Vol. 12 No. 4 | $ 8 |
Community Arts and (De)Colonization: Part two
Columpa BOBB | Sid BOBB | Liam COO | Penny COUCHIE | Sam EGAN Iehente FOOTE | Damara JACOBS-MORRIS | Ange LOF T | Lee MARACLE | Eliza KNOCKWOOD Bruce SINCLAIR | Annie SMITH | Savannah WALLING
8 alt.ernative Directions
By Nikki Shaffeeullah IM A G E B Y L i a m C o o , H e l ah C o o p e r , a n d Parker Dirks
10 Buried Histories
and Giant Puppets: Creating a Community Play in Kahnawake
Iehente Foote interviews multidisciplinary artist Ange Loft about sharing stories, uncovering history, and the inspiration for creating a community play with and about Kahnawake Mohawk Territory.
ph o t o e s s a y
25 #TofTCanada: A
Social Media Essay
Liam Coo breaks the social media images from Train of Thought out of the digital world in an exploration of the journey’s interconnecting storylines.
IM A G E s c u r a t e d b y liam coo
B OOK RE V IEW
Annie Smith reviews From the Heart of a City: CommunityEngaged Theatre and Music Productions from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, 2002–2013, edited by Savannah Walling and Terry Hunter, and designed by John Endo Greenaway.
IM A G ES B Y L i a m C o o
14 Unpacking Our
Understanding of “Conduct”
Savannah Walling weaves together the voices of artists from Aanmitaagzi, Vancouver Moving Theatre, and others as they sift through their experiences of “conduct” and “protocol” on the Train of Thought tour. IM A G ES B Y A A RON LEON A ND TOM Q UIRK
21 What Is a
“Community Arts Tour”?
Reflecting on Train of Thought, Sam Egan examines how the act of touring itself, including the relationships and communities it generated, became an artistic product designed and curated by the participants.
DIS P A T C H ES
28 The Art of Hosting in amikwaciwâskahikan and saskwaton
Bruce Sinclair on welcoming Train of Thought, and the interconnected histories of trains and colonialism in the prairies. IM A G ES B Y A A RON LEON
30 Connect Us All:
Water and Ceremony on Epekwitk Eliza Knockwood on how art and the environment can bring people together across cultures.
IM A G E B Y A A RON LEON
IM A G ES B Y L i a m C o o
OIN TS a l t .Edward t h e a t r e Little 12.4 ECD TT OERNI A L | by
Kristjanna Grimmelt discusses the partnership between Canadaâ€™s Stratford Festival and EsArtes in Suchitoto, El Salvador, a town once devastated by civil war and now transforming through its growing artistic community. DISPATCH Chris Gatchalian, artistic director of the Frank Theatre Company, reflects on changes and growth in the Vancouver theatre community over the past year around issues of cultural diversity. book review Matt Jones reviews Terror and Performance by Rustom Bharucha.
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Vol. 12 No. 4
alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage is Canada’s only professional journal examining intersections between politics, cultural plurality, social activism, and the stage. alt.theatre welcomes suggestions or proposals for interviews, news, pieces of self-reflection, analytical articles, and reviews of books, plays, and performances. Submissions to alt.theatre are vetted by at least two members of the editorial board as well as external reviewers where appropriate. Contributors retain copyright of their articles with the understanding that any subsequent publication will cite alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage as the original source. alt.theatre retains the right to distribute copies of published articles for educational and promotional purposes. Please query the editors before submitting any work for consideration: firstname.lastname@example.org Founded in 1998, alt.theatre is published quarterly by Teesri Duniya Theatre – an intercultural theatre company with a mandate to produce socially engaged theatre that reflects Canada’s social and cultural diversity. alt.theatre is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.
