Out in space on the longest night

What else is out there, in deep space? It's something to ponder on the longest night of the year, says returning Longest Night artistic director Daniel Janke.

What else is out there, in deep space?

It’s something to ponder on the longest night of the year, says returning Longest Night artistic director Daniel Janke.

Janke started the annual solstice-celebrating show 16 years ago.

This year he’s pushing what he feels the night is all about.

“I always thought Longest Night is being about the night sky,” he says. “Every year around this time I always try and take a good look at the night sky and, interestingly enough, Yukon has a history of UFO sightings.”

We Are Not Alone is the title of this year’s cabaret that merges psychedelic filmscape, puppets and, the heart of all Longest Night performances, the musical ensemble.

While smaller this year, the ensemble will include a special guest: 20th century pop/cult icon Mary Margaret O’Hara.

While O’Hara’s jazz-rock-country fusion album Miss America may seem a strange soundtrack to musings about alien life, Janke insists the timing was perfect.

“Mary Margaret is someone I would have liked to have up for a long time, but she’s just now available,” he says. “She’s definitely an interesting part of Canadian music lore.”

O’Hara thinks the show’s theme is funny and Janke can’t predict what the audience can expect from her.

“I really don’t know,” he says. I’ve already told her she can choose songs to do with the theme, or not. But she’s funny. She likes Christmas songs.”

Just days from the show, O’Hara’s not the only act Janke is in the dark about.

The production has commissioned three very different puppet shows.

“Those puppet people are completely out of control,” laughs Janke.

Local puppeteers Brian Fidler, Celia McBride and Moira Sauer were all given the theme, some youth volunteers and told to create something.

The results? No one is quite sure of yet, including the artists themselves.

But one thing is for sure, there will be puppets of all sizes: tiny ones whose story Fidler will project on a giant screen, lifesized ones, which McBride will be dancing with and literally giant ones that Sauer has recruited 10 volunteers to help move around the stage.

“One puppet is 12 feet by 30 feet big so I need a lot of hands on stage because nothing’s mechanized,” she says. “Anything that moves or shifts or breathes, or anything like that, needs a pair of hands to do.”

The score for Sauer’s Alien on Alien is a collaboration between her and Kim Barlow. But this was an opportunity for everyone to really explore, says Sauer.

“I have approached this from a completely ignorant place as far as my knowledge, or research or anything of outer space or the world beyond,” she says. “I’m not a sci-fi head.”

But Jerome Stueart is.

The local science fiction writer will grace the longest night stage as a “UFOlogist.”

He’ll be breaking up the performances with presentations of true-story sightings, says producer Jessica Hickman.

He’s done his research, she says.

“It’s a fun theme that makes people question whether or not they believe,” she says. “They’re all just fun ways of a topic that sometimes can be made fun of and, other times, be taken very seriously. So we’re going right in the middle: a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of self-reflection, a little bit of ‘this is weird!’”

Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee will also be apart of the ensemble while the very out-there film featuring the Flaming Lips, called Christmas on Mars, will be screened before and after the show through the windows of the lobby to a projection screen outside.

All in all, variety seems to the be the essence of this eclectic, eccentric show.

Many people look at the solstice as, “we are in as black as it’s going to get,” says Sauer.

But others see it as “officially, the start of the light coming back.’

“Because Longest Night, or the society and this event incorporates so many different artists and musicians every year, I’ve always found little bits of all of that involved in the performance,” she says. “There’s maybe some dark music or maybe even something a little tragic that’s performed, but in the very same evening, while you’re in the arts centre, you might see something that’s absolutely hilarious and bright and light and magnificent.”

Longest Night starts at 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. Tickets are $25 or $20 for youth and seniors.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at