The directors of NAC Indigenous Theatre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) sat down to discuss the relationships and ideas around Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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We started by asking what lead to the partnership between the NAC and GCTC.
Eric Coates: When the NAC launched the Indigenous Theatre Department, we anticipated that there may be a need for more performance space, so when Lori and Kevin called, we were ready to play.
Kevin Loring: Well basically, I thought that we’d get sued, so the GCTC would be a better venue for Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools [all laugh]. It’s a brilliant piece. It’s audacious. It sneaks up on you and then it jumps you.
Lori Marchand: The connection between the four of us is interwoven into the relationship between the two theatres. Hugh and I are sure that we have a photo of our fathers together. Kevin and I have pretty much had it confirmed that we share DNA. And Eric has recently reconnected with his Salish roots and of course the three of us are Salish in that grander scope. In a way it’s like the context for the work in the first place. It’s that coming together and weaving together of histories that create that interest and that fertile ground for this investigation: who are we as people? What does it mean to see someone else as Other than oneself and not look to find the humanity? It’s that humanity that links us all.
Hugh Neilson: I remember a call from your [Eric’s] office saying, “Hugh, I think you need to see this video. I’m thinking of programming it.” It was interesting watching the video and seeing some of our peers in the Toronto audience looking quite uncomfortable. That, for me, sealed it.
Eric: We’ve been focusing on how provocative it is, but is it provocative to Laakuluk’s community? No.
Kevin: It’s this journey of this Southerner Torontonian lefty artist going up to the North to have her Northern experience, and very much not getting what she expected. And encountering the realities of the North, and blowing up the mythologies that we have about the north. It’s the beating heart of the North and I found that stunning.
Lori: There is, for me, a real curiosity about the North. Even going through school learning of the history and geography of this land, the North was always mystical. Maybe mystical is the wrong word. It’s something that we find difficult to imagine.
Kevin: It is a global community up there. The Inuit are in Russia, they’re in Europe, they’re in Canada – these defined nations – but they as a people are circumpolar. It’s another world. You’re actually talking about an environment so different from ours that it’s another planet.
Hugh: My father was working for Indian and Northern Affairs in the 70s and he would travel north regularly. My experience of the people of the North was that he would come home with carvings. That was what I knew about it. I think that this piece gets me to recognise that it is incumbent on me to learn more about the cultures and the people in the North.
Kevin: The play is an unmasking, I think, of the myths of the North. What makes this work so incredibly powerful for me is how open it is, and how deep they go with that.
Lori: There’s also something about the fact that the three creators are women. The femininity of the piece is so powerful, and it’s that same celebration of the strength and beauty of Indigenous women that we’ve been celebrating all season.
Kevin: I think that when we are comfortable we are sure, and when we’re sure we’re usually really wrong. When you’re comfortable you don’t have to come into contact with anything. Everything is being reaffirmed. All of my reality is fine. But when you come into contact with something that makes you uncomfortable, now you’re stuck with a choice: do I fight it? Do I resist? Do I relax and allow it to happen? Do I run away? That’s what’s wonderful about theatre: if you’re in a theatre and you’re uncomfortable with what is happening, you actually have to get up to leave. You have to get up in front of 300 people and leave, which is an act in and of itself. There’s a place for comfortable theatre, but the wonderful thing about theatre is that it can change you. So being provoked into that uncomfortability is a vital part of it.
Hugh: When I experience discomfort, I have an opportunity to look at what it is that I’m trying to protect. Is it attacking some privilege that I have? Is it something I’ve held onto and am now questioning? And it’s a gift to be able to explore that and learn about myself.
Eric: Theatre kickstarts critical thinking when it works, and it’s usually from a place of discomfort. One of the great frustrations for those of us who program work is that the feedback is often from people who are terrified of engaging in that kind of thinking.
Lori: We talk about the transformative power of theatre. And if I think about transformation in and of itself, it’s uncomfortable. Shedding a skin; growing pains. But if we stay static there is also that withering, that loss of energy. There is something about staying still that is stagnant. Discomfort is the way of moving forward in the world.
Let it be the beginning of a conversation.
Let it be a meeting place and a reckoning.
Let it live radically in a feminine paradigm.
Let it be complex.
Let it be unresolved.
– Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Evalyn Parry, Erin Brubacher, Elysha Poirier, and Cris Derksen
(Iqaluit, April 2017)