C o ver ph o t o © Liam Coo. Julia Hune-Brown and other artists travelling on Train of Thought perform a piece created during a workshop of Talking Treaties —a multi-year arts project exploring Toronto treaty history—at Jumblies Theatre's studio the Ground Floor in June 2015. EDITOR IN CHIEF Nikki Shaffeeullah EDITORIAL BOARD Nikki Shaffeeullah D e ni s S a l t e r Ed wa r d Li t t l e R a h u l Va r m a Li n a d e G u e v a r a Jill Carter
Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales Du Québéc/Library and Archives Canada ISSN 1481-0506
MANAGER Crystal Chan
Fo r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n , co n t a c t a l t . t h e a t re m a g a z i n e a t Te e s r i Du ni y a Th e a t r e 4 6 0 S t- C ath e rin e W. , S u ite 9 1 6 M o ntre al Q C H3 B 1 A 7 Te l . 5 1 4 - 8 4 8 - 0 2 3 8 emai l : i n f o @ a l t t h e a t r e . c a w w w. a l t t h e a t r e . c a
E D I T O R ia l assistant S a s h a Ta t e - H o wa r t h
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alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage is published quarterly by
GRAPHIc DESIGN D FI g r a p hi k COPY EDITOR Colette Stoeber FOUNDERS R a h u l Va r m a a n d K a pi l Bawa PA S T E D I T O R S I N C H I E F R a h u l Va r m a , 1 . 1 – 1 . 2 Russell Krackovitch, 1.3–1.4 Ta l As h k e n a zi , 2 . 1 Ed wa r d Li t t l e , 2 . 2 – 9 . 4
“Change the World, One Play at a Time”
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $157 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country. Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 157 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.
contributors 12.4 Nik k i
Sha ffeeu ll ah
is an artist, activist, researcher, and the editor-in-chief of alt.theatre. She is artistic director of The AMY Project, an arts education company for young women, and assistant artistic director of the community arts company Jumblies Theatre. Her MFA research explored decolonial practices of theatre creation. Nikki has served as an executive of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research and has taught in the University of Alberta Department of Drama. Editorial:
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Iehen t e Fo ote
is a Mohawk woman from Kahnawake, Quebec: Bear clan. She has been involved with theatre and the arts for eleven years. She has directed, created, and produced many children and young adult productions in Kahnawake and Montreal. She also has worked on various film and television sets as a production assistant, as well as doing costumes. Buried Histories and Giant Puppets: Creating a Community Play in Kahnawake:
PAG e 10 - 13
Sava n n ah Wa llin g,
a first generation immigrant to Canada, is associate artistic director of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, and co-founder/ artistic director of Vancouver Moving Theatre, with whom she’s toured four continents and created a series of community-engaged productions for/with/about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A theatre artist/ writer/performer trained in dance/mime/music, Savannah collaborates with artists of many genres, traditions, and cultures to create original repertoire.
co lu m pa
Unpacking our Understanding of “Conduct”:
is the founding artistic director of the Urban Indigenous Theatre Company, Winnipeg’s only theatre company and school run for and by Indigenous people. Columpa is a 26-year veteran of the stage; her work has been recognized by nominations and awards such as the Jessie Richardson, Dora Mavor Moore, the Winnipeg Arts Council’s Making a Mark award, and the Returning the Gifts award for contribution to North American Native Writing.
is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Aanmitaagzi, an arts organization engaging the community of Nipissing First Nation and surrounding area. Sid is a Gemini award-winning actor from Coast Salish territory in British Columbia. He is a graduate of University of Toronto’s sociology and drama programs, and attended the Second City school of training, the Banff Centre for the Art’s Aboriginal Dance Project, and the Centre for Indigenous Theatre.
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A n ge
b o bb
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Lo f t,
associate artistic director of Jumblies Theatre, is a multi-disciplinary artist from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. She is a Juno/Polaris-nominated vocalist with Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, and an ardent collaborator, focused on oral history and personal fiction. She strives to share her skills in outdoor performance, group design, large-scale puppetry, costume making, wearable sculpture, and interdisciplinary creation.
operations coordinator for Jumblies Theatre, is an interdisciplinary community-engaged artist and administrator whose practice is informed by his training as a chemist, and his experience in and passion for management, social activism, and artful sign-making. He is currently helping to build the foundation for Jumblies’ Four Lands tour, which will draw upon the ideas and relationships developed through Train of Thought.
