Finding home Where the River Meets the Sea

It’s a story about a mother and daughter’s journey. They leave their community and try to escape who they are, but before they can…

It’s a story about a mother and daughter’s journey.

They leave their community and try to escape who they are, but before they can continue on with their lives, they must make amends with what happened.

“That’s a synopsis of a synopsis of the play,” says Edmonton-based actor Reneltta Bourque, who is in Whitehorse this month to co-star in local playwright Patti Flather’s latest play, Where the River Meets the Sea, which premieres at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight.

“It’s a healing story,” Bourque adds. “And it’s about family and how family drives you crazy.”

After a string of seven straight days of rehearsal, Bourque and Kerriann Cardinal, who is playing Jade’s mother, Lu-Anne, took a breather to chat about the play and sip tea in a downtown coffee shop.

Both actors found it easy to step into the skin of their characters.

“The character of Jade and her life is a lot like my life, which I find really disturbing,” Bourque says with a laugh.

Both she and her character, Jade, are daughters of teenage mothers; they both travelled through Alberta before finding home again and, like Jade, Bourque has a half-sister she doesn’t know.

“It’s actually quite cathartic,” she says. “Patti’s a wonderful writer. She really does write the heart of these characters and you can connect to them, you love them for different reasons.

“You can read the soul of them without having to force it.”

The story is universal, says Bourque. It’s about finding a connection to home, and the land, and wanting to go back.

“I love going home; I don’t feel complete until I am home,” she adds.

“I think aboriginal people really have that strong connection to the land, they knew the land,” says Cardinal.

“For me, it means that I can’t forget where I come from — my history and my culture — it’s always going to be with me.

The  Vancouver-based Cardinal is of Metis descent. She grew up with her grandmother in Fort McMurray, Alberta, but left home to train in major cities like Montreal and Seattle.

She was working toward a degree in Human Kinetics when she realized she wanted to be on stage and enrolled in theatre school.

After the first class, she was hooked.

The path to the stage held many twists and turns for Bourque.

Acting as a career isn’t promoted in the North, says Bourque, who grew up in Yellowknife.

She didn’t realize she wanted to be an actor until she connected the art to traditional storytelling.

“When I was (in theatre school) I found everything that I connected to as a child and everything that made me feel like me — the connection of stories, the connection of dance. It’s storytelling.”

After a year of training at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto, where she now teaches at its Yellowknife summer school program, Bourque decided she needed to dig deeper.

She enrolled in the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program in acting and was the first person from the Northwest Territories, as well as the first Inuit, to graduate.

Bourque was also in Whitehorse in last fall starring in The Longest Night Society’s production of Daniel Janke’s Time Pieces, which played for two nights at the Yukon Arts Centre in October 2005.

After Where the River Meets the Sea wraps, Bourque, with Gwaandak Theatre Adventures, Nakai Theatre and SYANA Performing Arts, will host a week-long workshop where First Nations youth will learn techniques of acting and storytelling through voice, movement and improvisation.

They will explore how culture influences their creativity.

The workshops are important to help youth make the same connection to theatre through storytelling, says Bourque.

And, once back in Vancouver, Cardinal will continue work on a solo piece about her relationship with her grandmother. It’s to be called, A Mile in My Moccasins. She hopes to finish the show and tour it.

“It’s wonderful to re-tell stories, but it’s also important to make your own,” adds Bourque. “People ask: ‘Is aboriginal culture going to last?’ Well, aboriginal culture is going to last as long as aboriginal people continue telling their own stories.”

Flather began writing Where the River Meets the Sea five years ago, inspired by watching alienated teens on the banks of the Yukon River.

After dozens of scripts and revisions, the drama took top honours for full-length play in the 17th Annual National Playwriting Competition in November.

Flather, one of few Yukoners to take home the national honours, is no stranger to success on stage.

In addition to journalism, fiction and poetry, her CV includes writing credits on Sixty Below, and a one-woman play titled West Edmonton Mall, which recently toured to the Hysteria Theatre Festival in Toronto.

Where the River Meets the Sea is a drama, but it’s not overwhelmingly heavy, Flather recently told The News. “There’s a lot of humour in it. It’s a moving story with some surprises in it.”

It’s about a Lu-Anne, a single mother from the urban rez, who returns to the West Coast to forget the troubles in her past and find new life and new love.

While, Jade, her teenaged daughter, is trying to make sense of it all by facing family secrets and a mysterious stranger she meets on a marshy shore.

Rounding out the production’s cast of four with Bourque and Cardinal are Steven Sparks, who plays Dayne MacFarlane, and Jamie Lee Shebelski as Katrina Mason.

Nakai Theatre’s artistic director Michael Clark stepped in to the role of director after Vinetta Strombergs had to step down.

“It’s honestly an all-star cast and crew,” says Bourque.

Where the River Meets the Sea is a co-production between Gwaandak Theatre Adventures, a company founded by Flather and her partner Leonard Linklater, and Nakai Theatre.

The play opens on the Yukon Arts Centre stage at 8 p.m. tonight with additional shows on March 11, 15, 16, 17 and 18. Closing night will start at 5 p.m. with a women’s clothing swap and wine and cheese fundraiser. Tickets are $23 and available at Hougen’s ticket office and at the arts centre.

Although there are currently no plans to tour the play, theatre reps from BC are expected to show up for the performances.

Anything is possible, say the actors.