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Troupe dodges two close calls to deliver memorable production of A Charlie Brown Christmas

A return of some old friends and a little luck combined to help bring an animated holiday classic to life during the John Arnalukjuak High School (JAHS) Drama Club production of A Charlie Brown Christmas at JAHS in Arviat this past week.

Lucy (Lydia Kaviok) tries to help Charlie Brown (Noah Muckpah) figure out why he's so depressed during the Arviat Drama Club production of A Charlie Brown Christmas at John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat on Dec. 12, 2018. Photo courtesy Gord Billard
Lucy (Lydia Kaviok) tries to help Charlie Brown (Noah Muckpah) figure out why he's so depressed during the Arviat Drama Club production of A Charlie Brown Christmas at John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat on Dec. 12, 2018.
Photo courtesy Gord Billard

The Dec. 11 and 12 shows marked the first time Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang appeared on an Arviat stage since 2006, and the show proved itself to only be rivalled by The Grinch in terms of popularity in the community.

The club performed four shows – one for students from the elementary and middle schools, one for JAHS students, and two public performances.

The crowds at all four shows were among the largest in recent years.

JAHS drama teacher and play director Gord Billard is in his 17th year in Arviat, and he said while The Grinch still remains the most popular play of his tenure over the years, A Charlie Brown Christmas brought in close to 200 for each public performance on top of strong audiences for the two school shows.

He said the cast was quite strong with a number of JAHS graduates returning to take roles in this year’s holiday fare.

“Noah Muckpah took the lead role again, playing the main character of Charlie Brown, and he’s been doing really well in lead roles during the past couple of plays,” said Billard.

“Lydia Kaviok was one of two actors to play Lucy. She’s the younger sister of Ruth and Ramon Kaviok – who were in almost all of my plays – and she’s coming up through the system and proving to be quite an actor, as well.

“It certainly runs in the family. I told her parents before the show – who were here to watch their third child in a major role with one of our productions – that they’d really be impressed with Lydia tonight because she played a strong, strong Lucy.”

“The other Lucy, Grade 9 student Chasity St. John, is the daughter of our school secretary, Natasha, and she’s very strong, as well, especially with remembering her lines, following direction and emoting.”

The club had flutist Sam Tagalik, who moved to Iqaluit after he graduated high school in Arviat, available to help with this year’s production.

Tagalik played the lead role of Charlie Brown in the club’s original production at JAHS in 2006.

Billard said Tagalik was quite excited to take part in this year’s production and came out to every single rehearsal.

He said Tagalik was so dedicated to the show, he ended up appointing him assistant director.

“Sam ended up being my right-hand man and it was just so cool that he was our first Charlie Brown some 12 years ago,” laughed Billard.

“He played two numbers on the flute for us, including the opening number, Christmas Time is Here, for a special introduction we came up with that really worked out well.

“Also of special note was that we had a Grade 2 student (Jamie Muckpah) play the role of Snoopy.

“Jamie had done a bit of minor work in some of our previous plays. He came to rehearsals all the time, really wanted the role of Snoopy, and did a marvelous job.”

Making Jamie’s performance even more noteworthy was the fact he came down with strep throat just a few days before the first show.

Billard said the news came as quite a shock from his mom, Tiffany, as there was no understudy for the role.

He said either Jamie was able to go on, or it was going to be a bizarre version of Charlie Brown with no Snoopy.

“I don’t know how we would have done the play without Snoopy, but Jamie soldiered through it and was a real trouper.

“He brought his Halls to help soothe his throat, stuck to his little rituals backstage and did a marvelous job pulling it off.”

An ailing Snoopy wasn’t the only brush with disaster awaiting Billard and his cast.

Right before the Dec. 11 show for the younger students, lighting technician Patrick Taleriktok called Billard to inform him that absolutely nothing was working with the 12-channel lighting system.

Billard said he shut everything down and followed his usual procedure of checking the main board step-by-step and, sure enough, the lights were dead.

“Patrick told me he got a shock from the board before he started that evening, and that happened once before several years ago, when the board shorted out and went berserk, and we had to send it
out for repairs.

“When I turned the board back on, none of its sliders were working and all the lights were on that weren’t supposed to be, so it looked pretty bleak.

“Down in the bottom right-hand corner is one button for channel 12 that you can press to make that light come on at any time – there’s a similar button for every channel – but, when we pressed that button this time, it turned out to be the only one working and it turned on all 12 lights.

“That’s how we had to run the show – Patrick sitting down pressing the same button over-and-over again for 45 minutes – so Snoopy and the lighting system are two things that certainly make the show stand out for me.”