Out of Gas
Territories: "Performing Out of Gas" is a series of
letters which make the situation in Yellowknife increasingly clear.
In the first, the writer, Charles Lenoir, a director of the Playing
in the Snow, Yellowknife's theatre, apologizes for not being
able to send more documentation to an Ottawa director who is interested
in performing Neyelle Teya's political play, Out of Gas.
The southern director is unaware of the constraints that people
in the north endured, and Lenoir tries to subtly apprise him of
Waymart's takeover of the northern communities. In the second
letter, Lenoir is slightly more explicit about why the second
request for Teya's co-directorship is not possible. Finally, in
the third letter, Lenoir explains what is really going on in the
north and how his theatre is central to the resistance against
the corporate forces.
was recovered from the inside of a photocopier, and as such, was
never meant to be sent to the southern director. It is commonly
taken as a desperate appeal by an educated man in the north to
a future southern audience. In that, at least, we fulfil the letter's
original mandate. The letter is the centrepiece of Playing
in the Snow's rebellion collection. We reprint it here with
the permission of the fine anthology, Writing the Darkening
I want to
thank you for your interest in Yellowknife's Playing in the Snow
theatre company and in particular Neyelle Teya's play, Out
of Gas, that is famous, at least locally. I am sure that Teya
would have no objection, and would indeed be happy to see her
play performed in the southern circuits. At one time she dreamed
that her work might invite the audiences of Ottawa and Toronto,
Montreal and Edmonton to share her insight into both life in the
north and the import of a southern trip in her conjectured world.
I am sorry
that Teya herself cannot be part of the company that would make
her dream possible, for she is not available at this moment, but
I am attaching a copy of the script, and a cd of the audio play,
as it was heard on the local radio network of the Northwest Territories
out of Yellowknife.
To give you
merely a brief précis, the play concerns a conjectured time in
the near future when fossil fuels have run short. Rings a bit
too true now doesn't it, in these days of tightening our collective
oil belt? In Teya's play, an unusual family unit, made up of Tehmi,
his ex girlfriend and sometimes lover, an orphan boy they pick
up along the way and the Tehmi's elderly dog. This family travels
into the south ostensibly with the idea of recognizance for foodstuffs,
but with a secret desire to leave the harsh life of the northern
towns in the desperate days of the post peak oil period. Various
misadventures befall them along the way, but their true challenge
comes as they arrive on the coast, when they enter Vancouver.
city, in Teya's imagined future, has become a urban wasteland
of warring gangs, looters scrambling for scarce resources, and
marauders intent on mischief. To this naïve family from the north,
the city shakes their faith in humanity that has kept them going
thus far, although they never lose track of their vision. I should
warn you though, that misadventures is a very subtle word to describe
the woman's near rape, the boy's fall from a crumbling skyscraper,
and the death of the dog. The play ends with the family, more
cohesive than ever, travelling into the British Columbia interior,
where, it is subtly suggested, they find like-minded people and
put together a tenable community.
The play was
a big hit here in the north, perhaps because of its gritty city
reality and the closeness of its impromptu family. It was picked
up by the schools of the area, and toured all the way from Rankin
Inlet to Igloolik in Nunavut and Coppermine to Whitehorse in the
Yukon. Although it was grudgingly reviewed by the media, it played
high schools to standing ovations, perhaps the first time such
displays of appreciation have ever graced some of these schools.
Local papers were ecstatic, but the corporate organs were more
than lukewarm. That is perhaps not unexpected.
I wish you
the best of luck in your effort to bring a Dené vision to the
south and I look forward to hearing about the play's inevitable
Director of the Playing in the Snow, Yellowknife's theatre.
I must thank
you again for your continued enthusiasm about Teya's Out of
Gas. I am delighted that after you have perused the script
you are still interested in the vision that it offers. I agree
that it is a story oft told in some ways, for even Disney before
the social deterioration of peak oil presented watered down tales
is different in kind, however. As your letter perceptively implies,
she has foreseen a future that is both stark and familiar. Many
of the events her script alludes to have come to pass, such as
military check points and gas rationing, while others, like the
crumbling of certain social mores, if our news is any indication,
might be in our offing.
commiserate with your wishes, and agree with your need, I regret
to dash your hopes of having Teya's personal input on your production.
As I stated in my letter of last month, she is unavailable and
is likely to remain so. I am sorry as well that I can't provide
a video representation of the many high school productions. We
have never had access to such video equipment, and it is only
through my own purchases in easier times that audio equipment
was possible. We always ran on a shoestring here in the north,
and that affected the performing arts more than other fields.
