By Gary Farmer
It’s been a few months in between my time at Standing Rock and this evolving story.
So much has changed since the celebration on December 5. A full environmental study would have ceased the work for at least two years, financing would be in question and there would be a significant slowdown in the Dakota Access Pipe Line — while we investigate how putting a pipeline under the Missouri River would be a detriment to many citizens; not to mention fish and wildlife their voice is never heard. Of course the election results prompted a reversal of Obama’s stop work order and DAPL has resumed in full force by Trump’s Presidential Order.
I had to get back to work, which for me often means back on the road working wherever I can. I have enjoyed going back to my first love — the theatre. The reason I fell in love with the theatre was its immediacy with an audience. You work weeks to make the play worthy of an audience and when you get them in front of you the challenge is to rise up and tell the story. They say that only about five per cent of the population ever goes to a theatre performance. Toronto, being the third largest theatre producers in the world, only second to New York City and London, England, has up to one hundred events to enjoy nightly. That means there are a lot of skilled theatre workers, some of them from Six Nations — geographically right between the successful summertime Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake and the Stratford Festivals in Stratford, Ont.
In this case, I chose to go to a theatre company in Northern Ontario. I go to Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay, which has celebrated 50 years of producing plays in this pulp and paper town with a population of about 100,000.
I am acting in a play titled, Crees in the Caribbean — a new play by Drew Hayden Taylor, Anishnawbe born on Curve Lake Rez near Peterborough, Ont. It is a ‘dramedy’ in two acts. A drama and comedy combined is a dramedy. The play is about two elder Crees from Northern Saskatchewan who go on a trip to Mexico. The play is underwritten by our five children for a 35th wedding anniversary. There are questions raised by my character, Cecil, as to why we actually came to Mexico. I suspect in the first act that it’s a plot by my family to send me out with a bang. Meanwhile my wife Evie develops a relationship with our maid, Manuela a young vibrant Mexican girl who is part Indian herself. Evie realizes the maid is pregnant and begins helping her clean our luxury hotel room in consideration of Manuela’s pending pregnancy.
The play is about two hours and is a warm laugh-a-minute until it ends with Evie losing her life, not Cecil. We last see Cecil reminiscing about Evie’s life and how it paralleled Manuela’s story of a not wanted pregnant woman. The play weaves a funny, yet powerfully entertaining two acts together and moves audiences emotionally and more often than not they stood up applauding because we all appreciate a good story.
That’s all you get to do as an actor, tell it like it is. Of course a lot goes into telling it like it is. Relationship with other actors, relations with management, the director, the playwright, assistant stage manager, set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, publicity and marketing, front of house and/or box office manager — it’s all quite the feat. What other job is out there where you get applauded for your work every night, eight shows a week, throughout six days on a normal theatre run.
Acting on stage is like nothing else. It is like you are supposed to be relaxed and centred to do five things at once. Knowing the lines and what the lines mean. Since a lot of the lines are funny and are jokes, you, the actor, begin to anticipate when and if the audience will laugh too.
All of a sudden you are playing the audience because you and the other actors are in a fun groove after having run it dozens of times by now. But at any time the wrong line can come out and you end up five lines ahead of where you are supposed to be in the script and then the correct line actually repeats itself and you are all of sudden in the second act instead of the first act where you were 30 seconds ago.
You’ve got to love it and I do. I really do.
I’m off next to Victoria, B.C. next to act in a Pulitzer prize-winning play titled Our Town by Thornton Wilder, and then off to New York City to mount Indian Joe the musical for audiences this summer. Indian Joe is centred on a homeless Native American who has lived in Waco, Texas for 64 years. The producers, NY Film & Stage, have a big hit currently on Broadway called Hamilton so the possible break for us to break into Broadway audiences with a contemporary Indian story are real for 2017.
For years I have fleetingly attempted to have a performance theatre venue here on the Six Nations and New Credit territories. Back in the early ‘70s it was project Circle Theatre. Our communities exist in the most populated region of Canada — beside ourselves we have Hamilton and Brantford to draw on for audiences. I am convinced that having a theatre company dedicated to bringing new plays by native authors to develop their work with a company of players or actors would be a long term hit. A super hit! A place where talent would be developed and where we could tell the stories we believe are necessary to tell. I believe it has a lot of potential to be a successful business — the business of performance.
Imagine a place for dance companies like Santee Smith’s, Kahawi to have a home. When the theatre company is not producing new work it would be a place to rehearse and perform. Other acts or events could also rent the facility. Independent producers could produce events of interest to the community and specific music tastes. Like, A Tribe Called Red or Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. We could produce events like the many award shows that happen annually in other venues. Indspire or the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards. Then we’d be producing television in the community. Giving our young people a place to grow artistically in many different professions currently not even dreamed of. When Robbie Robertson comes home again we have a place for him. We have a history of performers in our community to numerous to mention.
Arts education should be developed in our community at an early age. It helps create a more inspired student if they have some creative options and gives them a voice. We could learn much from their participation in different art activities. It expands their knowledge base. Helps youth make positive interesting choices. Builds self-confidence. We have no chance of recovering from some of the issues we face like drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration, welfare dependency and more if we don’t present options at a young age.
I want to wrap up by saying Standing Rock was a precious experience for me on so many levels. I feel until the people of North America realize Aboriginals, Indians and Native Americans are equal to all other races of man; until all the people in the medicine wheel of life are acknowledged, society is destined to fail. The rights of all human beings are being assaulted at Standing Rock for all to witness. Water is indeed Life and always has been. But until living and witnessing the camps at Standing Rock I have never seen Native Peoples being respected, loved, and supported by so many races and countries from around the world. That was and is my verification; that Human Rights for all people are necessary to find and sustain peace.