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Paddle-in Theatre

Paddle-in Theatre

Where the skits are nostalgic and the bannock is fresh and buttered
By Katie Weaver
Jul 02
From the July 2015 Issue

Every Thursday night in the summer, I rush from my day job down to Yellowknife's Back Bay for a night on the stage. But it's not your usual stage. With NARWAL Adventures, the company behind the weekly Northern-themed dinner theatre, the audience paddles Voyageur canoes to docks and islands around Back Bay, where my coworkers and I perform skits, music and dances. Here's an evening behind the floating scenes--and why I'll never quit my night job. 

5:00 p.m. Arrive at NARWAL headquarters in owner Cathy Allooloo’s house.

5:05 Inside, Blue and Apple, NARWAL’s resident huskies, nuzzle their wet noses into the sides of my legs. 

5:10 I rehearse with my scene partner, Colton Fyfe, who studies musical theatre in Vancouver. We went to high school together, and acted in a couple musicals. We run lines to the wafting scent of stew and bannock from the kitchen around the corner. I’m covered in white and copper husky hair.

5:55 Through the living room window, I can see guests trying on lifejackets. I bounce up and down panicked, telling Colton I’ve already forgotten all my lines. He calmly plays the piano.

6:00 One of the performers, or Cathy herself, does the canoe safety briefing. The guests listen, swatting at mosquitoes.

6:10 Colton and I, dressed in Voyageur outfits complete with Smurf-likehats, help guests into the12-person Voyageur canoes and watch them paddle away for a short loop around Back Bay. 


6:25 We can always hear the Voyageur canoes returning because of the Clark sisters: petite twin 15-year-old girls comfortably perched in the bows, fiddling for guests as they paddle. When they reach the NARWAL dock, that’s our cue for the first skit of the night.

6:30 It’s windy, and the waves splash loudly against the dock. Colton and I yell our lines so the guests, although only a few feet away, can hear us. We play survivors of a Norseman plane crash between Yellowknife and Great Bear Lake in 1940, pointing out a Norseman coincidentally docked on the other side of the bay.

6:32 I actually do forget my lines when I recognize someone I know in the audience. “We… we freaked out!” comes out of my mouth. I quickly recover.

6:45 The Voyageur canoes fiddle off to their next destination on Latham Island. They might enjoy a skit performed by two other high school friends, about the codes  early prospectors used to surreptitiously communicate the magnitude of the gold fond at Giant Mine, or listen to throat singer Tanya Roach under the Latham Island bridge.

6:55 I’m soaked. Our canoe breaches with every wave, spraying my face, hair and outfit. Luckily for the guests, their canoes are larger and more stable.

7:15 Dinnertime. We’re at a sheltered area on Back Bay. It’s rocky and sloped, like a natural stadium with a stage at its base. There’s a large pot of elk stew (the elk was harvested by Cathy’s son, who’s dishing it out). There’s also a huge bin of bannock (of which I have six pieces) with butter, maple butter, and jam.

7:30 While we eat, local artists Jennifer Walden and Terry Pamplin paint a large canvas. Tonight, they conjure up floatplanes in a sunset, inspired by the plane that lands on the water before us.

7:45 The guests pass around a bidding sheet: a silent auction for who gets to take home the painting at the end of the night.

7:55 Colton and I bolt to our next spot. With a full piece of bannock in my mouth, we paddle across the bay in the sun, stopping at a dock on Latham Island. We wait for the telltale fiddling.

8:15 The Log Driver’s Waltz was broadcast between CBC TV programs long before I was born. We do the waltz to Cathy’s singing—alone at first, but soon enough the guests join in too. Colton lifts and spins me, and if I look overjoyed while I dance, it’s because I am. This is the best part of my evening. We finish off the night with a couple bows, and everybody heads back to NARWAL’s little corner of the lake.