Buried Histories and Giant Puppets: Creating a Community Play in Kahnawake:
What Is a “Community Arts Tour”?:
PAG e 10 - 13
c. b o bb
PAG E 21 - 24
dam ar a
jac o bs-m o r r is
m a r acle
pen n y
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is a community-engaged and dance theatre arts leader of Anishinaabe ancestry from Nipissing First Nation. Currently, Penny is co-founder and co-artistic director of Aanmitaagzi, a communityengaged multidisciplinary arts company in her home community. Primarily a dancer, actor, teacher, and choreographer, Penny holds an Honours BA in Aboriginal Studies and Drama from the University of Toronto and is a graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.
is a proud member of the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), proud of her African American / Scottish roots. Dedicated to community-based arts programming within her First Nation community and other Indigenous groups, she’s worked for UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, coordinated TRACKS: 7th Canadian Community Play and Art Symposium (Vancouver/ Coast Salish Territories), and is now development and communication manager at the Potlatch Fund (Seattle, US).
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is the author of a number of critically acclaimed literary works, including the novels Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, and Will’s Garden; the poetry collection Bent Box; and the non-fiction work I Am Woman. She is the co-editor of a number of anthologies including the award-winning publication My Home As I Remember. She is widely published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide, and is a member of the Sto: Loh nation.
c o u chie
s mi t h
is a theatre practitioner, researcher, and educator. Her research and practice interests include Aboriginal theatre, community plays, new play development, and audienceinvolved spectatorship. Annie was the artistic director of Chasing the Dream: The Grand Prairie Century Play, an outdoor processional theatre event to celebrate Grande Prairie’s 100th Anniversary in June 2014. She was a participant in the Train of Thought journey in 2015. Nations people, but all people. From the Heart of the City:
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li a m
B ru ce
Eliz a Sta r Child
is a media/digital artist, photographer, and graphic/ web designer. He has worked in a variety of creative positions including freelance designer, studio technician, commissioned artist, stone mason, chef, and any job that puts him behind a camera. He has curated and exhibited in group and solo shows in galleries and festivals both in Toronto and Montreal. Currently Liam is working as the media and communications coordinator for Jumblies Theatre.
is a Metis theatre artist, teacher, and student of the nehiyawewin (Cree) and Michif languages, currently based at Big Island Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Bruce’s new artistic entity miyoteh performance will develop and produce works based on working with elders, the nehiyawewin language, and collaborations with diverse communities, including a current collabration with nehiyaw, Arabic, and Jewish artists on storytelling vs. the tragedy of suicide.
is a Mi’kmaq woman from Abegweit First Nation. She is an active member of the Aboriginal Women’s Association of PEI, chair of the Rock Barra Artist Retreat Co-op, and former vice president of the Island Media Arts Cooperative of PEI. She is currently producing a film called All My Relations about personal and collective healing not only for First Nations people, but all people.
#TofTCanada: A Social Media Essay
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a n nie
Sin cl a ir
The Art of Hosting in amikwaciwâskahikan and Saskwaton:
K nock w ood
Connect Us All: Water and Ceremony on Epekwitk:
PAG E 3 0 -31
PAG E 2 8 - 2 9
CONTRIBUTORS | a l t . t h e a t r e 1 2 . 4
Editorial a lt . ernative D irecti o ns
with personal resonance. I researched a bit more and I learned that one of the two boats that these migrants came over on was called The Whitby—the same name as the Ontario town where my immigrant family now lived.
by N ikki S haffeeu l l ah
This issue is the second in alt. theatre’s two-part project, “Community Arts and “(De)Colonization.” In these issues, we are exploring questions and themes coming out of Train of Thought, the national travelling community arts project that took place in May and June 2015. This two-month journey, involving hundreds of artists, consisted of an evolving group of travellers moving from west coast to east coast, visiting each other’s communities and witnessing and exploring the variety of ways we are—and could be— using art to build connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Train of Thought began on May 8, 2015. This was the day of my twentyninth birthday, and, for me, the project came at an apt time. As a teenager, my growing interests were organized in silos: theatrical creation and anti-racist activism. As a student and emerging artist in my late teens and early twenties, I began to discover some of the ways in which art and politics are connected: the role of art in representing identities and experiences, in socialization, and in reinforcing/subverting power structures; the histories of and ongoing equity movements in the professional performing arts world, the dynamic range of ways theatre and other art forms can be intentionally practiced as community-building and socially engaged processes. Throughout my twenties much of my artistic creation and community arts facilitation was rooted in questions of migration and diaspora—my ancestors are from India, and were brought over to Guyana to work in indentured servitude to the British in the 1800s; my parents and many in their generation came to Toronto in the 1980s to flee the civil turmoil that followed the political decolonization of Guyana; my immediate family moved away from the Guyanese-Canadian community of alt.theatre 12.4
