How 100 Canadians created an unconventional theatre performance about reconciliation
How 100 Canadians created an unconventional theatre performance about reconciliation
VIDEA 1200 Deeks Place Victoria, BC V8P 5S7 CANADA www.videa.ca
© 2015 Will Weigler All Rights Reserved www.willweigler.com www.from-the-heart.ca Material in this book may be reproduced for educational or group use. The From the Heart logo may be used with permission from the author. Some brief portions of the text in this book were previously published in alt.theatre: cultural diversity and the stage, Vol 11.2, 2014 in the article “Entering into the Journey of Reconciliation” by Will Weigler. Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Weigler, Will, author From the heart : how 100 Canadians created an unconventional theatre performance about reconciliation / Will Weigler Includes bibliographical references. Issued in print and electronic formats. ISBN 978-0-921783-60-2 (paperback). – ISBN 978-0-921783-61-9 (pdf) 1. Theater and society--Canada. 2. Community theater-- Canada. 3. Theater--Study and teaching. 4. Participatory theater-- Canada. 5. Community education--Canada. 6. Social justice-- Canada. 7. Reconciliation. 8. Postcolonialism--Canada. I. Title. PN2051.W34 2015 306.4’8480971 C2015-902128-6 C2015-902129-4 Designed by Kit Maloney From the Heart logo designed by Valerie Elliott/iD2 Communications Inc.
The publication of this book was made possible with the generous support of:
The views expressed in this book are those of the author and contributing writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.
Dedication When Krystal Cook agreed to co-facilitate From the Heart, she disclosed to me that she and her husband Nik were expecting their third child and that her last trimester would coincide with the three months of our script devising process. We planned those last delicate weeks so that when the time came, Krystal would be free to step aside at a momentâ€™s notice. Their beautiful baby girl Tesekla came into the world on March 22, 2013. It was an extraordinary experience for the entire core ensemble to witness this little spirit steadily growing toward her birth, as we grew steadily towards the culmination of our creative work together. This book is lovingly dedicated to Tesekla Winter Cook-Willie. May you grow strong in a world of people who respect and honour you as a proud Indigenous woman.
About this book When I first set out to write a guidebook outlining what we did so that other communities in Canada could create their own versions of the show based on our model, my friends stopped me. They said I shouldn’t write an operations manual. They reminded me that I am, at heart, a storyteller and that I should tell a story. That’s what I’ve done here. In the pages that follow, I tell the story of the vision I started with; I write about the mistakes I made and the many lessons I learned along the way. Throughout the book, you will see the words and insights of other members of the professional creative team, the participants/creators/performers, and others. Every time I wrote a story that involved the experience of someone in the project, or quoted them, I sent a copy of the draft to that person, and asked, “Have I represented you accurately? Is there an important part of this story that I may not know? Is there any part of this story you’d rather not be shared?” When participants sent me their insights and alternative—sometimes contradictory—accounts of our work together, I kept the version I had written and included theirs alongside it. It is my hope that these pairings will emphasise how there is no authoritative voice in a story that involves many people. We all contribute to the richness and complexity of our collective work. Although this book can be read simply as a story of what we did and why we did it, I have tried to fold into my storytelling everything that a person or group needs to know to produce a unique version of the show. For those who want a more straightforward set of tasks and guideposts, you will find a section called “The nuts and bolts of producing From the Heart in your community.” It is followed by another section called “A conversation with architect Mark Lakeman: What you need to know to create a labyrinth for your own production of From the Heart.”
Preface 2 Introduction 3 Cwélelep 4 “A Journey Not to Be Missed”: A review in CVV Magazine
What does decolonizing mean and why should Canadians care about it?
Recruiting the creative team of professional artists
Recruiting cast members for the core ensemble
How do you teach courage?
Facilitators modeling respectful relationships
Collectively creating the theatre pieces—Gests
Offering critiques to one another
The significance of gifting
The importance of a rapporteur
Conversation Among Colleagues: A lively dialogue with the artistic team
Through the Labyrinth 36
In Our Own Backyard/Erasure
The Journey Begins
Too Big to Touch
Patience of the Seasons
Stories that Must Be Told
A Long and Complex Relationship 48
Face to Face
Head to Heart
The Journey Continues
The Heart of the Labyrinth
Drumming of the Facts
The nuts and bolts of producing From the Heart in your community
A conversation with architect Mark Lakeman: What you need to know to create a labyrinth for your own production of From the Heart 91
Creating From the Heart with young people
Cast members from the original production offer their advice
The cast, crew, and supporters of the pilot production
Photograph and image credits
The map of the labyrinth
I live on the unceded traditional territories of the Salish and Lekwungen peoples. A good way to begin is for me to tell you about my family, the people I come from. My relationship with Canada is a little complicated. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, I crossed my country’s northern border for the first time when I was twelve years old. In the summer of 1971, my mother bundled me and my siblings into our green Volkswagen bus and drove us to Victoria for a few days of vacation. The next time I crossed the border I was seventeen. Turning to the east this time, I hitchhiked all the way to Nova Scotia. It was during that wonderful, long summer of 1976 that I really began to fall in love with the land and the people of Canada. In 2005, I returned on a visitor’s visa and then traded it in for a student visa after I was accepted by a graduate school program at the University of Victoria. Two years later, I became a permanent resident and have since become a citizen. But as I mentioned, it’s complicated.
My mother’s father, William Burdick, was born in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver in 1903. His ancestor, James Burdick, was a United Empire Loyalist. Living in Vermont in the late 1770s, James spoke out against the American Revolution and was thrown in jail for it. His wife, my great great grandmother Phoebe, brought him a basket of food with a small tool cleverly hidden inside. Under cover of darkness, he managed to tunnel his way out of his cell. James and Phoebe fled to New Brunswick and then settled in Aylmer, Ontario. Over the course of more than a century, their descendants moved westward to homestead in Manitoba, search for gold in the Yukon, and make a home in British Columbia. In the 1920s, my grandfather fell in love with a beautiful young American painter called Elna Jean and followed her to Oregon, where they were married. Because he left the country prior to the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947, my grandfather was never legally considered Canadian: he was a British subject in the Dominion of Canada. So although I am a new immigrant, my family has been in Canada for seven generations.
From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation is a project I co-created with over one hundred people in Victoria, British Columbia, during the spring and summer of 2013. We were a culturally diverse, inter-generational group of almost entirely non-Indigenous men and women who found common ground working across our different ages and cultural backgrounds to deepen our understanding of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit experiences in Canada. Our intention was to create and perform an unconventional theatre production about our relationship with Indigenous people as a way for us to stand as allies with them and to take some measure of responsibility for contributing to reconciliation in this country. We hoped that theatre would offer us a creative and stimulating way to promote meaningful public dialogue among our fellow Canadians. This book tells the story of the ideas that inspired this project and the lessons learned during the months our group took this journey together. It is written from my perspective, as the show’s producer and director, and you will also hear from other members of the professional creative team of theatre artists and facilitators, as well as the participants/creators/ performers and audience members. Though this story is worth telling for its own sake, all of us who were involved hope that we will inspire people across Canada to consider producing their own unique versions of
We hoped that theatre would offer us a creative and stimulating way to promote some meaningful public dialogue among our fellow Canadians.