I beg you
to keep me informed as to the sure success of the performances
and I look forward to reading some of the reviews, should you
be able to send them to me. Here in Yellowknife some media is
difficult to obtain.
Director of the Playing in the Snow, Yellowknife's theatre.
have never received another letter from you, and such communication
is now impossible, I feel the urge to write a final time in support
of your efforts. As well, I'd like to explain what might seem
like reluctance on my part to more fully support your production.
As you no
doubt have heard, by rumour if in no other way, the north has
undergone rapid and fundamentally damaging changes. I have only
alluded to those social upheavals in the most general way in my
letters, although that was not my decision, but I am more prepared
now to make a clean breast of it. The Theatre has not been in
operation for some time, and has in fact been facing its own struggle
You have heard,
likely, that Waymart has installed itself on many of the northern
reserves, offering employment and services at fixed and disadvantageous
terms. That is also true in Yellowknife, despite its status as
capital of the Northwest Territories. Our much beloved playwright,
Neyelle Teya, about whose play we have already conversed, led
the first of many actions against Waymart in a brave effort to
ensure northern self-sufficiency. Although she at first seemed
to be successful, and Waymart even pulled out of several local
reserves, we found later that their show of weakness was farce.
For a theatre director and a playwright to miss a farce is pathetic
I know, but forced reluctantly into the roles of champions of
the people, our more discerning academic skills are blunted.
Teya cannot assist you in your production because she has been
killed by Waymart security, and even now, if I were to venture
a look out the western window, I could see her body hanging from
her wrists over the main street. She was particularly vilified
by the Waymart personnel for her direct actions, but also for
the play which contained, as you are aware upon reading the script,
many allusions to Waymart's brutal suppression of local governance.
in the Snow Theatre itself has not been in operation for two years
now, although I was informed by the local resistance that I should
perpetuate the artifice of its continuing operation. That said,
I did not lie to you about the success of Teya's play, nor about
our role in bringing her vision to the northern stage. But the
theatre itself, has, however reluctantly, has become a "Way Station,"
as we cheekily call it, in a kind of northern underground railroad.
We assist those who wish to escape the Waymart compounds back
to their reserve, or in many cases into a south which promises
so many other options.
In that way,
at least, we are bringing Teya's play to life. We have funnelled
hundreds of families away from Waymart's oppressive living conditions
and totalitarian compounds, and set them on their way to what
we hope is a better life. We have had few reports to compare to
the play, however, so we merely have our hopes of success. The
acting, of which the Waymart driven media was so derisive when
their campaign to shut us down was successful, has stood us in
good stead. We have managed to appear a struggling theatre staying
open merely on the good will and donations of the local arts community,
while we have actually been a central conduit of escape.
The days of
crowing about our thespian abilities are past now. Waymart security
have finally realized what lay in their midst, and even now have
the building surrounded. Although I am more of a high school drama
teacher than a revolutionary, I will soon take up my final role.
I have chosen my costume. I am to be partially Richard the Third,
an acknowledgment of my drive but innate inability with guns,
and partially Tehmi, from Teya's play. Donning the rags of his
long trudge to the south, I will endeavour to be a hero in a tiny
drama that is happening now, I am sure, all over the world.
I pick these
trappings deliberately, I assure you, although I can tell you
our costume department is in slim supply. We have sent hundreds
of pilgrims out of our doors dressed as King Lear and the Fool,
and as Hamlet and Ophelia and a hundred others. But this last
time that we tread the boards, most of us must go, perhaps, as
I will hide
this letter in our photocopier, where it likely will never be
found until electricity returns to the north. Then, someday in
a more bright future, someone with a wish to copy an old script
will fire up the machine, and read what emerges, a palimpsest
of Teya's story and mine. A story of the last days of the Playing
in the Snow Theatre, and of a pocket revolution completely quashed
by forces beyond our power to stand against.
I do want
to thank you one final time, Mr. Taylor. You have made the last
few months of farce more affirming. For your letters, arriving
as they did from the sunny south of Teya's play, and inquiring
about her greatest work, even as her body swung in the wind outside
my office window, reminded me of art's higher purpose to which
I was initially drawn. Thank you for your interest in our northern
story, and I wish you luck as well, in your productions, and later,
when the oil crisis comes south, in your own performances.
I go now to
face my final act. Adieu.
Director of Playing in the Snow, Yellowknife's theatre