East Scarborough to the then-predominately white town of Whitby, Ontario, in 1995. So, as an emerging art-maker preoccupied with cultural stories, I wanted to know what was lost to people in my communities here in Canada, what had been lost elsewhere, and what was just lost on me. As my twenties came to a close, I was struck by the work of many Indigenous artists and others working in solidarity with Indigenous artists. They inspired me to apply to my own work an understanding that artists from colonized cultures living in diaspora in Canada were in fact also settlers on colonized land. And so, when a series of events led me to Train of Thought, I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to be involved. On a personal level I found it fitting that after spending much of the past decade using art to explore diasporic legacies of colonization, I would start the last year of my twenties with a project that challenged me to confront the ongoing legacy of colonialism on the land on which I was born and live. This narrative I was crafting about how the timing of Train of Thought intersected with my own artistic and political journey became deeper (and a bit spookier) a few days before the start of the project, when my aunt shared a post on Facebook that recalled a bit of West Indian history. It explained that May 8th was the anniversary of the day in 1838 when Indian indentured servants arrived in Guyana.1 I was intrigued by this coincidence—not just that I happened to share my birthday with a monumental day in my family’s migratory history, but that I learned of this history the same week of the date in question, and in the same year that I was to embark on a giant project exploring histories of indigeniety and migration that I had already chosen to imbue
I share this story with you because to me it encapsulates what I believe was the essence of Train of Thought: it was intentionally underdefined in its construction. That lack of definition allowed it to take different shapes as the tour progressed, reflecting the will, aesthetics, and values of the hosts at a given stop, and requiring participants to decide what the journey was to be for them—rejecting, celebrating, and creating elements as needed. Personal stories sit at the intersections of activism, politics, and the performing arts. I believe it is impossible to enter into conversations about (de)colonization and (re)conciliation (and other complex concepts qualified with parentheses) without situating oneself within these wider narratives. This issue of alt.theatre dives into many of the personal reflections coming out of Train of Thought. Sam Egan, operations coordinator at Jumblies Theatre and a member of the core producing team of Train of Thought, ruminates on the idea of constructing a “community arts tour” and what the place for touring can be in the genre of community-engaged practice that has its history in localism. Iehente Foote and Ange Loft, both multidisciplinary artists from Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, discuss their aspirations and plans for developing a large-scale play with their community that will work to uncover some of the buried histories and stories there. In “Unpacking our Understanding of ‘Conduct’ on Train of Thought,” a group of some of the land’s most influential community-engaged artists— Savannah Walling, Sid Bobb, Columpa Bobb, Penny Couchie, Lee Maracle, and Damara Jacobs-Morris—engage in a conversation about what they believe is the place of traditional protocols in artistic work and intercultural settings. Bruce Sinclair reflects on his personal experience on the art of hosting, and Eliza Knockwood offers thoughts on how she wove art, the environment, and intercultural relationship-building into her engagement with Train of Thought.
© Image by Liam Coo, Helah Cooper, and Parker Dirks
I’ve had the privilege of serving as editor-in-chief of alt.theatre since volume 10.1, and have been grateful for the opportunity to curate this space for personal stories and other investigations into the intersections of cultural plurality, social activism, politics, and the stage, in collaboration with a fantastic team of editors, designers, and administrators, and an inspiring roster of contributors. I am now moving away from the role in order to focus on other artistic and community projects, and am pleased to introduce to you alt.theatre’s new editor-in-chief, Michelle MacArthur. Michelle brings with her extensive editorial experience and a commitment to equity and diversity in her research and teaching practices. Her doctoral work focused on feminist theatre in English and French Canada; more recently, she was the lead researcher for the Equity in Theatre initiative, a national campaign aimed at redressing inequities in Canadian theatre. This year she is also joining the University of Windsor’s School of Dramatic Art as an assistant professor. Michelle has written for alt.theatre multiple times and we are eager to see what she will bring in her new role at the helm. I look forward to staying involved with alt.theatre as a member of the editorial board, and I continue to believe in the importance of this journal. While I’m heartened to see theatres, arts service organizations, funding bodies, and arts journals increasingly develop their capacity and skills around issues of equity, projects like alt.theatre persist as indispensible sites for centring—and celebrating—people, communities, experiences, and stories that have been for so long relegated to the margins. Thank you for continuing to be a part of this work.
