There were times last year when Selene Vakharia felt like she was talking about death wherever she went.
Some of it was her own doing. She and fellow artist Chelsea Jeffery had been asking people for their stories about death, dying and the afterlife as part of a new theatre project.
Other conversations came about more organically. Sitting in a coffee shop, a friend would mention they were feeling shaken up after a car wreck that could have ended tragically.
“At one point I was like, here I am talking about death again,” Vakharia said.
Conversations about death that she thought would be uncomfortable ended up being much less so.
“I thought it would be more of a taboo, weird, thing for people to talk about but so many people really wanted to talk about it,” she said.
“(They) are really interested in it and are interested in having that conversation.”
The recorded conversations Vakharia and Jeffery collected form the central piece of their new show Public Secret which is part of this month’s Pivot Theatre Festival. The festival runs Jan. 23-28 and tickets went on sale this week.
Rather than being a show where the audience sits still and watches, Vakharia compares her piece to a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Up to 20 audience members will spend an hour and a half exploring three heritage buildings in Shipyards Park — the Pioneer Hotel, the Chambers House and the Jenni House.
Inside, they’ll be able to interact with installations while hearing recordings of people talking about death, dying, coming to terms with your mortality, and the afterlife.
The show is about more than standing still and listening. Audience members will be able to interact with what they find inside.
The Jenni House, for example, has been transformed into a Victorian apothecary, Vakharia said.
“On the collection of shelves there are difference stations where you can listen to different people’s conversations … in their own voice,” she said.
Light boxes and projectors go with some of the stories.
“That brings the story that you’re listening to, the conversation you’re listening to, to life a bit.”
Actors have also been brought in to interact with the audience.
Each night different performers will talk about topics ranging from their own experience with death, to tarot cards, to using hallucinogens to help people come to terms with mortality near the end of their life.
Audience members can choose to listen to what the actor has to say or engage them in a conversation, Vakharia said, whatever makes them comfortable.
The hope is that people walk away from the night feeling more open to talking about death, she said.
“Coming out of it having some sort of conversation started around death and dying, to whatever extent that is.”
Public Secret will take place five times throughout the festival. Shows are scheduled for 6:15 and 8:15 p.m. on Jan. 23 and 25. A 9:30 p.m. show is happening on the 27th.
Along with Public Secret, much of what’s being performed at this year’s Pivot festival is about relationships and connection, said producer Katherine McCallum.
“It’s really about a celebration of life, a celebration of existence and family and culture.”
On Jan. 21, ahead of the official kickoff of the festival, is the Awkward Family Holiday Stories Pub Crawl.
At each of four downtown pubs participants can have a drink while listening to speakers share holiday stories involving their family.
“People will be telling really true, honest to goodness, super awkward family moments,” McCallum said.
On Jan. 27 is Stranger Connections.
While the idea of going out for an hour to have quick conversations with as many people as possible might sound like speed dating, but McCallum insists this Pivot event is more like “speed friending.”
“We didn’t want it to be a singles event because then it’s not involving the entire community,” she said.
Participants will have a limited amount of time to discuss specific questions that McCallum said are designed to create “instant icebreakers.”
She wouldn’t go into specifics about what the questions will be, but says they’re designed to go beyond the generic “where are you from and what do you do for a living” questions that begin many conversations.
“What it’s really about it disconnecting from screens, disconnecting from our virtual world to actually connect and reconnect with human beings.”
Choreographer and dancer Santee Smith is preforming her show NeoIndigenA at the Yukon Arts Centre on Jan. 27 and 28.
It’s described as a fusion of Indigenous and contemporary dance to the music of Tanya Tagaq and Cris Derksen.
Real-life mother and son, Asha and Ravi Jain, will be on stage in A Brimful of Asha at the Old Fire Hall from Jan. 26-28.
The play is a described as a “true story of generational and cultural clash, capturing a quintessential Canadian experience.”
Whitehorse playwright Brandon Wicke will be reading a play on Jan. 28 at the Whitehorse Public Library.
On Jan. 24 the Woodcutter’s Blanket is hosting a chance for local writers and storytellers to share their work.
The festival’s full schedule and a list of times and ticket prices is online at www.pivotfestival.com.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org