Nakai’s new artistic director hits the stage running

David Skelton wants to take Yukon theatre across the country to Newfoundland. Why? It’s the landscape, he answers.

David Skelton wants to take Yukon theatre across the country to Newfoundland.

Why?

It’s the landscape, he answers.

“One of the things that is interesting for me and that really informs my work and inspires me, is the landscape and people’s relationship to the landscape,” said Skelton, Nakai Theatre’s newly named artistic director on Wednesday.

“The relationship of Newfoundland culture to the land is so profound that this would be something that would draw me.”

And, like the Yukon, there’s a large growing cultural scene in the Atlantic Provinces.

But the Rock is just one of many tour destinations Skelton has in mind.

There’s also Iceland and Sweden, for instance.

“I want to tour internationally, and go to places that have similar climates and similar landscapes,” he said.

The 47-year-old Ontario native succeeds Michael Clark, who announced his departure in June.

Skelton started last Friday.

“So far so good, no big catastrophes yet,” he said with a laugh.

“There’s a lot to do and a lot of things to read and a lot of people to see.”

Originally from Toronto, Skelton attended the University of Alberta in 1983 and completed a graduate program in theatre design.

He has since worked in Canadian professional theatre in many capacities,  including director, designer, writer, producer, stage manager, dramaturge and technician.

His work has taken him across Canada and even abroad to create theatre in Greece and Sweden.

He was the artistic director of New Heart Company of Artists in Edmonton in 1999, and has been working at the Blyth Festival in Blyth, Ontario, for the past two years.

A friend of Clark’s, Skelton has already been working with Nakai off and on for six years.

So he already knows the ropes.

He was first brought up to design Patti Flather’s play Sixty Below in 2000.

Since then he’s come to Whitehorse at least once a year to design such Nakai productions as Vigil, The Drawer Boy, Perfect Pie, The Plum Tree, Blooms and Where the River Meets the Sea.

“Most of the shows that Nakai has done with Michael, I’ve been working on as well,” he said.

Skelton also designed theatre for other Whitehorse performance companies such as Yukon Learn, the Guild and LINK Dance Foundation.

In 2004, he was Nakai’s artist in residence, during which time he produced the first Homegrown Festival.

Skelton was chosen from among about a  dozen applicants for the artistic director position, said the president of Nakai’s board Emily Hill.

“We had many very good applicants and did interviews and he was definitely our first choice in terms of both his experience nationally and locally, and also the vision he was able to articulate about Nakai Theatre and all sorts of exciting plans that he has for it,” she said Thursday.

“Part of the reason the board was exited about Skelton was that he had worked in the Yukon many times before,” said Hill.

Clark, who served as Nakai’s artistic director since 1999 and now heads Edmonton’s Workshop West Theatre, will fly up to Whitehorse this weekend to help the new guy get oriented.

“(Clark’s) taking me through his computer and showing me his files and explaining where things are at in the organization and upcoming festivals and all of that,” said Skelton.

 “I’m thrilled about this. I love the landscape, it’s just extraordinary and the community that exists here has always been very warm to me,” he added.

His fiancé Colleen Segriff and seven-year-old stepdaughter Sadie will follow him up from Peterborough, Ontario, in about a year’s time, he said.

“It’s extraordinary how much exists here when you’ve got a town of this size and how much is going on, and the quality of it and the sophistication of the audience,” he said.

Skelton hopes to continue the development of northern playwrights and northern stories.

He is looking forward to working with local actors such as Mitch Miyagawa, Moira Sauer, Celia McBride, Brian Fidler, Daniel Janke and Dean Eyre.

“There’s a strong core here,” he said.

“We could always use more people, more actors and more designers and more directors … and also more money,” he said laughing.

Skelton said he will put lots of effort into finding more funding for the company.

Currently most of the funds come from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Also on his agenda is to seek co-productions with other theatre companies both in the North and to the south.

Nakai will continue to present regular shows like the Comedy Arts Festival, Nakai For Kids Festival, the 24-Hour Playwriting Competition and Cabaret as well as, of course, the Homegrown Festival.

“Our large production will be sometime in the spring and that will be figured out very soon,” he said.

“That should have been figured out a month ago.”

The board is looking forward to seeing where Skelton takes the company, said Hill.

“Inevitably a new artistic director is going to do different things, and the community will look at it and give feedback,” she said.

“Some of it will, I’m sure, be successful and some maybe less successful. We on the board don’t direct that, but we certainly are exited to see where it will be.”

Skelton invites the public to attend Nakai’s annual general meeting, which will take place sometime in September or October.

“People can come hear, with a little more clarity, what I actually want to do,” he said.

“I would love to have thousands of people there.”

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