Train of Thought was produced by Jumblies Theatre in collaboration with hundreds of artists and over ninety organizations, including From the Heart, Vancouver Moving Theatre, Vancouver Parks Board, Round House Community Centre, Runaway Moon Theatre, Splatsin First Nation, Ground Zero Productions, Rising Sun Theatre Society, Common Weal Community Arts, ACI Manitoba, Urban Indigenous Theatre, the Ortona Armoury Arts Building, Arts Hub, Kenora Association For Community Living, Community Arts and Heritage Education Project, Municipality of Sioux Lookout, Myths and Mirrors Community Arts, Thinking Rock Community Arts, Mississaugi First Nation, Debajehmujig Storymakers, Aanmitaagzi, White Water Gallery, AlgomaTrad, Jumblies Theatre, Arts4All, MABELLEarts, Making Room, Community Arts Guild, Cedar Ridge Creative Centre, Arts Council Windsor and Region, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Makers and Shakers Society, Canada’s Magnetic North Festival, Ottawa Valley Creative Arts Open Studio, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Concordia University Theatre and Development Program, Contactivity Seniors Centre, NDG Senior Citizens Council, RECCA, Art Hives / Ruches d’Art, Halifax Circus, The Deanery Project, Abegweit First Nation, Rock Barra Retreat, and others. It was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, The J.W. McConnell Foundation, Inspirit Foundation, Metcalf Foundation, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, VIA Rail Canada, B.C. Arts Council and other local and provincial funders. The route, roughly (since some stops happened simultaneously), was2 as follows: Victoria, unceded Coast Salish territories g Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish territories g Enderby and Splat-
sin First Nation, unceded Secwepemc territories g Edmonton/amiskaciwaskahikan, Treaty 6 territory g Saskatoon/ saskwaton, Treaty 6 territory g Winnipeg, Treaty 1 territory g Kenora, Treaty 3 territory g Sioux Lookout and Lac Seul First Nation, Treaty 3 territory g Thunder Bay, Robinson Superior Treaty g Nipissing First Nation and North Bay, Robinson Huron Treaty g Wikwemikong First Nation and Manitowaning, unceded Anishinabek territory g Blind River and Mississaugi First Nation, Robinson Huron Treaty g Sudbury, Robinson Huron Treaty g Toronto, Treaty 13 territory g Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation g Six Nations of the Grand River g Windsor g Kingston, Upper Canada Treaties g Ottawa, unceded Algonquin territories g Killaloe and Pikwakanagan First Nation g Kahnawake Mohawk Territory g Montreal/Tiotia:ke, Mohawk Territory g unceded Wabanaki territories g Halifax/K’jipuktuk, unceded Mi’kmaq territories g Ship Harbour, unceded Mi’kmaq territories g Abegweit First Nation g Rock Barra, unceded Mi’kmaq territories
Although Indian Arrivals Day is now formally observed in Guyana on May 5, it is widely acknowledged that the historical date on which indentured servants arrived in Guyana from India was May 8, 1838.
In listing the stops of the Train of Thought route, I have used a combination of colonial place names, Indigenous territory names, and treaty names for places where treaties have been made. I acknowledge that this list is imperfect in its organization. I thank the many teachers, elders, and community members who have helped me in my education of Indigenous place names and of treaty history, in particular those who were part of Train of Thought. I thank Sasha TateHowarth for her great assistance in charting these learnings onto this Train of Thought stop list.
