Guest post by Jane Heather and Darlene Auger
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Alberta’s Department of Drama, the Curious Arts blog is sharing 50 Reasons to Go See A Play throughout the 2015-16 season. This is reason nine in the series, a guest post by playwright and director Jane Heather (Department of Drama faculty member) and Darlene Auger of Old Earth Productions. Feature image supplied by Old Earth Productions. The post was originally written as a “Consider This Piece” for The Quad
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has issued its Calls to Action, A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew is, has been and continues to be part of the action called for. It also serves as an example of how our creative pursuits can have a profound impact within our classrooms and the broader community.
I began work with Old Earth Productions in 2007. The company wanted to respond to a call to arms issued by Yvonne Johnson to break the cycle of violence experienced by incarcerated Indigenous women and their daughters. Family stories, personal stories, community stories, interviews, and information from books, websites, and newspapers all come to the table. Gradually the play began to expand to include the inter-generational impact of many different institutions on Aboriginal women and their families.
Darlene Auger, Melanie Quinn, and Teneil Whiskeyjack perform A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew by Jane Heather and Old Earth Productions.
The company produced the play in 2010 and re-mounted it with a new cast in 2014. We had done the show in Edmonton and now we needed to tour to reserve communities. We needed, as Roxanne Blood OEP member said “to take the stories back to where they came from.” We toured to three rural reserve communities and did a partial staged reading of the play at the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton, March 2014.
In June we performed at the Timms Centre for the Arts at the University of Alberta. About 96% of our audience for these shows was Indigenous. As we had done with previous performances we invited audiences to ask questions or offer comments about the show. “We keep telling our own stories to each other,” said Darlene Auger. “We must tell the non-indigenous people, the ones who don’t know and need to know our stories.”
Darlene Auger and Gloria Okeynan peform A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew by Jane Heather and Old Earth Productions.
Out of this tour came many requests to re-mount and tour the show again, so we did.
A highlight of this 2015 round of performances was a show for 60 Education students here at the U of A. These students are some of the 500 who take a mandatory Aboriginal issues and context course as part of their training to be teachers. We were told by the coordinator of this course that there has been and is, significant resistance to it. Students don’t understand why they have to take it – some felt “it has nothing to do with me” and “I didn’t do anything.”
On performance day, we entered the room knowing that some of these students might resent and resist the performance, more interested in their phones than the fate and fight of Indigenous women. Nothing could prepare the cast for that, but they brought their best game to the room. They brought their truth, in their words and their bodies, their heart, their talent and investment, their culture, their story, their sorrow and their great joy and hope.
Darlene Auger and Gloria Okeynan perform A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew by Jane Heather and Old Earth Productions.
No phone came out. Every eye was velcroed to the stage and the performers. This play, like the TRC Calls to Action, seeks social change towards justice. In doing this work we always ask: Can theatre help make the change we want? The company asked for written feedback and this is some of what we received:
- This play altered my perspective drastically, in a good way. I will never forget it!!
- I thought it was just going to be something we were forced to watch for the class, but after the first 30 seconds, I knew that it was something I was so grateful to watch. It was amazing and I would definitely watch it again or a hundred times over. Thank you.
- All the themes that we have talked about in class that came up in the play are easier to understand after seeing them in a real life scenario.
- Seeing this play made me more understanding of how people may come in to these situations (jail, prostitute) Residential school largely set people up for failure.
- It was a moving story, very sad but it really struck me and forced me to think about how I see Aboriginal people.
- The play increased my understanding of Indian residential schools, more than that, it bought a strong image of how the school system affected them even after the schools were being closed.
- Thank you! Please continue to tell these important stories! We need to hear them!
This performance marks a change in direction for the show. First we took the stories back to the source and the stories were validated by the people. Now our task is to take the stories to where they need to be heard and acknowledged. As our university moves to find appropriate responses to the TRC Calls to Action, I hope to collaborate with other scholars, departments and faculties to extend the possible uses of theatre and storytelling in classrooms and curriculum. There is a great deal to be done for and with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to uncover a bit more truth and take another step towards reconciliation.
The original members of Old Earth Productions are: Darlene Auger, Roxanne Blood, Amanda McLeod, Paula Jean Purdat, Christopher Grignard and the late Claudia Payne.
Current cast and crew: Darlene Auger, Gloria Okeynan, Melanie Quinn, Teneil Whiskeyjack, Jane Heather (director/playwright) Barry Bilinsky (assistant director/stage manager) Lauren Steyn-Hyatt (asst. stage manager).
The 2015 cast of A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew: Gloria Okeynan, Darlene Auger, Barry Bilinsky, Teneil Whiskeyjack and Melanie Quinn.
Photos courtesy Old Earth Productions.
Presenter: Old Earth Productions
Event Title:A Musta Be: Maskihkiy Maskwa Iskwew by Jane Heather and Old Earth Productions.
Dates: Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Parkdale School (11648-85 Street, Edmonton)