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How can a play teach Yellowknife kids about poverty?

“My first day in Canada here kind-of felt like that. Being from the Philippines, it was hard going here.”

Remiel Ortilano empathizes with Danny. Remiel knows what it feels like to have the environment around you change.

Remiel not only empathizes, Remiel is Danny.

He played the title character of Danny, King of the Basement in a performance of the play by Weledeh School’s grade seven and eight students this week. It was Remiel’s acting debut.

The play follows a single mother and her boy, Danny, as they try to cope with life without a steady income, a permanent place to live, or best friends to lean on.

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Danny comes up with an imaginary world to cope with the instability around him, and ends up making some allies in the process.

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Makayla McKay and Kiana Horesay took turns playing the mom, a character named Louise, who has to make the family’s meagre income last without giving in to small temptations.

“Louise is single, she doesn’t have a job and she’s moving all the time with a kid,” said McKay, who was also acting for the first time.

“It’s kind-of about doing well with what you’ve got.”

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Makayla McKay and Kiana Horesay
Makayla McKay (left) and Kiana Horesay both played Louise in the production.

Teacher Jenny Reid saw the play performed at a conference on poverty last fall, and decided to bring it back to Weledeh.

Colleague Marianne Maltby produced the show, alongside Erin Maxwell and assistant director Jessica Blake.

“I felt that our students at the school would really relate to the times when Danny goes, ‘I’m starving.’ We have kids in our school who are hungry,” Maltby told Moose FM.

“There are times where we have students who, if they were adults, wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

“There are children walking through our doors who are carrying pain you can’t imagine.”

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Maxwell added: “Danny shows our kids who may be in these situations, or even the kids who aren’t in these situations, what resilience looks like and how to find your way in a world that is not necessarily always on your side.

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“It’s really important for kids to see that you can be a good person and bring people together. It’s the kind of thing we see all the time, and it’s nice to get people to embody that.”

Danny, King of the Basement cast
The cast of Danny, King of the Basement.

Playing Danny hit home with Remiel. He says he’s gained an appreciation for anything that can help classmates who face the same challenges as Danny.

“There’s some poverty in my school, and I know that,” he said.

“But we have lunch programs to support that, and I think it’s really good that we have those programs to support children without any food.”

Kyla Villanueva and Alexis McLeod played Penelope in this week’s production, while Muriel Laureijs played Penelope’s mom and Jefferson Garro played Angelo. Liam Dowd and Billy Refugia also starred, with Kris Colin the lighting and sound technician.

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