E D I T O R I A L | by Nikki Shaffeeullah
Buried Histories and Giant Puppets: Creating a Community Play in Kahnawake by I ehente F o o te w i t h A nge L o ft
— Prologue It all began in Kahnawake, many moons ago. The story of Ange and me began the day I walked into Turtle Island Theatre. Who could’ve known that we’d still be working together so many years later? I started my theatre career at the ripe age of 11, and it’s now funny to think about how I had not wanted to go at all. I was the typical shy outcast who you’d expect to gravitate to theatre and the like, but I only realized I loved it when I saw that everyone could have a role—even ones who weren’t on stage. I was sold. Ange was one of the directors at Turtle Island Theatre when we met. She always had these wild and out-of-the-box ideas that looked amazing—squeezing in an avant-garde musical number, creating a forest on stage. Ange is always
this way, but theatre is a vital asset in our culture. We’ve passed down stories through generations; storytelling is in our blood. Ange and I have worked on many projects in the past, including the recent and groundbreaking show K-Town Under-
I really don’t want it only to be children who are involved. I want older women and people with trucks—all ages. ground where we worked with community members to bring Mohawk legends to life on stage. The show contained giant fireball heads and strange creatures, and these elements all came from the community itself. That is what is truly amazing. People who aren’t usually in with the “theatre crowd” came and created these masterpieces in a short time. Why? Because everyone is a storyteller, even when they don’t say a word. It’s how you create, it’s how you move, it’s in the details, and it’s the stroke of your paintbrush on a cigarette-box sculpture. In the summer of 2015, Ange and I, along with hundreds of other artists, were part of the national community arts tour, Train of Thought. Ange had planned the stop in Kahnawake to showcase projects that the Train of Thought travellers were a part of, as well as to bring the community together to spark some interest and ideas for doing a community play in Kahnawake. Ange has since put wheels in motion for a multi-year arts project she will lead with community members that will culminate in a Kahnawake Community Play. As a person actively involved with the Kahnawake community, I am eager to see what we create, and to see who comes to create and share histories of Kahnawake and Turtle Island. More importantly, I want it to continue, and hope that, given the buried histories here, this project helps us to discover what really happened in Kahnawake. When Ange first approached me with the idea of the community play, it was already destined to reach her vision of giant puppets, boats, trucks, and landscapes. It has been a few years since we did K-Town Underground, but I am positive there will be more interest from the community in theatre-making, in storytelling, and in digging up the truth in light of (not so) recent issues that are constant reminders.
— Interview I E H E N T E F oote What inspired the idea for doing a community play in Kahnawake? © Liam Coo. Travellers reflect on the land, environment, and histories of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory during a workshop on Train of Thought.
ready to try something different and be bold. That’s the way you have to be if you’re a theatre child in Kahnawake. Many community members have experienced theatre in Kahnawake, whether they’ve seen one show or are veteran performers, and there’s a lot to be learned from that. It isn’t always remembered
ANGE LOFT It was a really long time ago–it was seeing pictures and film from Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont when I was in university. Then I wanted to make big things, to figure out how and what you do with puppets. Really huge puppets, puppets made for specific stories and communities; I was really into the landscape stuff. Seeing something come over a hill, it was like, “I really wanna do that.” B uried H istories and G iant P uppets | by Iehente Foote
Then I started working with Clay and Paper. I found them right away and learned how to make the big things. I really wanted to make something, but I had to have the visuals first. I went to the Smithsonian for an opportunity—an artist leadership opportunity—with the National Museum of the American Indian. I went looking in their archives. Specifically I was looking at stuff around the Sault Ste. Marie land base because at the time it was a big issue. The land claim issue in Kahnawake— about the giant chunk of land that now has all the suburbs on it—I wanted to see who really was around that area, because Kahnawake wasn’t there until the 1700s. I wanted to see what was at Kahnawake underground.
things that generate research material. You make an activity that jumps off of certain themes, and then you actually facilitate it with the group. We’ll be spending a good chunk of the time trying out each other’s research activities just within the small group. We’ll also work with artist Walter Scott, who will be in for two workshops. With him we’ll do two comic workshops: one of them on contemporary Kahnawake experience, and then one of them jumping off of historically based research that will be hanging out at the cultural centre—Kanien’keháka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre. They have a really
Throughout the next three years working on this play, we’re gonna gain momentum, gain speed, gain people. I really want to make sure there’s something for them to do, or multiple things to do that accumulate towards something that’s really big.
© Liam Coo. Iehente Foote (foreground) and Ange Loft deliver a presentation in Kahnawake during Train of Thought.
