Play could mark end of touring shows

photo courtesy of Summer Meyer Christopher Hunt is the star of When That I Was, the latest offering from the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. It will play in Inuvik on Nov. 12.

photo courtesy of Summer Meyer
Christopher Hunt is the star of When That I Was, the latest offering from the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. It will play in Inuvik on Nov. 12.

When that I was, a one-man play set in the time of Shakespeare and telling the story of a man who acted in the Bard’s company, is coming but it might well be one of the last.

The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre puts on shows across the territory as well as in the capital, but that won’t be sustainable much longer if people don’t start attending, according to executive and artistic director Marie Coderre.

“It’s extremely expensive to bring a performance here, and when I see 30 people out of 3,000 come out for NACC, it needs to change and it needs to improve,” she told the Inuvik Drum. “People need to understand we are an arts centre, and we’re not going to bring folk musicians and country music musicians. You can’t expect us to bring the kind of show you see all the time.”

While Coderre was talking about Inuvik, the situation is similar in Hay River. Out of more than 3,000 people, only 35 turned out for the last NACC show. She also told The Drum that Hay River — along with Inuvik and Norman Wells — would be under scrutiny come February as to whether they would continue to host performances.

“If we have 30 people out for that, I will pull the plug,” she said. “I’m not going to spend up to $20,000 for a show and have no one show up. There has to be a desire for us to come, otherwise we will focus our efforts on Yellowknife.”

Coderre said that When that I Was, set to come to the Riverview Cineplex on Nov. 14, does have an educational component.

“It is an exceptionally well-acted play, and people I think will feel a lot while watching it,” she said. “The main goal is that the patrons learn something.”

For performer Christopher Hunt, the play is a timeless commentary on the state of the arts in general, as well as the plight of creative people.

“It’s an age-old conundrum that artists find, trying to support their work. It never goes away, it’s always fighting a battle,” he told The Hub.

The play itself features an old man retelling his life story as an actor in Shakespeare’s company in the 16th and 17th century. Hunt portrays more than 20 characters throughout the performance.

“I would hope, on some level, that people who aren’t into Shakespeare would be more open to that experience,” he said. “There isn’t a lot that’s actually known about the life of Shakespeare and the actors, and this is a bit of an insider’s backstage view into that world.”

One of the themes of the play, according to Hunt, is a shift in attitude that removes support and patronage from the company.

“The government clamping down, becoming more puritanical, that’s something that resonates now,” he said. “And there’s always a crisis… in Shakespeare’s time it’s the plague, when the play was written in the 1980s it was AIDS, and right now it’s Ebola. These themes are universal.”

Coderre said the play had a nostalgic tone and focused on paying tribute to artists who have come before.

“It helps us understand the background of the arts,” she said. “I would say the difficulties now are pretty similar to then… It’s always a challenge when it’s not mainstream.”

— Sarah Ladik with files from Shawn Giilk