From the Heart in their own communities. We never intended to tour our show—from the very beginning it was meant as a way to test an idea, to figure out how to do it by doing it, and to create a model demonstrating how it can work. In this book, you will learn what we did, supplemented by explanations of the reasons behind the choices we made. If you decide to try it yourself, you may take our idea in entirely new and innovative directions. We want to encourage that freedom, while at the same time remaining clear about the essential philosophical and ethical foundations that define this project.
Aerial view of the original labyrinth concept drawing by Mark Lakeman.
From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation wasn’t anything like a conventional play. Rather than perform a play on a stage for an audience to sit and watch, we built a 14,000 square foot indoor labyrinth made from hundreds of salvaged doors and windows, a forest of tree branches, shadow theatre screens, and huge swaths of fabric, all lit by paper lanterns. Every twenty minutes, six times a night, an audience of eight people were invited to find their own way through the alcoves and chambers of the labyrinth. It took about eighty minutes from beginning to end. Along the path, they encountered seventeen different songs and scenes, shadow and marionette theatre vignettes, and visual installations. These were performances and hand-crafted art environments based on stories that members of the core ensemble felt had opened their eyes to better understanding the history and lived
experience of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, the legacy of colonialism in Canada, and the meaning it has for us today. Dr. Lorna Williams, one of my First Nations mentors, is Lil’wat.1 She once taught me the word cwélelep from her language. Cwélelep means to spin around like in a dust storm. It describes the experience of being in that place of dissonance and uncertainty that leads us to be alive with a heightened sense of awareness. It is a place where we may find ourselves open to new learning. The labyrinth encouraged cwélelep by sending people into new and unfamiliar rooms around every corner. We were committed to creating an atmosphere of mutual support among spectators and performers, throughout their encounters with the performance pieces, and were gratified that people often told us that the labyrinth felt disorienting without being claustrophobic. In a climate of emotion-laden conflicting opinions and a widespread lack of historical understanding, conversations about the fraught relationship between settler and Indigenous communities can be challenging. We set the show in an immersive theatre labyrinth in order to give the ensemble of community participants a brief, focused opportunity to create and perform a scene or song, or to produce a soundscape or visual installation, that conveyed to others: “This is the story that led me to see things differently; this is what I’ve
Cwélelep means to spin around like in a duststorm.
created to help you understand what I see.” The premise of the project is that when the ensemble members create evocative performances inspired by what had led them to experience a shift in understanding, and then invite the audience to be witness to those performance pieces, it may open up new ways of understanding among the audience members as well. The spectators’ journey through the show reached its culmination when they rounded a final corner and arrived at the heart of the labyrinth—an inviting salon-like room where they were warmly greeted and offered a cup of tea. In this welcoming space, they were able to take time for a pause before leaving. They could reflect on the experience in conversation with others who had come through the labyrinth and with First Nations professional counselors, who we’d invited to be present in the heart chamber each night. There were opportunities to browse a collection of books about Indigenous histories and cultural perspectives. They could draw or write on paper leaves or small paper booklets and then leave their notes on the branches of a tree near the centre of the room where others could read them. The response by Native and nonNative audience members, and by the participants themselves, was overwhelmingly impassioned and enthusiastic. Every one of our 120 performances sold out and many audience members lingered for an hour or more in the heart chamber before continuing on their way.
The first door into the labyrinth (left), and arriving at the heart chamber. (above)
T he territory of the Lil´wat Nation extends from Whistler BC north through Pemberton to Mount Currie. The traditional territories of the Lil´wat and Squamish Nations overlap in Whistler.
People often told us that the labyrinth felt disorienting without being claustrophobic.
“From The Heart: A Journey Not to Be Missed” A review by John Threlfall CVV Magazine, 26 June, 2013.
When it comes to Indigenous relations, I consider myself a pretty engaged and compassionate person. I well know the history of British Columbia and our poor track record since Europeans initially encountered First Nations people—from smallpox and ethnic prejudice to residential schools and the treaty process. And, as a journalist, I’m no stranger to modern problems like substance abuse, reservation conditions, and missing women. I’ve done land claims research for the Stó:lō Nation, worked with a multicultural theatre company (as the token white guy) and my kids attend a school with a high percentage of aboriginal children. Yet even taking all that into account, I still found my cultural preconceptions and hegemonic assumptions challenged by the remarkable new production, From the Heart. ...... It’s been nearly a week since I experienced this production and it’s still firmly lodged in the front of my head and heart [. . . ]. Simply put, From the Heart is the most memorable piece of theatre I’ve seen in many years. Don’t miss your chance to begin a new journey of understanding, no matter how much of an ally to Indigenous peoples you believe you already are.
The seed for From the Heart was planted one evening on campus at the University of Victoria. I attended an event where Dr. Paulette Regan read from her book Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling and Reconciliation in Canada. In 2007, Paulette began working with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), mandated to document the history and legacy of the Indian Residential School System and provide policy recommendations to facilitate long-term reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians. I was struck by the clarity of her call for non-Indigenous Canadians to take an active role in shouldering responsibility for healing and reconciliation. She writes of the potential for “critical hope,” when Canadians who benefit from the continuing legacy of colonialism take steps to decolonize themselves. She makes a compelling case that central to the task of building a more “authentic, ethical, and just reconciliation” is the willingness to face discomfort as we open ourselves to a deeper understanding of the fraught history of injustice towards Indigenous peoples this country.2 While some people find the word provocative, she uses the term “settler” to distinguish between people who are indigenous to this land and those who have settled here, even if their families have been here for generations. The term made sense to me. All Canadians, whether new immigrants or those whose parents and grandparents were born here, are in a relationship with our country’s history—a history of coming to a land that was already populated. As a settler myself, I wondered what my contribution to the work of reconciliation might look like. Reading Paulette’s book prompted me to question my own understanding of what it means to decolonize oneself. I found some useful clues in the writing of the late educator Roger Simon who, among other things, described a term that caught my eye. He wrote about
When we hear these stories we tend to respond by trying to make the stories conform
what he called a transactive public memory. He used the term “transactive” because it works back and forth: learning about and reflecting upon our collective history, he claims, has the potential to draw us into a very personal relationship with the past and generate a sense of responsibility toward that past in the ways we live our lives today. Roger Simon really ramps up the complexity of the challenge. For him, actively listening to difficult stories of Indigenous people who have endured terrible injustices requires more than just being moved by hearing the stories. That happens, of course. We hear these stories and it hurts the heart. It violates our sense of what is just. And it violates our sense of what we thought our country stands for and has stood for. Our natural inclination is to try to make sense of it. To Simon, a lot of the work of self-decolonization happens in this next step. Because in our compulsion to decipher what we’re hearing, we start to ask questions. That’s where the problem sets in. When we hear these stories we tend to respond by trying to make the stories conform to our worldview. As an example of what he means, Simon relates the story of the Chipewyan Sayisi Dene people (People of the East), who had been living at Little Duck Lake in northern Manitoba since well before the first European traders arrived.3 In 1956, the provincial authorities of Manitoba and the Canadian
to our worldview. Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada (UBC Press, 2010), 17.
Roger I. Simon, The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 87-103.
