Theatre in the Thaw

'It's the cereal shot from guns!" While it may make a dubious pitch for a tasty breakfast, the phrase is Megan Graham's favorite line from the 1948 radio play she and six others have recorded for the second annual Break Up Theatre Festival in Dawson City.

‘It’s the cereal shot from guns!”

While it may make a dubious pitch for a tasty breakfast, the phrase is Megan Graham’s favorite line from the 1948 radio play she and six others have recorded for the second annual Break Up Theatre Festival in Dawson City.

Producer Caili Steel and members of the Dawson Theatre Network will host two nights of theatre, plus a listening party for the radio drama on Saturday afternoon.

Browsing online for “oldtime radio” scripts, Graham found the series The Challenge of the Yukon. The Detroit-based serial aired from1938 to 1955, and then became the well known television series Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The deal was clinched when Graham found the episode with the perfect title – Breakup.

“I figured a radio play could be a good opportunity for people to try theatre without the pressure of being on stage, being seen,” says Graham, a CFYT radio DJ and regular contributor to The Klondike Sun.

“And because it was in my house and we were all friends, I thought they were maybe more animated.” She laughs. “I mean, in the original series all the dog sounds were done by the actors themselves, so at the end we recorded all the actors making dog noises themselves.”

The Challenge of the Yukon was originally sponsored by Quaker. Episodes included ad spots for the company’s puffed wheat and puffed rice products.

“The commercials have little kid voices, so we decided to recreate those,” Graham says. “There are lines we had to go through five times because we couldn’t stop laughing.”

Works in the Break Up Theatre Festival come from Carcross, Dawson, Whitehorse, and Reykjavík. All are new, original pieces, except the radio play and an even older piece from Jeramy Dodds.

Dodds, a Canadian poet based in Reykjavík, will read his translation of an Old Norse poem that would have been recited as entertainment during the Viking age in Iceland.

The festival reflects how collaboration can work well in the Yukon.

“I’d had the idea of a festival in the back of my mind the last couple of years. So I talked about it with last year’s producer Joanna Mazanti over the summer, knowing she’d be away at school this year,” says Steel. “Then [Banff theatre director] Colin Funk came to Dawson for a few months. With his extensive background in performance, he initiated the idea of the Dawson Theatre Network.”

Weekly improvisation sessions led to the idea of a two-night festival. The Break Up Festival’s backstory begins to sound like a thank-you speech at the Jessie Awards, because it is remarkable how many people helped put the event together.

“KIAC [the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture] provided the space for improv nights all year, and now the space, equipment and promotion for the festival itself,” Steel notes. “Right from the beginning they said, ‘If you want to do it, we’re there to help you out.’”

Steel says she turned to David Skelton, Artistic Director of Whitehorse-based Nakai Homegrown Theatre Festival, for frequent advice.

“The Break Up Festival is very much based on the Homegrown Festival,” Steel says. “I like how Homegrown allows artists at all levels of development to get involved.”

Nakai even shared its technical director, Elliot Hamilton-Boucher, who gave a weekend lighting workshop. And a Yukon Arts Fund grant provided travel money – meeting a need many creative initiatives in the territory must face.

Some Break Up Theatre Festival pieces appeared at the Homegrown Festival last weekend. Jessica Viens and Caili Steel are two recent Dawsonites who wrote their dramatic monologues this winter, a new experience for each in climate and in creativity. Steel dissects moments of decision around divorce. Viens’ February Cute explores the strange behaviours a person can go through “due to a lack of bedfellows,” she says.

And many performances are not typical theatre.

Harmeny Daniel, a Carcross potter, shapes clay while reciting her Poettery. Whitehorse selections include bellydancing (Garnette Marshall’s Moving Diversity), slide-illustrated storytelling (Nicole Bauberger’s Listening to the Mountain Out Loud) and a video tribute to Wayne Gretzky (George Maratos).

On Saturday night, even audiences will move beyond their normal role during Sarah Moore’s come undone. To listen to this audio work, audiences will lie on mats in the semi-darkness.

From cereal-shooting episodes to February delirium, you can never quite predict what will appear at a theatre festival. Best to show up and find out.

All shows, including the free, family-oriented 2-3 p.m. Listening party for the radio play, take place at KIAC. For Friday and Saturday performances the doors open at 6:30pm, shows at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. Information, Caili Steel at or call KIAC at 993-5005.