North by night

Six years ago, Christopher Morris, a Torontonian who had never been to the North before, packed his bags and flew to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in midwinter.

Six years ago, Christopher Morris, a Torontonian who had never been to the North before, packed his bags and flew to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in midwinter.

He stayed three weeks, all the while sussing out what it was like to live in perpetual darkness through conversations with locals.

Morris is the director of Night, which plays the Yukon Arts Centre this Wednesday and Thursday.

He has long been fascinated by the Arctic.

When he was a teenager, he heard of Scandinavians who commit suicide because of the winter darkness.

“Maybe it was an idea that was half-baked, but it was one that stayed with me for a long time,” he said.

Morris, who works with Toronto-based theatre company, Human Cargo, travelled to Pond Inlet with the idea of finding locals who would co-write a play with him.

“At first the community was suspicious, and rightfully so,” he said.

“A lot of people go up north, get what they want and then go.”

But he was able to earn the trust of some elders in the community by staging a play about drug and alcohol awareness.

After that, people in town began to open up to him.

He returned to Pond Inlet several years later to lead a “creation workshop” with local actors, hoping to tease out ideas for a script.

That workshop was the first of three he co-ordinated with actors and writers from Pond Inlet, Iceland and Toronto.

While he was there, a young boy killed himself.

“It it was really hard on the community and on our group,” he said.

“It shook me.”

The story of that suicide kept returning to Morris, who said it surfaced again while leading his third creation workshop last February.

“It just struck me because it was happening to such young people,” he said.

“If the younger generation is taking their life, it says something pretty serious about what is happening in the North.”

Night is the story of a museum director from Toronto who travels to Pond Inlet. She has been asked to return the bones of an Inuit man, long housed by the museum, to be properly buried.

While there, the director is forced to confront her own views of the North.

The piece, written in both English and Inuktitut, is a metaphor for how northerners and southerners see one another. It also riffs on the stereotypes people have of the Inuit.

“There is a certain need for people in the South to feel like they have to fix or save the Inuit,” said Morris.

That “saviour” mentality is especially true of the Canadian government, which “puts the Inuit people in a position of subservience.”

During the production process, Morris wrestled with his own motivations for travelling north and making the play.

“I struggled with wanting to teach and share things with the people of Pond Inlet,” he said.

“That relationship is hard, complicated and at times, unnerving.”

Gathering material from all three workshops Morris was tasked with writing a play that appealed to both northerners and southerners.

He doesn’t pretend to fully understand the experience of northerners.

“It would be absolutely insulting to think that I may have answers (for people of the North),” he said.

“The play is just a response to the six years that I became familiar with Pond Inlet.”

The play premiered at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in early January.

The decision to premiere the play in Ottawa instead of in the North had to do with “cold, hard money,” rather than “educating” southerners about the North. The National Arts Centre largely funded Night.

The play travelled to Inuvik and Yellowknife before heading to Whitehorse.

In June, Human Cargo will return again to Pond Inlet to perform their piece.

By then, the town will be flooded with light and the darkness of winter will just be a faint memory.

For Morris, those long nights were never a problem.

“My experience of darkness has been in short bursts, so it’s still novel to me, it’s still wonderful and exciting,” he said.

“I like the extreme nature of it.”

Contact Vivian Belik at