Ila Bussidor and Üstün Bilgen-Reinart, Night Spirits: The Story of the Relocation of the Sayisi Dene (University of Manitoba Press, 1997), 46.
Department of Indian Affairs colluded to forcibly move the Duck Lake Dene to the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill. With no advanced notice, government agents arrived in a transport plane one afternoon. Here is John Solomon of the Sayisi Dene First Nation, speaking his testimony of what happened that day:
They said they came to move the people. — John Solomon of the Sayisi Dene First Nation
The plane came with three white people plus the pilot. They said they came to move the people. The people never replied. We took whatever we could with us, we left behind our traps, our toboggans, our cabins, and we got into that plane. When we got out in Churchill, there were no trees. The wind was blowing sand on everything. We didn’t know what to do next. We couldn’t do anything there. We couldn’t go trapping. We couldn’t set a net. There was nothing to hunt. We were in a desperate state. We had nothing to live on.4 John and Mary Ann Thorassie and family in Duck Lake, Manitoba, 1947
In the years that followed, up to a third of their people died as a direct result of the government’s actions. It is a bleak chapter in our nation’s treatment of Indigenous people. The story is told in detail in Chief Ila Bussidor’s book Night Spirits: The Story of the Relocation of the Sayisi Dene. In his essay, Simon explains that for many people who learn about this story, the first question they ask is why the Sayisi Dene went along with it. Why did they get on the plane? There is no record that the agents threatened to punish the First Nations families if they resisted. Why didn’t they just tell these men that they weren’t going to leave? I have to admit it is the question that came to my mind when I first heard the story. What I have now begun to understand is that this apparently innocent question and other questions like it are not actually questions at all. They are accusatory statements that flip the injustice of what happened on its head. Tucked right below the surface of this “question” is an implication that the forced relocation is ultimately the fault and responsibility of the Sayisi Dene, who could have defended themselves but chose
not to. It takes the culpability and focus away from the actions of the Canadian Government and the damage that they did to these people’s lives. We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re asking questions about the story so that we can get a better handle on what happened. The problem is that the questions we ask grow out of an unacknowledged need to reinforce our own preconceptions. As I thought about it, I realized that a useful analogy is the response some people have when they hear about a woman with children who is in an abusive relationship. Stories of domestic violence may be more familiar to many of us, and more vividly imagined than stories of historical injustice. And yet still, when hearing such stories, similar statementsdisguised-as-questions are common. Why doesn’t she just leave him? Why isn’t she protecting her kids? Why doesn’t she just pack up and get out? Looking from the outside, we may be earnest in our desire to understand but are oblivious
to the fact that we are formulating harsh and dismissive judgments without having nearly enough information about the complexity of the situation. It is not as straightforward as we are trying to make it. Under the right circumstances, someone might be able to show us what we’ve previously been unable to see: the perilous position of abused women and the dangerous consequences they face, no matter which direction they take. When spelled out to us, this information could increase our depth of understanding. But the next time we encounter a different situation in which we are on the outside looking in, variations on those same kinds of statements-disguised-as-questions may once again start to come up. Why? According to Simon, when we hear stories of trauma that are incomprehensible to us, we are usually unwilling to let go of our understanding of the way the world operates. We have developed a baseline that defines what we know to be true and our inclination is
When we hear testimonies of lived histories that may be beyond what we can personally imagine, a first step [is] to be mindful of the questions that bubble up within us.
to let nothing upset the applecart. He argues that instead of bearing witness to an incomprehensibly traumatic story by allowing it to challenge or undermine what we have come to take for granted, we commonly filter the story. We try to make what we are hearing conform to and confirm our world view. Perhaps we compare it to how we imagine we would act under these conditions. However, what we know to be true may well be riddled with “misconceptions, misinformation, myths, projections, and prejudice.” 5 And most of us cannot possibly claim to know how we would act if we were in these circumstances. Roger Simon suggests that when we hear testimonies of lived histories that may be beyond what we can personally imagine, a first step to altering how we hear them is to be mindful of the questions that bubble up within us. I can listen to (or read) testimonies while at the same time noting my responses to what I am hearing. I can pose questions to myself about my own questions: what compels me to ask this question? What assumptions about my relationship to this speaker’s experience are trying desperately to assert themselves as I listen? And then I consciously choose to allow this testimony to undermine and bust apart truths I have long taken for granted. I can choose to allow the story to “summon me,” as Simon puts it, to allow what I see, hear, and feel to affect my relationship with my perception of my own life in the present moment.6 This is very different from responding to a story of testimony with anger, pity, or guilt. For settler Canadians, it leads us, ultimately, to change our relationship with Indigenous peoples. As we come to recognize that living on this land obliges us to rethink that relationship, based on how these stories have opened our eyes, that historically
Some of the more than fifty languages of the First Peoples of Canada.
fraught relationship can begin to change. The great American writer James Baldwin touched on this very same idea when he famously challenged William Faulkner’s resistance to desegregation. Baldwin wrote: Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free—he has set himself free—for higher dreams, for greater privileges.7
It was Paulette Regan’s book Unsettling the Settler Within that started me down this particular road, so it is appropriate to return to her on this crucial point. She writes: Unless we who are non-Indigenous undertake to turn over the rocks in our colonial garden, we will never achieve what we claim to want so badly—to transform and reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people. Rather we will remain benevolent peacemakers, colonizer-perpetrators bearing the false gift of a cheap and meaningless reconciliation that costs us so little and Indigenous people so much. But what if we were to offer the gift of humility as we come to the work of truth telling and reconciliation? Bearing this gift would entail working through our own discomfort and vulnerability, opening ourselves to the kind of experiential learning that engages our whole being—our heads, our hearts, our spirits. 8
James Baldwin, “Faulkner and Desegregation” in Partisan Review (Fall 1956).
Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada (UBC Press, 2010), 236-237.
