Gwaandak Theatre is putting on a reading series this summer in Whitehorse, featuring three plays written by First Nations playwrights, borrowing the skills of some local First Nation actors—some who are brand new to the theatre stage. I’m excited to see these plays put on as readings. They’ll really showcase what aboriginal playwrights are doing in Canada.
The first of the readings (June 23) is Sixty Below, Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather’s play, produced down South. It had an extensive run up in the Yukon as they both took the play to the communities in 1999. It has a Yukon setting and was hugely popular when it toured. And now gets a special reading this Wednesday night.
“Sixty Below is the story of Henry, fresh out of jail and ready to straighten out his life. Of course it’s not that easy: his old buddies just want to party, his girlfriend’s moving ahead of him, and then there’s the ghost of Johnnie, everyone’s hero, who just won’t leave the northern lights. And to top it all off – the longest night is just around the corner. Cast features Kevin Barr, Boyd Benjamin, Jared Lutchman, Rae Mombourquette, Sean Smith, and Ciara Stick. Reading is directed by Mary Sloan,” says Sarah Moore, Gwaandak Theatre’s publicist.
The second (July 7) is a play from Kenneth T. Williams called Bannock Republic, using characters from his earlier play, Thunderstick.
Bannock Republic tells the story of Jacob, a videojournalist for APTN, Isaac, a new chief—both friends in the earlier play– and introduces Destiny, a woman and third party representative, who comes to financially take over the reserve drowning in debt.
The third play (July 14) is Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters featuring “seven of the greatest roles ever written for women,” Flather says. Highway’s work, probably the best known of the four playwrights, was produced in Toronto, earned several Dora awards for theatre, and featured a hilarious knock-down drag-out fight between all seven women.
Gwaandak Theatre believes all of the plays capture the strength, resiliency and humor of aboriginal culture despite adversity, the affects of colonization and discrimination. “And these plays, they don’t hold anything back,” Flather says. “They celebrate the human spirit.”
Linklater and Flather formed Gwaandak Theatre back in 1999 to remount Sixty Below for a millennial production. They felt like there was a need for a company that would focus on underrepresented groups—specifically First Nation groups—and give them a professional theatre company to tell, and produce, their stories.
Williams believes that what Gwaandak Theatre does is extremely important for every community.
“There are only a few professional Aboriginal theatres in Canada,” he says. “Yet, there are many exciting young Aboriginal playwrights in Canada like Tara Beagan, Waawaate Anishnaabe Fobister and Kevin Loring who are shaking things up in the theatre world. Mainstream theatres are paying attention to us, and that’s great, but it would be unfair and unrealistic to ask them to program an entire season to just Aboriginal writers. It’s about showing the diversity of writing within the Aboriginal community, it’s about sharing stories and learning from one another. The other benefit is to inspire young Aboriginal people to be theatre artists. Theatre is a great profession. And we need more Aboriginal theatre artists.”
The plays are for everyone—both First Nation and non-First Nation. They do contain mature content so parental discretion is advised. Come to the Old Firehall downtown at 7:00 (doors open) for a 7:30 start:
June 23: Sixty Below
July 7: Bannock Republic
July 14: The Rez Sisters
(part of this post comes from an article written for What’s Up Yukon, slated for Wednesday June 30–”pre”-printed here with permission)