Then I dug up all those weird photos. Then there was the time I realized that most of the material in the archives was beaded whimsies that were made for tourists to come visit Kahnawake. And I thought that was really weird because it didn’t seem enough, like there was no material culture before. It’s just really strange that there seems to be a giant chunk missing in Kahnawake’s archaeological history, and now I want to find out about it. I want to do more research in town and see where it takes me—Upstate New York, it seems like. It seems like universities, archives, and churches in Upstate New York have most of the simple base stuff, or it’s gone off to places like the Louvre or the Vatican. Yep, so I’m chasing information. I F So what process—or however you want to call how you go about doing things—what are you thinking the process of the community play will be? A L Well, so far I know I want to get eight people from Kahnawake who are already involved in community or creation, or people who have any interest in history. I wanna get these eight people together and do a little discussion about what the community play form could look like—give some presentations and examples of that. Then we’ll get into sort of a mini-Artfare Essentials1: showing people how to start a community art project by jumping off of their visual art, or whatever their personal practices are. There’s a part in Artfare about generative material creation. You have a set of themes, and you have a set goal, which is to more or less make alt.theatre 12.4
good archive of photos, books, and some recordings too. We have two days split between visiting the archives and making art-based research activities to share with everybody. Finally, it ends with inviting the community to a public sharing. We’re inviting specific people who have info from Kahnawake. I don’t mind if they’re younger, historians . . . people who can speak to some of the really cool research topics we find. We will present back some photos or some snippets of a story and see if they have anything else to add from the oral history side of things. And that’s it for that phase, really. Eventually in the following year we will try to get the group back together and see if we can get a few more people involved. Then we’ll keep developing songs, keep making, and maybe get into some design stuff—since we’ll have this kind of comic framework, the whole thing is kinda neat. Bold. Hard lines. Kinda gives a cool design, you know, good design ideas. That’s one of the things I find challenging sometimes, is wanting to see things outside that actually are really cool looking. One of the challenges with these big puppets is that they aren’t aesthetically my style, so I kind of want to see what happens when we start to make puppets in like, really groovy fashions. Like last time we made the show in Kahnawake we made the puppets out of cigarette boxes, because that’s what was around, but the aesthetic was cool and everything was fluorescent, angular and funky, yeah. Then later, we’re talking three years later, we’ll turn it into something kind of like a drop-in day camp, something that invites
community to come in and participate. Hopefully by then we’ll have a partnership with Turtle Island Theatre Company, and hopefully by then they’ll have a new space. I would love to see this as a side focus for a summer program; but, as much as possible, I really don’t want it only to be children who are involved. I want older women and people with trucks—all ages. We have to make sure people are able to move stuff, to make things and have real construction ability. I F I think that’s the awesome thing in Kahnawake: people have a bunch of skills but they just don’t have an outlet to use them; they don’t know what they can do. I think that would be really great to see. A L It takes a lot to build puppet frameworks and stuff, but it’s easy. I F I know you do a lot of different projects and not in any conventional way; can you tell us about some other projects that you’ve done that are similar to this? A L Hmm, the two that stand out are Thinking Rock’s The Rivers Speak Project, a huge multi-year, multi-arts project where they’re collecting stories of the river. There’s a kinda big river that’s in Algoma region, goes through Thessalon and Blind River. There’s this one particular river they were talking about, it’s between the Mississagi First Nation and this community called Blind River. I was working with them helping to create a puppet of this big water serpent, the horned serpent in some of their legends on that side. It was really cool because we had older women from the both communities sitting down together, cutting out scales, talking, and bringing in photo books to spark inspiration. They had a little individual recording section and informal story telling circles . . . The way they managed to get this information was just bonkers. It was a huge amount of information. It’s all going up next year in the summer. So that’s another example of a multi-year project. Some points of contention showed up in those pieces. There were different perspectives on issues—definitely some cultural stuff, like people who had never been on a reserve. It was surprising to see a group from the reserve working in the town; it was a good experience. Then the other one was in Nipissing First Nation at Aanmitaagzi2 when they did Dances of Resistance, a dance-based performance. It included stories, little narrative snippets, and walked people through this huge field out by a high school— through a baseball diamond, through a bunch of small places with site-specific installations. That was really fun. On that job I got to design and help people pull together various community designs. They already run so many design projects, so it was my job to unify the aesthetic and also co-youth-manage. They had a bunch of summer students and a lot of them were on the design team, so I had to continually find design tasks for everybody, which is kind of a big part of this whole process— program planning and finding spots for people that want to jump in all the time. Throughout the next three years working on this play, we’re gonna gain momentum, gain speed, gain people. I really want to make sure there’s something for them to do, or multiple things to do that accumulate towards something that’s really big. K-town Underground—that weird show we made—was validating because so many people participated who I didn’t know were going to come, and then the community actually