I sent a note to Paulette in Vancouver to ask if we could meet and discuss the possibility of adapting her work for the stage. She was amenable, and we began collaborating. We came up with the title together. “From the Heart” would signal that the show was grounded in expressions of the project participants’ own experiential learning, not a performed lecture or exhortation to the audience. The subtitle, “enter into the journey of reconciliation,” set a tone of invitation: an invitation for the audience to be witnesses and fellow travellers on a journey that the project participants were taking. I continued to check in with Paulette, but since her attention was focused primarily on her work with the TRC, she couldn’t commit the time for more than an advisory role. In the months that followed, Paulette’s book became more of an inspiration and springboard for the project than a direct source of an adaptation. I began bringing together a small team of artists in Victoria who could facilitate From the Heart with me. For the team, I saw the need for a co-facilitator who would have more experience than I did in navigating the complexities of our topic. I always envisioned that we would embody the spirit of Paulette’s book by focusing on the artistic expressions of nonIndigenous participants. Together, we would dig into questions about our role as settler Canadians in the shared work of
building reconciliation. As a man, I saw it as analogous to the responsibility that men have in the work of stopping violence against women and ending systemic, gender-based repression. It starts with men openly listening to women and learning to recognize what many men still don’t understand: that their actions contribute to and perpetuate the problem. As I was still formulating my ideas, I went on a long walk with my friend Savannah Walling. Savannah is a theatre artist who has spent many years co-creating original theatre work with settler Canadian and First Nations people in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. When I told her about my vision for the project, she was wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive, but she felt I was making a mistake by conceiving of From the Heart as something isolated from the wisdom and cultural perspectives that Indigenous partners would bring to a collaborative effort. Savannah urged me in no uncertain terms to seek out a First Nations theatre artist as a co-facilitator. She reminded me of what I should have remembered about the source of my own inspiration: when Paulette Regan presents workshops, it is always in partnership with her Anishnaabe Métis co-facilitator Brenda Ireland. Savannah was right, of course. After giving it some consideration, I knew exactly the person I wanted to ask. Krystal Cook is a Kwakwaka’wakw woman from the Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay. Based in Victoria, Krystal is a longtime teacher of healing through the arts and is an accomplished theatre artist in her own right. Still, I was hesitant to approach her. She is exceptionally busy, both professionally and as a mother raising her children, so I figured she probably wouldn’t have the time for this. I mentioned my concerns to one of her friends who put it to me bluntly. “Will,” she said with a smile, “don’t you think you should let her decide if she has enough time?” I called Krystal the next day. We met for coffee, I told her about the vision for From the Heart, and I asked if she would consider joining me as artistic collaborator, co-facilitator, and cultural consultant. After looking over the proposed schedule and checking with her family, she told me she welcomed the opportunity to be involved and that she would make time for it. All through the script development phase, and then periodically during rehearsals and production, Krystal brought her grace and expertise to our work together. We were both enriched by our cross-cultural partnership and the core ensemble frequently spoke of their deep appreciation for Krystal’s presence and her leadership.
Krystal Cook 12
Bisia Belina (far left) and Margot Johnston from SoundBody Studio; Rob Wipond.
Krystal’s performance work is grounded in an Indigenous, body-centred approach to collaborative creation. She led the cast in weekly storytelling workshops, building their confidence and capacity as performers. The storytelling sessions were also a way for her to encourage us to anchor our explorations in personal experience, avoiding finger pointing or analysis that distanced us from our own relationship with the topic we were investigating.
Building our team I also saw the need for a vocal and movement coach, so that we could quickly build mutual trust and individual boldness among our ensemble members through singing and moving together. Bisia Belina is the founder and director of SoundBody Studio in Victoria. For many people, the very thought of singing in public is alarming at best. Bisia and her colleague Margot Johnston share an exceptional gift for untying those knots of anxiety, making it easy for everyone to connect to each other through breath, rhythm, movement, and song. To document the journey of the project participants, I wanted a rapporteur who would conduct informal interviews along the way, tracking the experiences of everyone involved. For this role I turned to Rob Wipond, an award-winning investigative journalist. Rob joined the team as both rapporteur and as a fully participating member of the ensemble. We hoped that by working side by side with the rest of the participants, everyone would come to feel that much more comfortable answering his questions and sharing their reflections on what the work meant to them.
From the Heart became a shared project of two highly regarded non-profit charitable organizations in Victoria. The Inter-Cultural Association oversaw the script development phase. Through their reputation and local networks, they assisted in bringing together a culturally diverse group of participants. Primarily, however, it became a project of VIDEA, a BC-based international development education association. Among its many initiatives, VIDEA is dedicated to promoting and sharing Indigenous knowledge and wisdom across countries, cultures, and generations. Founded in 1977, it is one of Canada’s oldest global education centres. We approached Allan Saunders, the minister at First Metropolitan Church in Victoria to ask if First Met would be willing to provide space for our scripting workshops. First Met has a well-earned reputation for its commitment to social justice and, in particular, its commitment to building reconciliation with First Nations. Allan and the church council graciously agreed to let us meet in their great hall and other rooms free of charge, during the three month script development phase. With the core artistic team in place and the workshop space secured, the next step was recruiting cast members for the core ensemble. In his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell writes about “connectors.” These are men and women who know and are known by lots of different people in lots of different social circles. Connectors are conduits to individuals in these different circles. We were scheduled to begin work on the show in the first week of January. In the fall of the previous year, I sent out a personalized e-mail to about fifteen connectors I knew. I described the project briefly and asked them if they would take a minute or so to consider whether there was anyone in
particular whom they felt would be a good fit for what I was proposing: people who were perhaps interested in the topic, or broadly interested in social justice, and were likely to commit to three months of workshopping the script, followed by a limited run of performances. Theatre experience was not a requirement. I asked these connectors if they would be willing to reach out personally to individuals who came to mind and also to invite those people to pass along word to friends and colleagues they felt should know about it. To make it easy, we put together a single-page information flyer that could be printed for hand distribution or forwarded electronically. Our liaisons at the Inter-Cultural Association and VIDEA also sent out flyers through their networks. This was the general recruiting strategy. I never intended for the script devising process to be an Indigenous cultural literacy program or anti-racism workshop designed for a general audience. Of course, learning would happen all along the way, but, anticipating the relatively short time we would have to build the script from scratch, I felt it was appropriate to identify I’m hoping to educate myself. That’s part of it— having the opportunity to educate myself on the history of indigenous people in Canada and the less talked about history. I guess it’s actually re-educate myself, because I grew up in the school system in Canada. I’ve seen over the last few years how many holes there are on this topic in particular. So I’m hoping to gain a sense of perspective on that. — Lisi
and invite people for the core ensemble who were predisposed to embrace the premise of the show. Word went out and people began to sign up for the information presentation and conversation at the end of November. One afternoon about two weeks before that initial meeting, my phone rang. The woman on the line had heard about our project from a colleague and was eager to join the cast. She told me that her family had been in Canada for generations and that she had recently learned of a story from her family’s history that was, in a word, unsettling. It was an impactful story for her, one that had shifted her understanding of what she thought she knew. She felt that this story needed to be told in some way, but hadn’t been able to figure out just what to do with it. What excited her about From the Heart was the possibility that the show could provide her with a container for her story. There wasn’t enough there for a full length play or novel. Maybe a poem? I believe that with a gentle nudge anyone can write poems and even songs. But once written, how do you go about sharing your creative work with others? A few people who came to the first presentation echoed her experience: they had a story in mind. Most came with an open-minded willingness to take action, even though they weren’t quite sure what the project would entail. Many were intrigued by the creative aspect of the work—drawn by the prospect of relying on theatre to engage the public in the conversation. People who were compelled by a variety of needs stepped up. They saw the potential for using theatrical forms to add dimension and richness to the telling of stories. There was clearly a hunger among everyone who was there to do something active to engage in the work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. In the months that followed, this hunger led each of the project participants to put themselves at risk: to risk the vulnerability of being seen as someone who is at a loss for an answer. What emerged was a validation of the tremendous contribution that art can make to meaningful reconciliation. Because, in that place of uncertainty, art-making gave them a task to embrace. Their task was not to resolve their uncertainty, but rather to find an effective way to create a piece of theatre about the unsettling feelings and stories they were striving to articulate.
When I first came to this country as an immigrant about eleven years ago, I had a romantic idea of who the aboriginal people of
We make the road by walking.
