Marie Coderre, the executive and artistic director at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife, is on a mission.
She wants to get shows, concerts and performances touring outside the capital city, but needs help to do it.
“We have an audience-building program this year,” she told The Hub. “We already have a very good returning audience in Hay River, but there is always room for more. I’m not from Yellowknife. I lived in two communities before I moved here and I know there’s potential for huge audiences out there.”
NACC has been trying to get out into smaller communities for years now, making irregular trips to Hay River and Inuvik when finances and local sentiment allowed. Under Coderre, those visits have become more regular, and Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Fort Smith have been added to the list of at-least-annual stops.
“Now when I book artists, they can do either the south or the north tour of the territory,” she said. “It’s expensive to travel up here, never mind for a whole band, orchestra or choir, so we have to manage our programs. It’s a puzzle. I have six theatres to manage.”
Beyond the problems arising with getting performers from all over Canada up to the NWT and then around it, Coderre said one of her biggest challenges is ensuring an audience in smaller communities.
“Hay River is second only to Yellowknife in terms of a stable audience,” she said. “It’s great, but I always want more. When I see that people are really engaging with it, we can go bigger and better.”
Although she did not name the community, Coderre said she once had a situation in which only a handful of people turned up for a show for which the community had clamoured for months.
“That makes it difficult to justify spending the money on touring with big groups of performers,” she said. “The communities need to understand that we’re the only ones in Canada to have a travelling theatre set up like this. That’s pretty special.”
But for all that, the North remains a magical and exotic place for the artists Coderre brings up.
“Artists tell me they can’t believe how happy everyone is to see them,” she said. “It’s such a positive change for many of them, this experience in which they can really interact with their audience.”
She admits it’s a bit surreal when she has a musical group that has played the finest cathedrals in the likes of St. Petersburg, Russia, knocking elbows with people in a basement in Fort Simpson, but that it all adds to the magic.
“It’s absurd,” she said. “But also really beautiful.”
But NACC doesn’t only bring up artists from the South to grace the community halls of Northern towns. It also provides a venue for local talent to shine, something Coderre advocates strongly.
“We try to have a mix of local and outside artists,” she said, referring specifically this time to the KO K’E Storytelling Festival that touched down in Hay River on Sept. 16. “It’s really important for me to have storytellers from each community.”
Another home-grown Hay River talent on the bill for this month is Tyler Hawkins, who has helped organize and will perform in the 7th Annual NWT and International Lute Festival.
This year, the festival is set for Sept. 26-28 and will make stops in Fort Smith, Hay River and Yellowknife. Riverview Cineplex will host the Hay River performance on Sept. 27.
“I think people here know who we are,” said Hawkins. “But something that might be new to them is that, this year, we’re trying to focus on Northern talent a bit more than in previous years. We really wanted to showcase the North and the musicians here.”
As for raising awareness of NACC’s program and getting people out to shows, Coderre hopes they will get used to buying tickets online and looking into the whole season’s programming when it’s released in early fall.
“This is our job to get the performing arts out into the communities,” she said. “It’s lots of work, but it’s getting better.”
— Sarah Ladik