience as a ninth grader.
“Grade 9 was a bad year for me,” Hamilton says. She grew up in Whitehorse in the ‘70s and ‘80s, awash in anger and sadness and hormones.
“Drowning in a pool of estrogen and progesterone and hating myself, scared to be who I am, because that was always the overcast for me in this story is [that I was] not gay,” she says of her attempts to hide her sexuality. She stops herself to clarify. “Gay from space, let’s get real.”
She gestures toward herself, sitting in a brocade armchair at Jenni House. Her newly-blue hair matches her blue tie-dyed shirt, both the result, she says, of her wife leaving her to her own devices at home for 40 hours.
Even amid the high school hormones and the struggles with sexuality, Hamilton says the biggest blow was when her band teacher left the school.
“My world shattered,” Hamilton says of learning that her teacher, who’d elevated the band to national championships, was leaving the school.
“I was rudderless,” she says.
Band had been everything to her. The commitment was consuming. Band members practised before school, after school, during lunch and sometimes on Saturdays. The band teacher’s replacement was a wonderful guy, Hamilton says, but he didn’t get it. Band wasn’t a hobby. It was a way of life. And he scaled it back.
“It was like taking Olympic champions, or people who are trying to get to the Olympics, and going, ‘so does anyone want to learn to somersault?’” Hamilton says.
Instead, she quit band. Hamilton found a new crew of friends and turned to beer, the never-ending search for bush parties, and, as you do, the Ouija board.
It was, Hamilton says again, the 80s. There were a lot of witchy movies out, from The Witches of Eastwick to Elvira to Teen Witch. The Satanic panic was part of the zeitgeist. And somehow, Hamilton and her friends convinced themselves their Ouija board had connected them with a spirit. That spirit made requests. It also made threats in the event Hamilton and crew were considering not making good on its demands.
“We just really got ourselves all riled up,” Hamilton says.
In fact, she’s spent the last few months texting those friends to fact-check exactly how riled up. They’ve compared notes about their memories of that time and Hamilton has pieced the script together.
At the end of the month, for her final week at Jenni House, Hamilton will be joined by director Clinton Walker, from Hamilton, Ontario; musical director Ashley Slater, from Vancouver, B.C.; and Whitehorse animator, Andrew Sharp.
She’s not sure what the final product will look like. Only that it has to be ready by March 2024. That’s when Katherine McCallum, Larrikin’s artistic executive director, booked the Old Firehall for performances.
The plan is then to tour it to the communities, Hamilton says.
“It’s kind of like storytelling stand-up,” she says. “Expect the unexpected.”
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org