Canada were, but not much about their real
stories and history. I was sad, though, that I
How do you teach courage? How do you create a working or learning space where people feel not only safe from being attacked but actually fortified with enough boldness that they can repeatedly take emotional risks? Here are a few of the things I’ve learned.
didn’t see an easy way to make friends with any First Nations people. I didn’t meet any at
— Paulo Freire and Myles Horton
university or at work, and I didn’t meet any in the Victoria social scene, or when I went out to play different sports. I felt uninformed about a group of people that were part of our community and of the land. I’m from Africa, so I knew that I shared a history of colonialism and its inevitable legacy with these people, but it felt to me like there was this line that separated “us” from “them.” What was attractive to me about this project was that we were not, once again, asking them to tell us their story. We, as settlers and immigrants to this country, were taking the responsibility to explore the kind of relationship we wanted to have with them, to explore what we were willing to bring to the table if we were going to have a real conversation about where we found ourselves now, and to learn about the past as a way to begin healing from the past. I’m hoping this project will start to make up for my lack of knowledge and will facilitate a deeper understanding of a people that we live
Facilitators modeling respectful relationships When the facilitators who are leading the project are able to model sincere respect for each other in their working partnership and for members of the ensemble, it sets a tone. This project was the first time Krystal and Bisia and I had worked together. It was enormously helpful to find that our individual teaching/group facilitation styles were very much in sync. At that first information presentation, Krystal and I had planned a final exercise to wrap up the program. Near the end of the evening, sensing the mood in the room and noting the quickly receding time left on the clock, Krystal felt we needed to drop our plan and do something else. Remember, we had no history of working together. I trusted her instincts and once she proposed a change of plan with a few whispered words, I didn’t hesitate to follow her lead. It was the beginning of what became our model of cross-cultural/ cross-gender collaboration. But it wasn’t always so easy. On subsequent occasions, when we weren’t under pressure to make a quick decision on the fly, negotiations between us were sometimes a little more complicated. When I get an idea about how something ought to be done, I am notoriously resistant to letting go of it. Krystal, too, has some strong opinions. I learned a wonderfully useful phrase from her by watching her use it whenever I suggested an idea that she was resistant to. “Let me sit with it, Will,” she would say. When the tables were turned and she proposed an idea that I resisted, I started using this phrase with her. It wasn’t simply her polite way of shutting me down; I certainly never felt shut down by it. I cannot speak to Krystal’s experience, but for me this handy phrase was a way I could calm my inner control freak. That little voice in my head seemed so willing to leap out at a moment’s notice and stand between me and
with and whose land we’re on. — Paulina 15
my co-facilitator’s suggestion—poised to defend the merits of my idea. I know myself well enough to recognize that if I just consistently agreed to whatever Krystal suggested, I would start to feel resentful about too easily relinquishing my artistic vision in our collaboration. The phrase “let me sit with it” allowed me some time to let the voice of my inner control freak settle down. Given a little time, I could let the prospect of what she had offered sink in. If, an hour later or by the next workshop, I found there was still something I wanted to negotiate, we would talk further about the pros and cons. More often than not, I soon saw the wisdom in her perspective and agreed with full confidence that it was the way to go. “Let me sit with it” was never really directed at Krystal. It was directed at my own stubbornness. It was a mechanism that allowed me to be a better co-facilitator.
A community of co-learners When we started, Krystal and I didn’t know what the performance pieces would be about and never wanted to impose themes on the ensemble. We saw our job as offering prompts that would start the project participants in a useful direction so that they would find their own way. We spent many hours in coffee shop meetings, tinkering with word choices to get the prompts just right. We steered away from prompts that led to judgment calls: prompts like, “what’s your opinion about such and such? or “who was responsible for such and such?” Instead, we tried to come up with prompts that would direct people to tap into the reservoir of their individual experiences and identify particular
stories that had meaning for them. Krystal was gentle but firm in her insistence that all our creative work must be grounded in our own personal discoveries. Krystal and I wrote five prompts intended to tether the group to what we both understood as the fertile imaginative ground of cwélelep—of being unsettled. The participants were asked to fill in the blanks to fit the specifics of the stories they were exploring.
Tell a story about_________ that unsettles you now.
T ell a story about_________ that unsettled you in the past.
T ell a story about your relationship with your encounter with ________ that reveals something to you about yourself.
I n relation to your encounter with _______, tell a story about what has made it possible for a shift to happen in you.
I n relation to your encounter with_______, tell about what you feel would make it possible for a shift to happen in you.
When ensemble members shared material they had written, my director’s instincts often kicked into high gear. I found myself eager to offer my ideas for how to stage their material in a dynamic way. Sometimes I weighed in, but for the most part I tried to resist that inclination while they were in that first, vulnerable stage of creation. I tried always to keep in mind a story I had heard from the visionary choreographer and performer Liz Lerman about the perils of giving expert advice. Once, when Liz was working on a solo show, she was offered a golden opportunity to get some coaching from an acclaimed theatre director. There was a particular moment in the show that didn’t quite work as well as Liz felt it might and she asked the director for some guidance. The director asked her to perform that section, then to do it again. After seeing it twice, she gave Liz an excellent solution for how to make the moment work. And it did work. It was brilliant. In performances it was often the audience’s favourite moment in the show. But Liz said that later she couldn’t shake the feeling that she ought to put a little asterisk in the program explaining that this elegant moment in the show was not actually her idea; it was that director’s idea. Liz wondered how it might have been different if, rather than handing her the answer, the director had offered her a prompt that would have led her to find her own solution.9 As a director, I was deeply moved when I heard this story and I now try to resist my impulse to jump right in and deliver solutions to the actors or writers. I pause and consider if there is instead a useful prompt I can offer that will inspire them to discover their own solutions. I have given a lot of thought to what it means to foster a relationship of mutual respect between a director and an ensemble of theatre project participants. The relationship is symbiotic, of course. We nourish each other. Certainly as the work moves from developing the pieces to rehearsing them, the director’s expertise and outside eye provides an important contribution to the clarity and effectiveness of the staging. But during the creation process, the work of the director is to encourage the participants to find a theatrical language to express what has meaning for them. Just prior to starting on From the Heart, I spent five solid years researching theatrical language. I wanted to become better at teaching community members how to make dynamic and compelling theatre from their stories, so I took time away from my practice to do a doctorate in theatre at the University of Victoria. To launch my research, I wrote hundreds of letters to theatre critics, scholars, directors, and anyone else I could think of who had seen a lot of plays. I asked them all
The work of the director is to encourage the participants to find a theatrical language to express what has meaning to them.
To learn more about Liz Lerman’s work, I recommend her 2014 book Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, published by Wesleyan University Press.
the same question. Had there ever been a single moment in a show that had simply stopped them in their tracks and made them suddenly understand something in a new or deeper way? In all, I received over ninety replies. As you can imagine, asking experienced theatregoers for stories like this yielded remarkable results. Reading each description as it arrived was like unwrapping a gift. Each time I received a story,
“Pieces” not scenes I often use the word “piece” to describe works that are in progress. We are testing ways to translate fragments of stories, feelings, or even single sentences into a performance on stage. An idea for a scene might be rich in potential, but in the tryout phase it may not succeed quite as well as imagined. There is no need to toss it out—we just have another go at it and reconfigure the same idea in a different mode: maybe a song or a shadow theatre image or a visual art installation.
