Zeitgeist Cabaret comes to the Old Fire Hall

Apr 04 2019

By Amy Kenny

It’s like the tapas bar of theatre. That’s how Jacob Richmond characterizes North of the Sixtieth Parallel – a Zeitgeist Cabaret, playing at the Old Fire Hall this month. 

“It gives you options. The cabaret is ‘I just want to eat a little bit of that thing,’” says Richmond who, along with Britt Small, co-founded the Victoria B.C.-based performance group, Atomic Vaudeville. “We’re living in a collage world.”

There are a million things demanding our focus these days. Our attention spans are shorter. In that way, the variety show format of vaudeville suits the modern age. At the same time, Richmond says the loose, interactive nature of it can give audiences something they’re missing in a world of Netflix and on-demand entertainment.

“You can theoretically stay in your apartment and be entertained without ever meeting another human being,” he says. “With this show, there’s a social aspect inherent in the thrill of watching somebody perform, while not pretending they’re not performing.”

Vaudeville is reactive. It’s one of the things that Katherine McCallum, director of Whitehorse theatre company Larrikin Entertainment, liked about Atomic Vaudeville when she saw one of its performances in Victoria last spring. On a whim, she emailed Richmond and Small, asking if they had any interest in working with her to produce something similar in Whitehorse. She was shocked when they said yes – that, in fact, they’d been wanting to do something like that for a few years, ever since they’d visited the Yukon to perform The Rocky Horror Picture Show and their original musical, Ride the Cyclone.

The support and sense of community they felt made them think Whitehorse would be perfect for the same sort of sketch show they’ve made popular in Victoria. Small says the territory has more in common with Vancouver Island than most people would think at first glance.

“Neither is considered the centre of anything,” she says. “There’s a similar isolation to being on an island and being in the far North.”

That said, she and Richmond didn’t think they could roll into Whitehorse and be able to divine what the city would want. Atomic Vaudeville has its own performance language and certain conventions, but they wanted the subject matter to be dictated by Yukoners. Last fall, along with McCallum, they held a series of workshops, auditioning potential performers and speaking with local writers.

“We spent two full days with a group of writers from here and we said ‘tell us all about Whitehorse. What do you care about? What’s going on here?’” says Small. “Because I think that’s what resonates most about the shows when we do them in Victoria, is feeling like it’s a show for that community and from that community.”

When the Cabaret opens at the Old Fire Hall on April 16, it will consist of roughly 20 pieces, ranging from two to 10 minutes in length. There’s a big opening number and a splashy dance battle at the end. In between, audiences will find everything from quiet, abstract moments, to a skit about a Watson Lake-born Rendezvous Queen, to a mini-musical, to a sketch about a cell phone company trying to co-opt the MeToo movement in order to sell data plans to residents of Dawson City.

Most performances will be part of the program every night, but a handful will rotate, depending on the availability of what McCallum calls “Yukon-famous” celebrity guests. Audiences can expect to see comedians, musicians and performers including Brenda Barnes, Angela Drainville, Jane Gaudet, Chris Hine, Jeremiah Kitchen, Chris Lovatt, Jim McGeragle, Sarah Murphy, Paris Pick and more.

“It’s like a rhapsody,” says Small. “The pieces are very different.”

The similarity is in the fact that each performance is a reaction to its location. Small says it’s exciting to have entertainment that feels homegrown rather than imported from somewehere else. In fact, she and Richmond and McCallum all view the Old Fire Hall run as a potential pilot project for a program that could be applied to other communities, not just in the Yukon, but across the country.

The Cabaret runs Tuesday to Saturday nights at 8 p.m., from April 17 to 27. Tickets are available online at yukontickets.com

Amy Kenny is a Yukon-based writer. Her journalism has been published by Up Here, Walrus, Vice, Canadian Geographic, National Geographic Book Publishing, Yukon News and the Hamilton Spectator. Her fiction, poetry, non-fiction and reviews have appeared in Hazlitt, Room, The Antigonish Review, Prism and The Humber Literary Review. She has also written web and promotional content for numerous travel, tourism, health, wildlife and arts organizations.