Thanks in no small part to Jully Black’s recent performance at an NBA all-star game, it has come to more general attention that “O Canada our home on native land” is another possible scan for the national anthem’s original wording of “our home and native land”. In recent weeks, in my role as creative consultant on a production of Richard II at Stratford directed by Jillian Keiley and adapted for the stage by Brad Fraser, I have had the pleasure of spending time in rehearsals. The other day, Tim Welham, a Shakespearean text coach, reminded us of two key things: Shakespeare’s English was 400 years younger than the language we use today, and that English, because of its construction, relies on metaphor to make meaning with its words.
Since the 1970s – and the time of the first Trudeau – Canada has felt the weight of the elephant south of the border, understanding that if the elephant rolled over, we – as Canadians – would be crushed. There are no elephants indigenous to North America… the metaphor was invoked, and I suspect, stuck because we were able to understand something that paragraphs of words about cultural imperialism would never be able to communicate. It’s like describing being a colony by saying we are under the thumb of England. It conveys so much more. Hence, I think, the power of Jully Black’s word change. It invokes heart-stopping metaphor while speaking to a literal truth. Powerful stuff. Artists, eh?
Speaking out, speaking up is something we say we value, but it is often the least welcomed guest at the party. Not because the words aren’t important but because they generally come with a cost. The brilliance of Thomas King’s book The Inconvenient Indian is a great case in point. What a great turn of phrase to signal what speaking up means. Because of my vintage, keeping quiet strikes me as an effective outcome of my Canadian upbringing: humility at all costs, and mediation instead of confrontation. We are but a wee population atop a massive land mass. And yet, I wonder, shouldn’t our stories reflect that particular kind of BIG? If we are not giants, we live on land that demands our imaginations are. BIG stories are helpful sometimes. This year seems to be one of those times.
I cast the spotlight on these four massive shows because each of them surpass the five-hour mark in the telling, are touring far and wide, and elicit a feeling of pride in me. I want to pay attention to this feeling. I think it is indicative of something profound, a wellspring, an awakening that is fuelling the scale of performance imaginations and ambition we are witnessing, an historic moment where there is a lot to say. I also call in The Breathing Hole, another of our giant shows that reaches across time and space and brings a language back from the brink of extinction in the doing. A literal and metaphoric state of things.
In a trailer for the astonishing Mahabharata, Ravi Jain says, “We are in epic times, and now more than ever it makes sense for people to come see one of the first epics ever told.”
In a recent conversation with David Abel, Managing Director of English Theatre at the NAC, we were exchanging excitement about work that we are witnessing on stages right across the land. David said, “It’s as if we collectively said 'What are we waiting for?’ and went for it.” Yes. Exactly. The National Creation Fund doesn’t only invest in big shows, but we do look for music, dance, theatre and the interdisciplinary performing arts shows who are strengthening every storytelling muscle to stretch across this massive land mass and reach us. And by us I mean all of the ‘us’ on this Indigenous and beautiful land called Canada.
And before I close, we are so excited to announce our latest investment – Universal Child Care from Quote Unquote Collective.