I went looking through archives to see whether I could find anyone else who had seen that same production and written about it. When I did find other accounts, these other writers almost invariably described how the same moments in the performance had affected them. Even though the plays were very different, I found there was an unmistakable pattern. From this pattern, I developed a theory that identified what it was about some theatrical staging that can create such a memorable impression on an audience. I extrapolated my theory into a series of what I called staging strategies and then configured the whole works into a deck of thirty cards modelled after vocabulary flashcards. The face of each card has the name I’ve given it and an image. On the reverse of each is a brief description of the theory for that staging strategy and suggestions for how to stage one’s idea incorporating that strategy. It isn’t a formula by any means, but with these cards I was able to provide the project participants with a vocabulary they could learn and then use to create gripping, theatrically evocative performances based on the stories they wanted to tell. A book version of my doctoral dissertation is currently in the works, and it will include the thirty staging strategy cards, which are configured into five categories like the suits of cards in a Tarot deck.
I have found that during these early stages, using
l Partnering with the Audience
the word “piece” is conceptually freeing. The
l Making it Compelling
core idea remains flexible enough in everyone’s
l Touching the Live Wire
imagination to be able to re-conceive of it staged
l Over to You
in a completely different way.
Gests This last category takes its name from a term introduced by the German playwright, director, and poet Bertolt Brecht. In German, he called it gestus. In English it’s called a gest and it is one of my very favourite words as a theatre director. Think of it as a handy combination of gist—as in the essence of something—and gesture—a single physical action.10 A gest is not a metaphor, but rather a single image in a performance that physically embodies a relationship, a change in understanding, or an emotional state. Brecht and the members of his theatre company were known for spending entire rehearsals trying to figure out what they could do as actors or how they could stage a scene that would encapsulate the crux of what was going on for their characters in one clear, artful gesture after another. Brecht wrote about how a character might suddenly cover her mouth when she realizes she’s about to say too much or how her voice might fall to a whisper when she feels compelled to say something she does not want to admit. He wrote about a fearful man’s quick glance over his shoulder to see if he’s being followed and the subtle turn of the head when he suspects he’s being lied to.11 Anyone with a keen eye can start to recognize gests in other people’s actions and in one’s own experience. What’s so remarkable about a gest is that it has the potential to pack a wallop when it comes to communicating complex ideas on stage. If the actors have done their work well and found a gest that really nails the core sense of what’s happening at that moment in the scene, the audience gets it: they can experience a gut feeling of recognition that reaches them beyond the level of explanatory language. I have found that when actors learn how to identify vivid gests in the stories they want to tell, it is as if they suddenly become fluent in the language of theatre itself. Scenes don’t spring out of nowhere—they still take effort to write—but the process of working out the gests and collecting them helps to
put the actors in the position of being able to make a strong piece of theatre. I consider it like the work of a sous chef who prepares the ingredients just so and lays them all out on the countertop so that everything is ready in advance to assemble a superb meal. Throughout our devising process, I challenged the cast to build their pieces around gests. Working as co-learners to explore their ideas through a theatrical language, the process of collaboratively building all of the performance pieces became an exhilarating task. It was sometimes frustrating and quite often breathtaking. Participants would work on their own in small groups and then we’d reconvene to take turns presenting the pieces for each other as works in progress. It was common during these presentations for the rest of us all to gasp simultaneously at a turning point in the scene, or we’d all burst out laughing, or be held in thrall during several long seconds of awe-filled silence after the piece was finished. If I were to do From the Heart again, I would make a big poster of intentions for the wall of the workshop area where we were developing the pieces. It would be a constant reminder of the basic questions we need to be asking ourselves in our search for gests: l What is the gist of the piece? l How does the setup of the room embody the gist of the piece? l H ow can a revelation in this story be revealed physically? l H ow can a loss in the story be experienced by the audience physically? l H ow can an impasse in the story be shown physically? l How can two or more different perspectives be shown to exist at the same time physically? l H ow can any of the above be revealed through sound or language or the use of an object? l Where is the gap in the piece that the audience fills? (see page 50 on leaving a gap)
The clever portmanteau of gist + gesture = gest comes from Brecht’s English language translator John Willett. For this difficult-to-translate term, Willet dug up the archaic English word “gest,” which means (among other things) the way one carries oneself. See Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic published by Methuen. p. 42 (note).
Bertolt Brecht, The Messingkauf Dialogues, trans. John Willett (Methuen, 1963), 72.
I joined the cast in the third week of performances to play the role of the Scholar in “Entangled.” The truth is, this character was me as much as I was the character. I’ve worked in theatre for over four decades, but I have never been more proud of a role. I was just as stunned as the Scholar by the truths that this show laid bare before me. I was angry at my own colonization and confused about how to move forward. The experience of performing the The little Scholar from “Entangled.”
scene was intimate and, as a teacher myself,
Any piece of theatre requires a good performer, but performers of any experience level are helped when gests are built into the very staging of their scenes. The death of a man is staged by having him seen first in shadow silhouette as a tightrope walker up in the air before he slips off the rope and falls out of the light. A difficult truth is spoken by a woman who suddenly, unexpectedly reveals her presence from behind a curtain. An immigrant’s simple story about her experience encountering a First Nations’ culture is explained in her mother tongue, a language the people in the audience will probably not understand. It becomes relatively easy for additional cast members to step into various roles when these gests, built into the fabric of each scene, carry much of the weight of these scenes’ theatrical oomph. Ultimately, we were able to invite many more participants into the project, relieving the burden of a nightly commitment from the core cast, while expanding opportunities for broader community involvement. With signs displayed in the lobby area and at the end of the show, and in our press material, we let the public know that we welcomed others to join the cast. The original core ensemble performed the show for the first two weeks of the run and then we took a ten-day break. As early as the day after the opening, and continuing right through to the last week, people reached out to us to take up our offer. I would invite them to come meet me on site at the labyrinth and we’d rehearse them in a scene. When we resumed the run for the final three weeks of performances, the cast and crew had grown from thirty people to nearly ninety.
I felt like the Scholar and the audience entered
into a shared experience as co-learners during each performance. All I can say is, I am listening now. I remain profoundly grateful for this life changing experience.
A few months after the show closed, I was meeting a cast member for coffee at a funky little diner in Victoria. We were talking about the project when the waitress came up to our table. She overheard us and joined in our conversation enthusiastically. “Oh,” she said, “From the Heart! That was such fun! I was in that show!” I was a little taken aback since, as the producer and director, I knew everyone in the cast on a first name basis. It turns out that she had indeed been in the show. One of the scenes with a particularly tight-knit group of young actors took it upon themselves to find an understudy from among their friends whenever one of them couldn’t make it for a performance. They would bring their friend in early to rehearse and I didn’t always know who was coming and going. I was thrilled to hear this story in the diner that day. It is a marvelous reflection on From the Heart as a living, breathing entity and a testament to the power of gests to enable newcomers to integrate so seamlessly into the show.
