The theatre is empty.
But the Yukon Arts Centre stage is bustling.
A chorus of young actors are bringing Robert Service’s The Ballad of Pious Pete to life, while director Mary Sloan sits on the lip of the stage reading the bard’s work. She’s coaching her narrators on Service’s style and rhythm.
Wood Street School’s Music, Arts and Drama students have only four days left to rehearse, before staging their original production Up Here, and they’re hard at work.
But we’re used to working under tight timelines, said Sloan.
The students staged the production last June, but have since done a lot of revisions.
“We looked at the old script, at what worked and what didn’t, and now we’re polishing it,” said Sloan.
When they originally began to work on the piece last year, Sloan told her students to go find a spot that was evocative and poignant.
“I told them to spend half an hour there and then write what was in their head,” she said.
“Many of the students ended up at the river.
“And they all came up with the same idea — that the very same river was flowing when only the First Nations were here, and when the prospectors arrived and, now, for them.
“So, this notion of the river as time, tying all things together, became the central thread in our production,” said Sloan.
Through a series of vignettes, songs, dance, a black-light puppet show and some mask work the production follows a young student’s passage through history.
People take the Yukon and its history for granted, and, hopefully, Up Here will change this, said Sloan.
“There’s lots of diversity up here, but when Yukoners visit Outside, people have no idea where we live,” she said.
The Yukon where’s that?
Are there igloos and polar bears there?
Is it part of Alaska?
The production begins with the montage of goofy questions most Yukoners field while travelling.
Then it follows a young girl through her school year.
At the end of the year, her class goes to Miles Canyon, and the young student is dared to walk the bridge railing across the river.
Not very popular, she sees this as an opportunity to fit in with her peers.
But she falls off the railing and the river sweeps her back in time, to the dawn of creation.
On her journey back to the present, she’s accompanied by Raven, the First Nations’ storied trickster.
“We are using Andra Lutchman’s First Nations raven mask,” said Sloan.
“And her brother Jared helped us with the First Nations part, giving us input.”
The MAD students will be performing Up Here again next year for the Canada Winter Games.
“We knew the Games were coming, and we’d already done lots of productions, working with the RCMP, on positive choices, dealing with drinking and drugs, and we needed a change,” said MAD co-producer Jeff Nordlund.
“So, we applied to Culture Quest and got funding to work on a cultural piece to showcase during the Games — to highlight the Yukon’s history, its unique values, First Nations heritage, the Beringia period and how the land came to be what it is.”
“And it’ll give audiences a sense of the bold, talented, fun-loving people we are up here,” added Sloan.
Up Here runs Tuesday and Wednesday at the Yukon Arts Centre, starting at 8 p.m.