Powerful Mush Hole performance impacts audience

“Saturday afternoon we had a sold-out show and had to turn people away.”

BRANTFORD – The Mush Hole Work Shop Performance met visitors head on at the Woodland Cultural Centre over the past weekend with an accumulation of scenes created to show the truths and devastating impacts left upon the students and parents from the walls of the infamous Mush Hole — Mohawk Institute Residential School (MIRS).

The emotional performance left audiences in tears and in awe at the raw theatrical adaptation of experiences at the Mush Hole performed by Director Santee Smith as Mabel in collaboration with Onkwehon:we artists Semiah Smith as Grace, Julianne Blackbird as No. 11, Montana Summers as Walter and Brandon A. Oakes as Earnest.

The performance itself is being used as an acknowledgement to the lives and spirits of the MIRS survivors — as several survivors were in attendance — and as a teaching tool for audiences to feel and experience.

Director Santee Smith said that the concept came out of the University of Waterloo’s Mush Hole Project 2016 — the project was called Call to Action to the Truth and Reconciliation Report. However, it was requested to be expanded from the former 16-minute performance installation and has grown into The Mush Hole — Workshop Performance in partnership with the Woodland Cultural Centre, the Art Gallery of Guelph and the Banff Centre.

“Because of that original work and just having time to be there and do research and talk to people and finding that people were interested in hearing and seeing what we were working on; that kind of made us think about it like ‘well, this is kind of an important thing to keep pursuing,’” said Smith.

“And Woodland I think also got calls to find out when we would be doing something like that again, after just one time. So, now we said that we definitely need to expand and we need to make this a work for telling the stories from the Mohawk Institute specifically. So, it’s very specific to the experiences here, although nations came from all across Ontario, from the states and some further away.”

The artists presented the following scenes: Under Lock and Key, T’will be Glory, Brick Crosses, What’s Your Name, Roll Call, Serving Time, Labour Camp, I’m So Lonely I could Cry, The Boiler Room, I saw the Light, Solitary Confinement, Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and Find My Way. But by September, there will be more to add to the already impactful and powerful presentation.

“It’s turning into a production that we’ll be able to share with hopefully all different types of audiences and to youth up to Grade 8, and general public,” she said. “It’s making a statement about that legacy of the school, so informing, educating and respecting others while honouring the survivors and their experiences.”

The performance incorporated a projector which showed the setting through pictures and clips of video as the artists performed their scenes, which made the performance all the more encompassing. At the end of both performances, the audience was also given time to interact with the artists and offer feedback.

Behind the scenes of the presentation included the Production Design Manager and Videographer Shane Powless, Composer and Arrangement Adrian Dion Harjo, Video and Tech Director Ryan Webber and Cultural Advisors and Elders Geronimo Henry and Michael Doxtater.

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