Critiques In addition to her groundbreaking contributions to the field of community-based arts, Liz Lerman is known for creating a formalized process for offering productive criticism. She worked out her Critical Response Process (CRP) after seeing that, despite the best of intentions, feedback sessions all too often become divisive and crushingly disheartening for the person on the receiving end of the critique. She recognized that, on the flip side, warm and fuzzy compliments are lovely to hear but are not very useful if your goal is to figure out what you need to adjust to make your creative work more effective. Liz Lerman’s CRP helped me to understand the nature of the problem. What is intended as helpful commentary becomes, “This is how I would do it if it were my scene.” We inadvertently take the creators/performers out of the equation, as if we are generously supplying them with the insight they lack to achieve their own vision. I’ve seen it happen again and again and I have fallen into the trap myself. At the very least, a director can call attention to this tendency by asking respondents to consider how they might give feedback that honours the creators/performers of the piece and supports them in pursuing their vision. It may be simply offering them an account of what you saw: what their work in progress conveyed to you. Knowing how their piece is being read gives them something to work with.
We can support each other to create work that we don’t all necessarily agree with.
That is only the first step in Liz and her co-author John Borstel’s very readable 2003 handbook, Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process: A Method for Getting Useful Feedback on Anything You Make, from Dance to Dessert. In it, they present a thoughtful four-step system for achieving productive group critiques. I highly recommend it for group facilitators of any kind. One of the great strengths of From the Heart is the capacity of its structure to contain contradiction and paradox. Unlike a play with characters, a plot and the arc of a single story, we create an aesthetically compelling place—a labyrinth—that can harbour a multitude of different points
of view. From the Heart becomes a laboratory for people to investigate and craft creative expressions of what they each individually feel is important to focus on, according to what has moved them. It honours the distinctiveness of each person’s contribution, while leading to a cumulative, unified experience for the audience. The various pieces do not necessarily have to represent the consensus of the entire ensemble. Having said that, late in the process some members of the ensemble approached me to voice their concerns about what they felt was an inappropriate line or word choice here and there in a couple of the scripts for pieces that were not their own. In each case, I brought these concerns to the attention of the creators/performers of the pieces in question. They were not challenges to the artistic expression of the work, but rather reflections on what they felt were unintended implications of word choices. On a fraught topic like this one, nuance can carry a lot of meaning. I am proud to say that we had built enough mutual respect and trust among the members of the ensemble that when I passed along these critiques, they were well received. In one instance a writer made a slight adjustment simply as a gesture of compromise, while another embraced it as a learning moment that helped him see his own unacknowledged assumptions more clearly.
Gifting Will summed up the project with one word: ‘gift’ and he says this because all the time, working and creating together for the past months were truly a gift of giving. It was a reawakening, a refresher, and reminder of why we are here. — Anna
In very practical ways, we established a culture of gifting among our community project participants from start to finish. The very first day of the devising workshops we had a stack of journals to offer as gifts for the participants. Krystal and I were planning to encourage everyone to keep a record of their own experiences, to take notes during workshops, and write about their reflections on the readings they were doing. This writing would serve as source material for the pieces. It made perfect sense to give participants good quality journals for this task. Providing food for participants is also a standard part of community arts practice. We were delighted that members of a BC nonprofit society called Aboriginal Neighbours as well as Victoria-based caterer Ava Christl volunteered to prepare and serve delicious vegetarian meals at each of the all day Saturday workshops during the script development phase. The great hall at First Met Church has a commercial grade kitchen attached to it, making preparation easy. The cast members took turns tidying up and washing dishes after each meal. We set aside a small fund for bus and ferry ticket subsidies to offer to anyone who could use a hand getting to the workshops and performances. The culture of gift giving promoted the impulse among participants to give gifts back and that manifested in every possible way. Our gifting culture extended into the performances, with tea offered in the heart chamber. When the labyrinth was finally dismantled, we gave pieces of the set that had been made especially for the production to local schools and organizations that could use them. Ultimately, the whole impetus for the project could be seen as a gift the participants were offering to their community.
Aboriginal Neighbours is an ecumenical and cross-cultural organization initiated by the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia. It came to include the United Church of Canada, Victoria Presbytery; the Vancouver Island monthly Meeting of the Friends Service Committee (Quakers); and Aboriginal people on the island. We welcome people who share a desire to build relationships of trust and respect between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. The activities to accomplish this include public forums to increase awareness of treaty issues, involvement in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, securing funding for Aboriginal people to attend TRC hearings, relationship building at events sponsored by First Nations and providing support for groups such as the creators of From the Heart. For more information, see www.aboriginalneighbours.org
Interview questions What is it about From the Heart that drew you to it, and what are you hoping to get from working on it? Do you have any thoughts about how From the Heart may make a difference to people who come to see the show?
A rapporteur I had not heard the term rapporteur before I came to Canada. Coming from Old French, meaning “to bring back,” it is a person designated to keep note of what happens and write a report. Because our production of From the Heart was intended as a pilot project, we felt it was important to interview the participants during various stages of the project and record how they felt about the experience. What I came to realize was that Rob’s contribution as our rapporteur was far more valuable than simply gathering data, establishing a record, and assessing what he learned from the interviews. During our communal lunches, and sometimes meeting participants for coffee and conversation outside the workshop hours, Rob sat with the men and women involved in the project to reflect on their experiences. Early on in the process, he asked them about the project as it was unfolding. Later, he asked them to look back on what they’d learned and to look forward to suggest what they would like to tell others who are considering doing similar projects.12 This too, was a gift. Rob gave people opportunities to talk about what they were learning—their discoveries and their frustrations—and as they were articulating their thoughts, they were processing the experience. We regularly did this as a group of course, sitting in a circle at the end of each session. But during an intimate one-on-one conversation with someone who is focused exclusively on what you have to say there is perhaps more of a sense of freedom to work through your thoughts and your ideas. I would recommend that anyone who produces From the Heart should include a rapporteur as part of the team.
What do you hope others will experience, get or take away from a production of the show? What are your most memorable experiences of From the Heart? What are some of the things you know now that you didn’t know when you started work on the project? Or what did you learn? How or when did these learnings take place? Looking back at some of your answers from the first interview, did From the Heart fulfill your expectations or hopes, surprise you in any way, or just generally what can you now add to what you said before? Looking back, can you think of any personal experiences you had, or things you observed happening with your fellow cast members or among audience members that are examples of how the show had impacts? And do you see those as positive impacts? What do you think is important to say, recommend or suggest to others who are considering taking part in a project like From the Heart?
Our cast members’ words of advice can be found at the end of the book.
From the Heart is one hell of a big project. You’ll need a project director who is well connected in the community and knows how to access resources. You’ll need somebody who can handle juggling twenty balls at once and somebody who has a lot of tact. You’ll need somebody who has great faith and trust that it will all come together. — Advice from a cast member When I saw this cast member’s piece of advice to potential producers I had to smile, because she is absolutely right. It is an ambitious project for anyone to take on. It is worthwhile to find a project director who can be unflappable in the face of the constant stream of challenges that show up every day. If I am unflappable, it’s because I have learned to embrace serendipity as a basic philosophy in my life. The word “serendipity” comes from The Three Princes of Serendip, an ancient Persian fairy tale, first recorded near the beginning of the 14th century. Serendip is the Persian and Urdu name for Sri Lanka. Some say the name comes from Sim-halad-vipa, which means “The island where the lions live.” The fairy tale is not actually about lions but about ferocious dragons threatening the seas and waterways surrounding Sri Lanka. In the story, the King of Serendip sends his three sons—the three princes—on a quest to find a secret scroll that explains how to kill the dragons.
