Indigenous artists across the country have sparked many different pathways of healing through the arts, coinciding with and in response to the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), who released their final report on December 15, 2015. One of these works comes from Toronto’s new Indigenous Theatre company, Article 11.
Founded by Ntlaka’pamux/Irish Canadian playwright and director Tara Beagan and Omushkego Cree/Mixed European designer Andy Moro in 2013, Article 11 is a not-for-profit theatre organization that produces and supports Indigenous activist arts.
Their latest production, Reckoning, was written by Beagan in response to the Common Experience Payment (CEP), after receiving a new laptop her mother had given her from her own CEP.
“We had to convince her that she was deserving of amendments. I think like a lot of people, she has some degree of survivor guilt,” explains Beagan in regards to her mother accepting the CEP. “I have always admired what a loving and strong person she is, and she’s been working for wages since she was 12, so I definitely felt she should receive what little she could from the entities that inflicted the system on our children, families, homes.”
What resulted was a play that addresses the personal impacts of the Truth and Reconciliation process for a diverse cast of characters, told in three strongly crafted 20-minute pieces.
“Each piece feels different, yet they all happen on one floating platform – each piece physically feels isolated. The lighting is in dialogue with the actors. We also have Melody McKiver scoring the dance theatre piece so their viola will be helping the unspeakable words come forth from the performer,” says Beagan.
“One piece is the daughter of parents who are a survivor and a former staff member of the IRS. This is loosely based on my life, but the similarities end there,” says Beagan. “In this work, the woman is an adult daughter of a man who is accused by a survivor and his life is ruined by it. She seeks vengeance.”
A second piece is about an IRS survivor who makes the decision that after receiving his TRC money, he will commit an outrageous act of protest, made to go viral. This piece was inspired partly by the deaths that came about after having gone the process of receiving CEP distributions.
“In my home community in B.C. lots of people opened up to apply for the CEP and then the lack of care afterwards by the process meant they had open wounds for the first time since childhood. They had pushed it down so hard until then. Many of them passed away from dealing with that trauma afterwards – self-medicating or acting out in other ways. When people are so injured and have no help, they flail. I sometimes wonder if the CEP was actually put in place as a way of further exterminating us.”
The third piece shares the journey of a non-native hearings officer for the TRC, who reaches a breaking point after bearing witness to the traumas and abuse the survivors experienced. As a new Canadian, the realization of Canada’s dark past conflicts with his whitewashed understanding of Canadian history, causing him to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This piece has dance elements incorporated, distances it from the conventional theatre form.
Inspired by a Chinese friend of Beagan’s, who upon working on a Cree opera, learned more about the Onkwehonwe people of Canada and became continually devastated and shocked by her new understanding of the country’s real history.
“A lot of TRC workers suffered, and it took a long time for the system to provide appropriate response to that. New victims to the IRS,” says Beagan. “All of the pieces are huge emotionally. We are working with playwright/care worker Jeff D’hondt to ensure there will be access to support for audience members who are thrown off balance during and/or after our shows.”
Reckoning features the performing talents of PJ Prudat (Cree/Saulteaux Métis and French/Scandinavian from Saskatchewan), Jonathan Fisher (Pottawattami, Mukwa Dodem from Wikwemikong), Brandon Oakes (Mohawk from Akwesasne) and John Ng (Ottawa via Hong Kong) with a musical accompaniment by Anishinaabe violist Melody McKiver.
The show will make its debut on April 13 and run until April 24, 2016 at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. Tickets will be made available through the Theatre Centre at www.theatrecentre.org.
Visit www.article11.ca for more details.