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The sound of storytelling
Northern radio drama comes to the stage this week

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Northern storytellers from a variety of backgrounds are coming together to share a new narrative using an old technology.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife actor Reneltta Arluk, front left, is directing and producing an adaptation of Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp's short story, I Count Myself Among Them. A reading of the radio play will be presented at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, at Northern United Place. Her cast of actors includes Jeff Legacy of Ontario, left, her boyfriend Chris Cound of Vancouver, and Russell Bull of Edmonton. Songwriter Leela Gilday (not pictured) is also acting in the radio drama. - Daron Letts/NNSL photo

Director Reneltta Arluk, sound designer Travis Mercredi, composer Brendan Callas, and songwriter-turned actor Leela Gilday are among a team of more than a dozen artists who will bring a short story by award-winning Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp to life on stage this week. The performance will be recorded as part of an emerging radio play.

The artists will present a live audio version of Van Camp's short story, I Count Myself Among Them, at Northern United Place beginning at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4. Tickets are available at the door by pay-what-you-can donation.

Van Camp's story tells a tale of one Dogrib man's journey from his criminal connections to drug dealing gangs in B.C. toward his own spiritual awakening.

Arluk made a few minor adaptations to Van Camp's printed text to create the script for the hour-long drama.

"It's about a man on a transformative journey who meets others who introduce him to aspects of indigenous spirituality," said the professional actor, adding the narrative translates well into radio drama. "When you read it there are so many sound elements to it. The words paint a story and the sound element is built into it. It's a really well-written story."

Arluk, who completed a tour through Ontario and Nunavut acting in Night, a nationally-acclaimed play by Toronto's Human Cargo Theatre, is working off-stage on the radio play as producer and director. She got involved after Mercredi proposed the project to her more than a year ago.

"Right away I said I'm definitely interested," she said.

Arluk collaborated with Mercredi on her one-woman play, Tumit, which debuted in Yellowknife last winter. Arluk is bringing her play next year to Edmonton in January. Mercredi designed the soundscape for the production.

Mercredi works professionally under his Yellowknife production company, Outland Sound Design. He has contributed sound design for numerous recording artists, videographers and theatre projects in the past year.

Mercredi contacted Van Camp in 2009 to ask him to contribute content to create a Northern-themed audio drama. He describes this version of Van Camp's story as a combination of an audio book and radio play.

"I told him I wanted to do radio-style drama contemporary stuff that people will relate to," Mercredi said. "It really tries to maintain Richard's narrative and Richard's storytelling voice," Mercredi said.

Mercredi regards audio projects as a versatile medium through which to share modern voices of Northern life for a wider audience over radio broadcasts and through online podcasts.

Mercredi asked Callas to create an improvised score for the play.

"I see a future for this medium, so I'd like to be able to adapt more of Northern stories," Mercredi said. "We need more Northern storytelling and I think we need more contemporary Northern storytelling. This is the most satisfying thing that I could be doing right now. Being home and able to do creative work is what I want to be doing."

Arluk cast Yellowknife voices in many of the roles, including CKLB broadcaster William Greenland, Lucy Ann Yakeleya, and elementary school students Maslyn Scott K'a Nakehk'o, and Lucia Nakehk'o. Their parts are pre-recorded for tomorrow's performance.

Live actors will include Gilday alongside visiting professional actors Jeff Legacy of Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario, Russell Bull of Edmonton, and Chris Cound of Vancouver. Cound appeared in Yellowknife playwright Kevin Kennedy's original play, Just Think, earlier this year.

Legacy attended Toronto's Centre for Indigenous Theatre alongside Arluk in 1999.

"I read the script for I Count Myself Among Them and I thought it was very interesting," Bull said. "The journey of the main character is very deep. I also took the part because I really wanted to work with Reneltta."

Following the live performance tomorrow, the artists will convene in a rented CBC sound studio to complete the radio version of the play. Their work is supported by a grant from the NWT Arts Council.

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