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Homegrown looks to cultivate a new crop of talent

For more than a decade, the festival has offered creative Yukoners a chance to put something on stage with support from a crop of experienced theatre aficionados.

Think of Nakai’s Homegrown Theatre Festival as one part fringe festival, one part boot camp.

For more than a decade, the festival has offered creative Yukoners a chance to put something on stage with support from a crop of experienced theatre aficionados.

Some creators come with just a kernel of an idea, while others have more complete works that they are looking to tweak and improve.

“You never know what’s going to come out of the woodwork. That’s really exciting for theatre,” said producer Amber Church.

The festival isn’t until near the end of May, but registration closes April 10.

Then the work begins.

Starting about a week after registration closes, anyone who signed up has the option to participate in workshops to help bring their vision to life.

There’s a staging lesson that covers things like costumes, props and general set design. “How do you design a show having minimal design elements that are easy to move?” asked Church. “And how do you create the impression of wherever it is your scene is set with limited things?”

On top of that there will be lessons on lighting and sound.

There’s one on marketing a play, and another on stage-managing the thing.

Artists receive ongoing support from the Homegrown dramaturge-in-residence Brian Fidler and Nakai’s artistic director, David Skelton.

By the time that’s done, there will be something to put on stage.

In the past, Homegrown has had everything from one-man shows to dance numbers to puppet shows.

Entrants are guaranteed at least three shows during Homegrown, which runs from May 26-30.

Church said they usually have about 15 different performances.

Shows that started out at Homegrown have sometimes gone on to other festivals or received further development help from Nakai. For others, the festival is just a one-time thing.

It’s easy to see why Homegrown’s support would appeal to people new to theatre. But more seasoned folk are drawn to it too.

Yukon playwright Kevin Kennedy has toured his one-man show Wolf Trek: Alone in the Woods at fringe festivals across the country since 2013.

He’s performed at fringe festivals in Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver, Regina, Winnipeg and Edmonton. He’s also performed in a few Yukon communities, but never in Whitehorse.

This year’s Homegrown festival is his chance to do that.

“The most important thing is just to be able to do it for a hometown audience, which is something I haven’t had a chance to do,” he said.

This could be your final chance to see the play. Kennedy doesn’t have any plans to perform it after Homegrown.

The play is the story of Kennedy’s trip alone in the wilderness of Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta. Kennedy estimates he’s put on the play abut 50 times since the summer of 2013.

He said it’s always evolving based on things he learns from the audience and other people.

“When I did it (the first time), I didn’t have a director, I had worked with a dramaturge but I didn’t have a director. So I just sat on a chair and essentially told the story… It was very raw. It was really very raw. There’s some value in that, you never want to lose that raw energy,” he said.

Three festivals that first summer went well. Then Kennedy started asking around for input and redid the show’s staging for the next round of shows.

“No more chair - walking around, using the space more fully,” he said.

It fell flat.

“I mean, not completely flat. People liked it and it was OK, but I didn’t feel right about it. It just didn’t feel like it was the right thing anymore.”

Kennedy took elements he liked from the experience and started tweaking again. That’s the beauty of working on something that has been his from the start, he said.

“Because I’m not doing someone else’s words, I have the freedom to improvise sometimes, which I do. I have the freedom to change things, try alternate versions of lines or change the order of things.”

Places like Homegrown are essential, Kennedy said. They give playwrights a chance to test out ideas and have their work seen by an audience.

“There’s nobody saying, ‘Oh, your show is not good enough,’ or too good. It’s not about that. It’s just about taking a chance and getting people to see your work.”

Whitehorse is a supportive environment for that, he said. People in the audience are on the side of the performers.

“Homegrown is a great opportunity for people to take that risk in a reasonably safe environment.”

Even after all his practice, Kennedy said there are lots of things he can still learn from the Homegrown experience.

“It won’t be the same show. It will be a similar show - it will certainly have a lot of the same elements, but it won’t be identical because it can’t be, because I am a different person than I was a year ago or two years ago.”

Church encourages people to sign up - even those with just a basic idea. The Homegrown process is not juried. Right now there is still space available and as long as you get your application in on time, there’s nothing to stop you.

“If you have an idea, we will take it.”

If you do take the plunge, the festival will be there to help, she said.

“If you want to take part, but you are looking at the registration form thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t have a cast’ or ‘Oh, I don’t know how to do this part yet,’ reach out to us. We are happy to try and help you find people,” she said.

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