came to see it and it was like not who I was expecting . . . People came who actually are politically active in Kahnawake. It was a different crew than a regular theatre performance; it made me think that there’s something there—that there’s something to telling stories about Kahnawake. There’s something that I wanna link to an interest in community, history, language, and cultural aspects of stuff, but also to theatrical creation. They’ve been divided in Kahnawake for quite a while, where the theatre people were doing Western creation without necessarily too much community or local writer content. So now I’m trying to validate that side of things: like, there are cool stories here. What do you want to do with it? I F Well, I really like that you found out that we’re missing a huge chunk of history and archaeological finds; I find that very intriguing, and now I’m extra excited to do this project. I also really like doing strange things with bodies and movement, so incorporating that into all art is really a good idea, and I know you’d probably be down for that. When we did K-town Underground, there were a few theatre people and a few people from the general community, who were amazing to work with, and different age groups. A few years have passed since we did it and I think people are more aware of other issues, so I think other people will be interested in contributing—actually doing it and attending. So I can’t wait to see what happens in the end, when we’re finished. A L I’ve been doing all this research on Kateri3 too—all of this bizarre history, with the funky religion, with these dark weird funky religious practices, and that divide. Even walking on different sides of the street from each other. My father remembers a time where the Catholics would walk on one side of the highway, and the Protestants on the other. This was in the late fifties so it’s really close, and that’s what’s bonkers. This memory is still super alive, and everyone’s only 70.
— Afterword Our history is rich. Although the ways of documenting stories and objects sometimes seem invisible, our custom of oral history and storytelling lasts through generations. Many people have questions about Kahnawake, some don’t want to know, and some are scared to find out. Developing this community play through the next few years of artistic exploration will help us begin to find answers. I myself can’t wait to start the process this June, and dive into the archives alongside Ange and other community members to dig up the buried truths that we walk on.
n o t es 1
Artfare Essentials is Jumblies Theatre’s immersive week-long introductory program that explores art that engages with and creates community,
Aanmitaagzi is a multidisciplinary professional artist-run company serving artists and community members from Nipissing First Nation and the surrounding area, linked to provincial and national networks, led by co-Artistic Directors Penny Couchie and Sid Bobb.
Kateri Tekakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks," was the first Native American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. She is the inspiration behind Ange Loft’s wearable art line, Cult of Kateri: Armor and Accessories.
B uried H istories and G iant P uppets | by Iehente Foote
#TofTCanada: A Social Media Essay by Liam C o o
I am a media artist who often documents community theatre and arts. The handful of professional photographers and videographers that took part in Train of Thought, including myself, took over ten thousand photos and hundreds of hours of video.
# T of T C anada : A S ocial EMedia E ssay by LiamLittle Coo DITORIA L | by| Edward
- A drienne M arcus R aja - K e lty M c K erracher - N ikki S haffeeu l l ah and T hinking R o ck C o mmunity A rts
F eaturing w o rk by N ani B e l l G o nawabi - S hifra C o o per - I hente F o o te - A l ana F o rs l und - B raiden H o u l e
But it’s not those documents that tell the most intimate stories of this unusual and constantly shifting community arts tour—it’s the photos (and tweets and Facebook posts) that travellers shared on social media as they went.
As we travelled, people on board and back home could scroll through their feeds and see what others were doing. As you experience these #TofTCanada images after the fact, you discover much more about the travellers themselves. These snapshots are a visualization of the connections we made through everything we learned and shared along the journey. You can begin to see how people connected—getting to know one another’s styles and subjects intimately, emulating and responding to each other. Over social media, we digitally performed a way of living. It was a long performance, with no breaks and a cast of over ninety artists, living and working together, talking about how we as artists could contribute to creating the country we wanted to live in. Perhaps social media is the best way to document a community arts project. It facilitates a multiplicity of views and perspectives, requires subjects to engage directly in the creation process, and enables participants to hone stories in ways that are beautiful to them, crafting composition and choosing filters and hashtags. I hope that by breaking these images out of the digital world and removing them from a linear feed, they can more freely express the experience of Train of Thought. They allow us to more deeply explore the interconnecting storylines and relationships that criss-cross the record of this project.
Â© Photos curated by Liam Coo.
#river #toronto #TofTCanada #ontario #tree #shadow #REFLECTION # T of T C anada : A S ocial Media E ssay | by Liam Coo