Homemade drama
Gwich'in play Sixty Below returns home

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik ( May 26/00) - A Delta-born playwright is bringing a piece of Gwich'in culture back to Inuvik, in a play that was nearly 10 years in the making.

Sixty Below, written by Inuvik-born Leonard Linklater and his partner, Patti Flather, centres around a tight-knight group of First Nations' youth who are coming to terms with the mysterious sudden death of a friend.

The five main characters grapple with the consequences of dropping out of school, alcohol abuse and the cycle of family dysfunction.

"It's been a long process," Linklater said. Linklater and Flather, who currently live in Whitehorse, met over 10 years ago and began the play on a bit of a lark.

"I was working at the Whitehorse Star back in 1989 and I was doing stories on First Nations inmates at the correctional centre who were trying to get back to their cultural spiritual identity," Flather said.

"Leonard and I entered the 24-hour Nakai playwriting contest. We were both journalists and neither of us had ever written a play before, and we came out with just a fragment really," she said. "Over the years we just kept developing it."

The show first played in Whitehorse in 1993, and before they knew it, Linklater, Flather and their two kids were jetting off to the bright southern lights.

"We workshopped it again in Toronto in 1995 with Native Earth Performing Arts," she said.

The re-worked play opened in 1997 to raves and nominations for seven Toronto-based Dora Mavor-Moore awards -- the top theatre award in Canada.

But she says they wanted to bring the play North again, and were able to do so with a $100,000 grant from the Millennium Foundation.

"It has universal appeal, but it really resonates up here. So far we've had an amazing response here in the Yukon."

Linklater, whose father is from the Old Crow area and his mother is from Fort McPherson, says they've incorporated his Gwich'in culture and legend within the script.

"It's nice to get it out there, because when people think of theatre, they think of Shakespeare -- it's never been about their stories or their culture to them," Linklater said.

The play's cast and crew of eight will travel to 11 communities in the North -- Inuvik is the only NWT stop. Linklater had hoped to also get to Fort McPherson, but scheduling was too tight.

"The reason we're coming to Inuvik is we wanted to reach as many Gwich'in people as we could," he said.

The cast is composed entirely of First Nations' actors headed up by director Floyd Favel, who Northerners may know better as Jasper Friendly Bear.

"Up here, people know him better from Dead Dog Cafe, but he's a very well-respected director," Flather said.

Near two-thirds the way through the tour, the troupe is getting a tad road- weary.

"They're tired," she laughed. "It's been a really long tour for them. It's a huge undertaking to tour Northern communities with a cast this size."

The final performance is tonight at 8 p.m.

"People laugh and cry, but generally have a really good time, and (we) give them a little bit of hope and that's something we can use more of up here," Linklater said.