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Indigenous Dramaturgies

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Lindsay Lachance, Guest Dramaturg for WrightSpace 2017 (the recently renamed Colony) , introduces a discussion of her experience and understanding of Indigenous dramaturgies.

 

My name is Lindsay Lachance, born an urban displaced mixed Canadian and Algonquin Anishnaabekwe. Currently, I’m completing my PhD on Indigenous Dramaturgies in Theatre and Film Studies at the University of British Columbia while simultaneously practicing as a dramaturg. In looking at dramaturgical events, examples of works at different points of development, and gatherings of Indigenous theatre artists and scholars that I have attended, my thesis provides a different lens through which to consider Indigenous dramaturgies, a lens that is rooted in, and emanates from, my own mind, body, heart and spirit as an urban Algonquin Anishinaabe dramaturge. I use my dissertation to share what I have found to be effective ways to think, talk about and do the work that I have been involved in.

I understand Indigenous dramaturgies to resist a fixed definition, and instead to exist as relational processes that shape-shift depending on who is involved, and the time and place of the work. For me, Indigenous dramaturgies are relational to the others in the project (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous), relational to the inherit politics of being an Indigenous person in this country, and relational to the spiritual and cultural knowledges that we carry within us as survivors of the ongoing structures of settler colonialism that continue to spill across Turtle Island.

I’m very thankful to have such strong artistic women as role models and leaders in the field, like Margo Kane (Cree-Saulteaux), Monique Mojica (Guna and Rappahannock), Jill Carter (Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi) and Yvette Nolan (Algonquin). There are, of course, many other voices who influence and help shape my work, but the majority of my learning, both experienced and read, has been predominantly due to the intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical labour of these four women.

Last year I worked as a dramaturge/director at Native Earth Performing Arts’ Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival 29. While there, I collaborated with Anishinaabe playwright Frances Koncan on her piece Zahgidiwin/Love and on Dene playwright Deneh Cho’ Thompson’s The Girl Who Was Raised by Wolverine (Winner of the Fringe New Play Prize 2016). Together we negotiated styles, embodied actions and aesthetics to create the process’ own protocol. This includes negotiations around the plays content, our own identities as Indigenous theatre artists, and how to embody and presence these realities on stage.

Deneh Cho’ Thompson’s The Girl Who Was Raised By Wolverine, is a play about identity politics and a young mixed Indigenous woman’s struggle to choose one cultural identity over the other. Thompson has created a fictional world that includes the play’s post-apocalyptic present, the past time where the characters revisit familial memories and experiences, and a spiritual time where the Wolverine trickster characters weave in and out of the play’s temporal and physical dimensions. The rehearsal process included three actors, the playwright and me. We were five Indigenous peoples, all from different places, with different cultural and community backgrounds. The actors Samantha Brown (Ojibwe), Garret C. Smith (Blackfoot) and Chelsea Rose Tucker (Cree-Métis) were curious to learn about the Wolverine as a trickster type figure in Dene storytelling. We began to share our understandings of and relationships with our cultural trickster characters, Nanabush, Nanabozho, Weesageechak and also of darker and more cannibalistic trickster types like the Wendigo and the Rugaru. We shared many conversations about the fictional world of the play and as a group we discussed and developed our understandings of the physical and tangible spaces of the play like the lab, the jails and other locations. But we also collectively discussed the intangible spaces like the presence of the Wolverine characters, the references to the spirit world and the web of relations mentioned in the text.

In the Daniels Spectrum building in downtown Tkarón:to, we were creating a place where our community and urban Indigenous knowledges, experiences and artistic training honoured an Indigenous focused rehearsal process. Our process was about understanding self through artistic practices, learning from others in the room and being accountable to new experiences and relationships. Gathering together from different cultural and geopolitical backgrounds and with different understandings of Indigeneity, we were working within a place of artistic sovereignty. This sovereign artistic place allows for the rehearsal process to focus on building theatrical communities to preserve and share stories and experiences.

If you’re interested in reading more on Indigenous dramaturgies check out Yvette Nolan’s book, Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture, Jill Carter’s article, “Chocolate Woman Visions an Organic Dramaturgy: Blocking-Notation for the Indigenous Soul”, and Monique Mojica’s article, “Stories From the Body: Blood Memory and Organic Texts”.