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Making theatre out of dump discards

It’s a Colosseum of discarded cardboard. A theatre of trash.Ensconced in Raven Recycling’s yard in Whitehorse’s Industrial area…

It’s a Colosseum of discarded cardboard. A theatre of trash.

Ensconced in Raven Recycling’s yard in Whitehorse’s Industrial area is a very strange monument indeed.

Bales of corrugated cardboard and old beer boxes are stacked in a circle forming Whitehorse’s newest theatre and the set of Nakai’s latest play, Carnaval.

“We wanted the feel of being on the street and watching something happening, like a traffic accident, but with dancing,” said the play’s production manager Dean Eyre.

Staging the play outside means its set is always changing.

Friday was chilly. Grey clouds obscured the sun and a cool wind blew across the yard stacked high with bundles on old bottles and cans.

On a sunny day the set turns into a magical place, said set designer Veronica Verkley while placing makeshift props around the yard.

Light catches the smoothed glass shards on the ground, making them sparkle.

Over the past few months Verkley and Eyre have been scavenging through Raven’s yard, local dumps and friends’ basements for supplies to make the theatre, the props and musical instruments.

Wheelchairs and old seats pulled from a movie theatre will serve as audience seating.

They’ve been making do with castoffs and trash-turned-treasures.

“To me they’re such beautiful materials,” said Verkley.

“I know that they’ve been thrown out, but they have their own kind of texture and architecture.

“It’s interesting — it kind of limits you in a way, but it also makes you much more creative.”

It’s that creative spark that’s intended to transform a Yukon junkyard into a South American slum.

“I hope people will take away the feeling that they’ve gone somewhere else when they go see this show — that they’ve gone to a totally new world,” said playwright Mitch Miyagawa.

The story was inspired by a trip to the Carnaval in Orouro, Bolivia.

Simply put, Carnaval is a small story about a young silver miner who dreams of dancing in the Carnaval and cuts a deal with the devil to make it happen.

Viewed in a wider context it treats Bolivian culture like an onion, revealing layer upon layer upon layer.

“In Bolivia, there are a bunch of different –isms,” said Miyagawa.

“The people manage to live with all these world views and they somehow manage to combine them all.”

Take the miners, for example.

During the day they’ll go to church and pray to the virgin.

Then they’ll go below and give offerings —  cocoa leaves, alcohol and food — to Tio, a supernatural creature who will protect the miners while they’re underground.

For Miyagawa, Orouro’s Carnaval was a microcosm of the country’s culture.

On the sidelines everybody was drinking dancing and throwing water balloons.

But the entertainment was very formal and rehearsed.

It crammed hundreds of years of history into an all-night celebration and didn’t shy away from any of the difficult parts.

There was a float about the conquistadors massacring the Incas, and another about hundreds of slaves dying in the mines.

“It’s like if we had a Carnaval here and had a bunch of dancers re-enacting the First Nations people getting small pox,” said Miyagawa.

“It seemed like tragedy was really being celebrated.”

To evoke the feeling of Carnaval, the play is set in a literal theatre of trash.

For David Skelton, the play’s director, Carnaval’s set is a magical space.

“It’s taking something that’s degraded or impoverished and turning it into something beautiful.

“It transcends what it was,” said Skelton.

When viewers walk through the garbage-filled yard and come to the stage it’s a completely new and surprising environment.

“Everything is new, but it’s exciting and full of surprise and magic.”

For some of the actors, the biggest challenge will be living up to the set, said Brian Fidler, who plays both the play’s heroine and an angry miner.

Taking on two characters of opposite genders was also a big challenge, said the seasoned Yukon actor while taking a break in the production room.

“I’m still trying to find out what it takes to be a woman,” he added with a laugh.

Skelton rigged the gender-bending casting to push the play’s actors to explore notions of masculinity and femininity.

“In some instances a man playing a woman somehow has more feminine beauty than women,” said Skelton.

“I don’t know how people are going to react to it — they might just think it’s weird,” said Miyagawa with a laugh.

Meanwhile Vancouver-based actor Tanya Marquardt came to the Yukon to play a young boy in the show.

A veteran of alternative theatre, Marquardt has been part of shows set in lounge bars, bathrooms, abandoned buildings and in an Ikea store.

“Getting cold, getting hot and getting enough water,” she said, while a few other actors around her slathered on sunscreen to shield themselves from the midday sun.

“It all goes according to weather.”

The show previews on Wednesday evening at 8 p.m.

Carnaval premieres Thursday night with a late show at 10:30 p.m. and runs Friday and Saturday at the same time.

After a few nights off, the show begins again on May 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. It continues on May 25 and 26 at 10:30 p.m.

The late show is timed to correspond with the setting sun.

“If you come to the 10:30 show, you’ll see why we’re doing the 10:30 show,” said Skelton.

Tickets are $20. Check the weather forecast and dress appropriately.