Powerful playwrighting and storytelling ignited the space ‘Round Back at the Guild Hall on opening weekend of the Indigenous Summer Play Readings.
In honour of National Indigenous History Month, a multigenerational ensemble of theatre artists are touring staged readings of new scripts by Indigenous playwrights to various communities under the Yukon sun.
This territorial premiere of two Canadian plays is presented by the Gwaandak Theatre Society, the Guild Hall and Queer Yukon.
Gwaandak Theatre Society is Yukon’s only Indigenous professional theatre company. It is led by Colin Wolf, executive artistic director and citizen of the Métis Nation of Alberta.
Wolf wants the audience to take away a feeling of community after experiencing these two scripts.
“The artists are the grounding part of that community – the connector – but as long as the people take away something from what they’ve seen, they become a part of the community we’ve created,” he said.
The cast and crew began their tour with three outdoor performances from June 16 to 18 in Whitehorse. They also performed a live radio broadcast for CFYT 106.9 FM as part of the programming for National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. The team has more performances planned this month in Dawson City from June 21 to 23, Tombstone Territorial Park on June 24 and Teslin from June 26 to 27.
Wolf called the first show “a 16-minute snack” and the second “a 70-minute meal,” noting parallels of hope and healing in both.
“The Young Ones” by Yvette Nolan (the snack) was collectively adapted and created by Saskatchewan’s Sum Theatre Ensemble in 2019. It is about young people leading the way in the face of climate change, according to Wolf, who also directed the piece. It asks the question, “What is it like for our youth to inherit the world we’re currently in?”
“My Sister’s Rage” by Yolanda Bonnell (the meal) won the 2021 Playwrights Guild of Canada Drama Award, which was presented in a virtual ceremony by Gwaandak Theatre Society themselves. It was selected for this summer’s readings by one of Gwaandak’s directors in residency, Kelly Vittrekwa.
“It explores a [ma’iingan-wolf clan] family who reconnects, reconciles and rekindles their relationships and connections to each other as their matriarch is passing,” said Wolf.
Nuances of both trauma and joy pulsate through the text interweavingly as characters discover the power of laughter when it comes to healing from collective grief.
The cast of both shows includes emerging young actors Tyra Ashauntie of Selkirk First Nation and Isabelle James Walker of Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Ashauntie and James Walker both studied in the Music Arts and Drama program at Wood Street Centre in downtown Whitehorse.
James Walker heard about the opportunity from Wolf and knew right away she wanted to be a part of it.
“It sounded like a lot of fun, plus I missed performing,” she said. “I also really liked that we’d be travelling to all these different communities.”
James Walker is most looking forward to connecting even closer with her castmates while on tour and sharing the stories with more people. She said she loves both scripts for different reasons.
“I love how energetic the first script is to perform and how fun it is to watch. It’s also very educational and empowering for young audiences to start the conversation and make a change. And then I love how the second script incorporates so much laughter into such heavy content.”
Ashauntie learned about the readings from her old high school teacher in the MAD experiential learning program.
“Colin got in touch with her and then she got in touch with me. It had been two years since I’d done any theatre so I thought it would be a great opportunity to get back into it,” she said.
Ashauntie took part in Gwaandak’s devised theatre residency for a week and then was invited on board for the readings.
“I’d heard of Gwaandak Theatre before, so it’s so cool that I get to be a part of it.”
Although grateful, Ashauntie was nervous at first, especially for “My Sister’s Rage” since she’d never played such a serious role. She said she felt a lot of support from her castmates, which helped her trust herself and her skills to get inside the character.
Wolf says seeing these Yukon First Nations youth standing onstage, encouraging one another and telling important stories really inspires him to keep doing this kind of work.
“It takes people who care to fix things, so seeing these two caring deeply about this work and putting their whole hearts into it gives me a lot of hope,” Wolf said.
Ashauntie is hoping to inspire other artists and young people to have more confidence and get involved in theatre.
“I hope they can watch and be like, ‘Oh, maybe I can do that one day!’” she said.
James Walker hopes to spark a conversation after the plays about how important it is to try, laugh and take solace in those lighter moments with the ones you love.
“Make that connection to your family and your friends,” she said. “Understand that everybody is going through something and has their own struggles to deal with. Try not to take anything too seriously or be too tough on anybody.”
Wolf says his hope for theatre is always that people leave feeling different than how they did before they experienced the story.
“Whether it’s different with new things to reflect on, different with a new sense of hope or growth, I just hope that people leave changed,” he said.
The Indigenous Summer Play Readings continue their tour this week to Dawson City’s Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, the Tombstone Interpretive Centre and the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre.
Admission is free to all performances.
For more information and showtimes, visit www.gwaandaktheatre.ca
Contact Magan Carty at firstname.lastname@example.org