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Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events
Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)

Nakai Theatre’s annual Pivot Festival will warm Whitehorse with storytelling, campfire, music and a sun room from Jan. 20 to 30.

“The idea of the festival is to bring some delight and light into January — if we kept those values at the front, then we could deal with whatever the health requirements were,” said Nakai Theatre’s Artistic Director Jacob Zimmer.

The COVID-safe festival will feature drive-along stories, outdoor activities and virtual events superseding the usual roster of live readings and shows.

The 10-day event will kick off on Jan. 20 with an outdoor campfire, art installation and musical performance on Paddy’s Pond in Hillcrest. Hot chocolate will be provided at the event.

The installation, RavenMonsterDress, will be presented by Nicole Bauberger with musical accompaniment from Annie Avery, Keitha Clark, Scott Maynard and Lonnie Powell. The art, music and pond-side setting will create a cumulative experience, Zimmer explained.

“It’s the most public gathering of the festival, it’s our chance to actually get people together in carbon,” he said. “I’m excited to see people around the fire, safely distanced and masked, but to have an event together is a lovely thing to do, a personal moment.”

The Paddy’s Pond exhibit will take place from Jan. 20-23. On Jan. 22 at 6 p.m., Bauberger will present “Civil Twilight,” a composite of poetry collected from Yukon writers.

The festival will also feature three drive-along audio stories. They can be downloaded on Jan. 21 as a podcast or picked up in CD and cassette form at Well-Read Books.

Each of the three are narrated by different storytellers and will begin at a specified location around Whitehorse, accompanying listeners on a 20-40 minute drive.

“These are artists who grew up here, and have long and tangled relationships to place. I challenged them to tell stories of the places listeners are driving through,” Zimmer said.

Cristine Genier’s drive-along story begins at the Carcross cutoff, ending at the Klondike Highway turn-off. She tells stories about her lifelong relationship to the Alaska Highway, joined by her mother, Ta’an Kwach’an elder Shirley Adamson, who reflects on the history of Mount Sima, Mary Lake and Wolf Creek.

Ivan Coyote created a drive-along story from downtown to Porter Creek with musical accompaniment by Sarah MacDougall. The storytellers “invite you to reimagine the Wal-Mart parking lot as a wild marsh, Mountainview Drive as a sprawling forest, and all of Whitehorse as full of mystery and possibility, seen through Coyote in their youth.”

The third story is more akin to a drive-along soundscape by rap duo Local Boy. It travels through downtown, Whistle Bend, Porter Creek and Crestview and promises to “immerse you into the cool, ambient world of cruising the town with Local Boy.” Cal Waddington narrates guiding directions.

Folk Lordz will share two virtual shows of improv and comedy with local guests on Jan. 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. The duo of Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky host a political sketch comedy series on YouTube of the same name.

The festival will also host a “sun room” at the Old Firehall Jan. 27-29. Attendees can register online for 20-minute sessions of “warmth and light” in the hall, which will be laden with green, deck chairs and beach towels.

“The sun room is a three-year fantasy slash running joke come true,” Zimmer explained.

“We always joke that what we really need in January is to have some light and green present; we’re doing that in a year when people can’t go down (south).”

On Jan. 28, the sun room will become the festival’s recording studio, with four musical sessions scheduled. The results will be streamed online and broadcast to CJUC.

“Music on the Lawn” will feature several artists, while “A Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. “Have You Tried This?” will record on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. with a night of creations from Whitehorse artists.

Finally, the sun room will host the “Stay at Home Karaoke” challenge. Yukoners with a passion for karaoke can sign up to be chosen as one of 10 singers competing. Those 10 singers will record a karaoke set from home, to be judged by Yvonne Clark, Paris Pick, Derek Yap and Sharon Shorty.

First and second prizes of the karaoke contest will win $750 and $300 in Air North credits respectively. The third prize winner will receive “a significant amount of Air North cheesecake.”

Zimmer said his team worked hard to present the festival safely, while still guaranteeing a successful event for participating artists.

“It’s a challenging time we’re in, and if we can still bring some smiles and some excuses to laugh together then let’s do that. Artists have had everything cancelled on them, so we’re also aware of that, how do we make sure we can get some money in the hands of artists,” Zimmer said.

“That’s part of our work in helping with mental health in any way we can, and creating a reason to get together.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at