When Sour Brides theatre company was founded five years ago by Whitehorse artists Celia McBride and Moira Sauer, they knew their artistic aspirations lay beyond the borders of the Yukon.
Unique for a Yukon theatre company, Sour Brides, from the outset, has set a clear mandate to “tour critically successful theatre across Canada and around the world.”
The philosophy stemmed from a conversation the pair had with then-Yukon Arts Centre director Chris Dray in 2003.
“When we told him what we wanted to do, he said, ‘That’s great you guys, but do you really want to be just another Yukon theatre company that puts on plays and goes ‘that was fun’?” said McBride.
“He said, ‘the only way that you’re going to differentiate yourself from any other professional company that’s here, the only way this company’s going to go anywhere is if you take your work outside,’” she said.
The Yukon, for its size, has an extremely active artistic scene, but the territory also carries a clearly defined ceiling of how far an actor or company can develop.
“There’s only so much we can grow when we’re so isolated—we need to bring in professionals from outside to work with us and we need to export in order to find out where we stand on the world market and where we stand on the world stage,” said McBride.
With the upcoming national tour of McBride’s play So Many Doors, the Brides’“five year plan” is finally coming to fruition.
Ramshackle Theatre, founded by Whitehorse actor Brian Fidler, performs alternately in the Yukon and Outside.
A performance of Fidler’s wordless puppet show Cam and Legs at the Calgary Fringe Festival in August, earned Fidler a spot on the Calgary Herald’s list of top 20 theatre performances of 2008.
Fidler credits Yukoners as being his “first audience,” but touring provides him with a necessary “next step.”
“To have any kind of longevity, and to continue to grow as an artist and as a company, I can’t just stay here,” said Fidler.
“There’s just not the audience base here.”
“There’s only about 600 to 700 people that are going to come out to see a play in Whitehorse, they get sick and tired of seeing the same people over and over again,” said Sauer.
Whitehorse’s Nakai Theatre Company has brought some of its productions to southern audiences, such as its 2005 production of West Edmonton Mall.
However, these tours have been incidental, as the company sees its main priority as “developing the skills of local artists” and “showing Yukon audiences new kinds of theatre from Outside,” said Nakai’s artistic director David Skelton.
“(Touring) is not in our mandate, but if we have the right situation then we’ll tour it,” said Skelton.
“We select a show if it has (Northern) characteristics … if the show can possibly be toured, then we would pursue that.”
So Many Doors portrays two couples whose infant children were killed in the same traffic accident.
“The story is about four people grieving and healing,” said Sauer.
The play opens with the four characters in a grieving-parent support group.
Being based in the North provides playwright McBride with a distinct tool chest of “northern sensibilities.”
“I’ve always called the Yukon another character in this play,” said McBride.
Even if her plays have not been set in the North, they all carry echoes of northern isolation, light and dark, and the concept of “the last frontier.”
“In the Far North, grief divides four people and isolates them more effectively than geography ever could,” read Magnetic North’s description of the play.
For the play to be ready for national audiences, the Sour Brides had to expand beyond the Yukon’s limited talent pool.
The female roles have been consistently played by McBride and Sauer, yet their character’s husbands have been recast for the upcoming tour by Montreal actor Brett Watson and Toronto actor Jesse Todd.
The two were flown up to Whitehorse for a mere week of intense rehearsals before Tuesday’s premiere at the Yukon Arts Centre. Todd, in particular, was cast as recently as December 30th.
Stepping off the plane into minus 30 weather, as well as seeing the Yukon’s natural vistas, has provided both actors with critical geographic points of reference to help their characters, each of whom are born-and-bred Yukoners.
“In this play I refer to how the views in town blow my mind, well, I have to see those views so I can have an image in my head,” said Watson, wearing a flannel shirt he purchased at a Montreal Urban Outfitters in order to “fit in.”
“We look outside the window of our rehearsal hall and we see this ice floe going down the river … this way I don’t have to imagine it,” he said.
Replacing half the cast has breathed new life into the tirelessly reworked and rehashed production.
“When somebody throws you a new pitch, suddenly you’re awakened to the game you’ve been playing,” said director Kelly Thornton.
“It’s great to see that the play’s holding up through all these different men,” said McBride.
Within the Yukon So Many Doors has been lauded as a theatrical masterpiece.
“The plot is so well executed, there are no false moves, and the characters’ actions are so true to who they are that we accept the outcome wholeheartedly,” said the Yukon News’ Al Pope after the play’s October, 2007 premiere.
At Ottawa’s Magnetic North theatre festival this summer, So Many Doors had its first encounters with critical indifference.
“When we took the show down to Magnetic North we had that (positive) reaction, but we also had the other reaction, which was, ‘Meh, not my cup of tea,’” said McBride.
“So Many Doors opens into soap-opera banalities,” read the headline of Vancouver’s Georgia Straight.
“That was a really humbling moment for me: ‘Oh, you mean everybody doesn’t think it’s the best piece of theatre they’ve ever seen?’” said McBride.
“We had gotten used to being fish in a little pond.”
So Many Doors is kicking off its national tour with a Tuesday night performance at Whitehorse’s Yukon Arts Centre, and on Friday at Dawson City’s Oddfellows Hall.
Contact Tristin Hopper at email@example.com