Text me, Shakespeare

Patti Flather can't find the iPod's pause button. It might be second nature for the teenagers, whose audio plays she's presenting at Baked Cafe on Tuesday evening, but these plays aren't meant to be accessible to everybody.

Patti Flather can’t find the iPod’s pause button.

It might be second nature for the teenagers, whose audio plays she’s presenting at Baked Cafe on Tuesday evening, but these plays aren’t meant to be accessible to everybody.

“The people here could sense me struggling,” said Flather, co-artistic director of Gwaandak Theatre. “I’m not savvy with that technology, but most young people are.”

The audio plays—each between three and four minutes long—

are about hearing through a young person’s ears.

The plays revolve around a specific Whitehorse location, and each place features a small sign with a phone number.

Call it, and you’ll hear a brief theatrical take on where you’re standing.

It’s not the way you or I might experience theatre, but for a texting-addicted 16-year-old, it’s the perfect way to get them involved.

“Cellphones is just another part of their language now,” said Flather.

The generational gap can be stark. Flather, who heard about the Uth Ink project as a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, couldn’t figure it out at first.

“I just got a cellphone a year ago, I resisted them for ages,” she said.

The Uth Ink project also features a website with a map that has yet to be posted.

The remarkable thing about Whitehorse kids, said Flather, is that they all used strong symbols of Yukon heritage and character in their plays.

“It was interesting for me as a middle-aged Yukoner hearing young people refer to the Colourful Five Per Cent,” said Flather. “And there were some really mature discussions about place and our connection to it—why we live here and the pull we sometimes feel away. But then remembering all the good things about community, the natural beauty and all the good things we have here.”

Uth Ink has had various incarnations in Ontario, with kids from Sudbury to Ottawa telling inside stories and recounting local lore.

But compared to students caught in suburban sprawls Outside, Whitehorse kids carry with them an awareness of their unique identity.

“The Whitehorse writers were very much exploring their connection to their world, more than some of the other youth in Ontario,” said Flather.

Robin Sokoloski, the Uth Ink program manager for the Playwrights Guild of Canada, noticed that young Yukoners carry the traditions of place their parents’ and grandparent’s used, said Flather.

“The plays in Whitehorse really represented the essence and feel of that particular community as they reflected the mythology and ‘stereotypes’ of Whitehorse, rather than the factual history of the community, or something completely imagined,” wrote Sokoloski in an e-mail.

“The Whitehorse plays expressed a true authentic voice of how the participants relate to where they live,” she said.

Most of the students chose locations downtown. There are three on Main Street, two in Rotary Park and a few along the Millennium Trail.

“Those are places of connection for a lot of people,” said Flather. “Some of the youth lived out of town and they could have chosen to set their plays there. But it looks like a lot of them are connected to the core that we all know.”

Some of the stories were new to Flather.

“I didn’t know about the legend at Murdoch’s,” she said, referring to a ghost story written by Bailey Turner.

The plays aren’t very alike—one explores different stereotypes.

The only rule was to be inspired by a specific place in their community, said Flather.

Performing in an audio play can quell the stage fright some of the students may have had with crowds.

“Some of them may not have shared their writing before,” said Flather. “And that’s a really scary thing to do.”

Flather began recruiting students in December and began workshops with local playwright Celia McBride in February.

Flather held reading sessions at the boardroom of the White Pass building for the students to share their work.

“We tried to keep the feedback positive, but still to hear someone ask a question about your work when you’re a new writer can be very scary,” she said.

After sending drafts to McBride through e-mail, the students recorded their plays at the CBC Radio studio in May.

“(An audio play) was a really good way to bring in writers who haven’t done theatre or acting before because to go up in front of an audience and remember all your lines and movements is really difficult,” said Flather.

Some students are in the Music Arts and Drama program at Wood Street School, while others are budding writers.

There were also students from FH Collins, said Flather.

In all, 10 students participated and came up with nine short plays.

Site-specific theatre allows the art form to leave the confines of the stage, a place that young teenagers might not have an affinity for, said Flather.

“It’s great to be standing in the location where a young person’s play has been inspired,” she said, sitting near one of the signs outside Baked.

Site-specific theatre has been a lesson in experimentation.

Uth Ink was based on the Murmur project—where adult playwrights record oral history about a place. Murmur now includes maps of Toronto, Montreal, Edinburgh, Galway and San Paulo, to name a few.

The historical perspective of a teenager, or preteen, offers a reinvention of Yukon identity.

Chloe Turner-Davis, 12, was Uth Ink’s youngest participant—most of them were around 16-years-old, said Flather.

Turner-Davis picked Duffy’s Pets and Tanzilla Harness Supply to inspire How Many Mice? It recounts an ill-fated pet store visit by a group of Turner-Davis’

friends, who end up spilling mice into the floor.

She picked Duffy’s because she visits it all the time with friends, she said.

Turner-Davis wants to be an actress in the future, and recording in the studio with friends helped break the ice.

“I was kind of nervous doing it at first, but Celia was in the room helping us and telling us what to do,” she said.

Turner-Davis has now put Duffy’s on the map as a piece of Whitehorse heritage.

“(The playwrights) are at the cusp of defining who the are and they’re still figuring out the boundaries of who they are,” said Flather.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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