Learn theatre and get paid for it?

OHSWEKEN/BRANTFORD – Learn theatre and get paid for it? Now that’s interesting and is what the Brantford Theatre Workshop is offering and are reaching out to Six Nations for talent.

There is a shortage of indigenous actors, writers, and technicians and far too few opportunities for Aboriginal artists to practise and improve their trade. But if that is so, what can one do about it? That seems to be what is driving the project.

A successful applicant is someone who has to have a lot more than blood alone to become a top ranked actor or theatric technician. He or she does not necessarily have to have any experience. Just a love for acting and the theatre is required.

“We need to hire — that’s right — hire, 12 students,” said playwright, director and actor, Peter Muir. “The whole concept of the entire piece is that it be 50 per cent indigenous and 50 per cent non-indigenous participation.”

That was one of the stipulations brought forth by Naomi Johnson, Artistic Director at Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC).

“When I first sat down with Peter I was adamant that every part of the production it would be a true 50/50 collaboration,” she says.

He agreed wholeheartedly.

Peter Muir, of Brant Theatre Workshops has been in the local Brantford Theatre for several years in Brantford, and with the help of Woodland Cultural Museum and Chiefswood Historic Site is looking for young indigenous actors.

Muir talked to TRT last week about how the project began.

“I was at a meeting with Heather George and Amos Key Jr. representing WCC and Chiefswood, were in attendance,” recalls Muir. “Heather had seen the work Brant Theatre Workshop has been doing at the Bell Homestead over the past 10 years of the Bell Summer Theatre Festival. She suggested they do something at Chiefswood. Then Amos spoke up and said, ‘don’t forget about us’.”

Out of that, planning meetings were arranged where the concept of exploring the friendship between Chief George Johnson, father of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson, and Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was conceived.

With the Johnson’s mansion located on what is today Highway 54, and the Bell Homestead a number of miles away on Tutela Heights, by 1800s standards, they were neighbours. In fact, Chief Johnson helped Bell string wire to conduct early telephone experiments. The two families would often visit one another even though their world-views and cultures were much different.

Muir researched for available funding for such a joint project and found enough to launch the project from idea to actual planning, casting, recruiting backstage people, and even writers, since the story would be developed and written especially for this project with mutual input.

Once the project is written, casted, rehearsed and ready, the play, Summer Breeze will be performed at the Bell Homestead, Chiefswood National Historical Site, and another at Woodland Cultural Centre. Rehearsals will be at Woodland.

“The production is important, and we will do the production,” says Muir. “But it’s the process that is really interesting to me. We’re going to have cultural workshops for everyone involved. We’ll be bringing in people to not only teach about theatre, but bring a cultural understanding as well. It could be someone interested in dance, music, scriptwriting, production, set building or anything related to producing performing and promoting the local theatre.”

There is a tourism aspect of the play as well as an opportunity to offer a glimpse into how these two neighbours from two different worlds developed and maintained a close friendship, according to Muir.

Part of the dialogue will address the different perspectives on similar situations shared by the Johnsons and the Bells.

Ironically, Six Nations’ actor, writer, singer, musician and entrepreneur, Gary Farmer happens to be in the Six Nations community, promoting a very similar concept on reservation.

When Muir heard about it, he immediately went to the Red Door Studio on Fourth Line Road where Farmer was conducting his own workshop. During a brief break, the two artists spoke about how they might help each other accomplish their goals.

Farmer seemed excited about working together with Muir. The two met several years ago somewhere in theatre circles.  Muir says he was trying to get a hold of Farmer to see if he could be of any help for the project when he found out Farmer was back at Six Nations from his home in New Mexico.

Muir explains that the style of the presentation is called a “promenade style” where the audience travels with the actors around various settings to tell the story.

According to Muir, the play will stay away from divisive political issues and will focus more on the Johnson/Bell friendship in a lighthearted and historically centred piece.

It is hoped by both Muir and Farmer that perhaps the process and the play itself may stand as an example of how mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship when it’s between two people or two peoples.

Muir admits his contacts come more from the non-indigenous side, but hopes to develop relationships with indigenous thespians and actors for future projects as well.

For his part, Farmer is checking his appointment book to see if he could be up this way when the real hard work of getting the play polished and ready takes place.

“If I can, and it looks like I might be able to, come up after a theatre job I am doing in New York,” he told Muir.

If interested in any role or part you may be interested in providing for Summer Breeze, there are 12 paid positions that need to be filled. To apply, call Peter Muir at 1-226-938-1930, or email request for more information to btheatre@rogers.com.

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