The point of the story is that the princes fail. They never get the secret scroll, because all along the way they encounter people and events that divert their attention from the planned path of their journey and their goal. Each of them chooses to follow one of these interesting detours instead. The funny thing is that in the end, they wind up ridding the island of dragons in a way they never expected. In 1754, the English art historian Horace Walpole wrote a letter to a friend recalling this story, which he had read as a child. He coined the term “serendipity” to account for the experience of discovering something valuable that you had not been looking for. To me, having confidence in serendipity is a source of fearlessness. It is a philosophy I encourage everyone to embrace. You may indeed fail if you cling exclusively to your predetermined plan. But if you are willing to let go of your expectations and accept alternatives that present themselves, you may find that solutions you never considered are dropped right at your doorstep.
Up to this point, I have been sharing my vision for the
project and my experience of it. Before continuing, it’s time
to introduce you to the others on the core creative team. 24
Conversation Among Colleagues A lively dialogue with the artistic team 25
Will Weigler: Well, let’s start by talking about what
each of us felt we brought to the collaboration. Krystal Cook: For me, after sitting with the idea of
the project, and with Will’s outline of where he was going with it, I quickly began to sense that what was needed from me was to lovingly, firmly, support people’s voices. Support breath, support creativity, and bring people back to self in a safe place where they could express themselves. I gave them some creative expressive tools for their voices to be heard—to trust what is already there and access their voices to express their body memories, their personal creation stories, and their visions—all through a creative space. I moved quickly, not wanting people to think about it too much. Bisia Belina: So you wanted gut reactions and
responses to the questions you were asking them to explore. Krystal: Yes, while supporting them, Bisia, to feel safe,
relaxed, and comfortable. So if I’m asking you to write about ancestral stories or a favourite relative, you’re just going to trust whatever comes up first and you’re going to go for it. Because it is about relationship to Indigenous people, but in order to explore that, one has to breathe in and bring forth one’s own ancestry as well and the history connected to that or the loss of memory or disconnect that’s associated with that. That’s an interesting place to go. That’s rich. That’s important. That’s the truth. Will: I think one of your prompts involved inviting
us to write about our relationship to place. It’s such a significant part of worldviews among Indigenous peoples. I know that it really resonated for a number of people to think about and write our own stories about place. Would you be willing to describe some of the other writing prompts that you gave? Krystal: We did some clustering, starting with a word
in the middle of a page and then writing a cluster of words around it—using stream of consciousness about everything that word brings up for you—and then putting the words from the cluster into a poem.
to work in pairs and embody the poems with voice and movement, a scarf and a small stone and a piece of cloth—to express the poem in just a few words. You also taught us about your ideas on five steps of storytelling—gateways into storytelling. Krystal: Tone, rhythm, sound, movement, imagery.
Those are the gateways I’ve discovered to worldview. A lot of my work involves drawing out people’s worldviews. And it will be different for other facilitators, other coaches. Rob: You were always having us turn inward. The purpose wasn’t personal healing, it was to nudge each person to get their story out. You also invited us to write about some memory in our own lives related to the themes of the show that had really changed us or that led us to learn something. I remember early on you had people get into pairs and one person would come up and introduce the other person—their name and the history of their name, where it came from and what it meant to them. That one was so interesting— like passing along oral history in the moment. Krystal: I played with that throughout, Rob—oral
history. Continuing to affirm and support people and celebrate and honour how much oral history we all carry. Rob: I was surprised by the effectiveness of that exercise. You became a conduit for me to reflect on the importance of my own family history to me and in the eyes of others. Now that we’re talking about it, I’m thinking of a few things that I felt you embodied in our process. And this is something people told me in the interviews also. In a way, you were the roots that connected us to the earth. Everybody talked about how they felt you were a conduit for our sense that the show has a heart and that it is rooted to something very real and tangible in relation to Indigenous peoples. That was absolutely crucial. And then I think we saw how your consciousness of that and attempts to respond to that in a caring and loving way just reinforced it all the more. Will: One of the reasons I was really keen to write
Rob Wipond: I remember one of your exercises was for us to read some passages from books of poems by Indigenous writers, and then you asked people
to Canadian publishers to get donations of books on Indigenous perspectives was to relieve you, Krystal, of the burden of being “the one who knows all” about
Indigenous cultural understanding. I wanted to encourage people in the cast to take the initiative to go to this stack of books and do their own learning and then be able to turn to you to share their reflections on what they were getting, but not see you as the source of all knowledge and wisdom for cultural insights. Rob: Right. It wasn’t your job to educate people. Krystal: Thank you, Will, for doing that. When I think
of that choice you made with the books, it’s another action of care on your part. For me to do less, to hold back at times took such great strength and discipline. I had to trust the process. We didn’t have a blueprint for what we were doing—we didn’t know what it was going to look like. For us to be allies in a real way, we were going to have to do something different. I knew it might feel a little odd, because the way I was raised was to always give to community and since I work in education it was not easy at times to refrain from stepping in and educating. The exact role I played was intentional, but not . . . premeditated. And it was hugely about trusting spirit: spirit’s guidance. A few times in the process people said, “Oh, we want more First Nations people to be involved in what we’re creating.” We heard it, but didn’t feed that request too much because even though several of the cast members had a fair amount of awareness about Indigenous cultural understanding coming into the project, it wasn’t about that. It was about standing in the space, and it was about one’s personal relationship with the current issues and histories we were facing. I could easily have brought in a lot of resource people I know to teach, but that’s not the direction we intended to go. And even though it was hard to resist that impulse, I’m glad we did. The phrase that comes to mind is, “Less is more.” We filled the space with what the participants brought with them, instead of filling the space with teachings by guests that may take everyone away from how they’re feeling in the present right here and now today. I felt that was part of my role to be aware of that and support it. Bisia: There were times when you reminded me of
a dancer leading a tango. Sometimes all it takes is a single finger on the back to let your partner know to go in this direction or that. Will: A recurring theme among people was anxiety about facing issues and being afraid that they were
going to do something wrong—that we would be displaying our ignorance and be called on it in the show. So to be able to be in that place of rawness and risk and have you there as a presence without judgment or criticism was such an enormous gift. I saw what a difference it made for us that you, as an Indigenous person, would offer guidance points. You’d give us that gentle nudge on the back as if to say, “Go ahead, continue in that direction,” or “You might consider this other layer—this other piece of information—that could affect the choices you’re making.” It wasn’t our job to be your pupils or for you to be our teacher. It was up to us to step up and take responsibility to learn what we needed to learn. Your presence gave us a sense of confidence that we were traveling on the right path and that if any of us, including me, began to go off the rails, due to a lack of cultural awareness, you’d let us know. I so appreciated the expertise you brought in and the way you accomplished that. Krystal: For the sake of explaining the role I played
to another producer of From the Heart or to a First Nations person who might take on that role, I’d have to say it’s complex. It’s definitely not the role of a critic. There was some neutrality to my role as a witness, and that role feels culturally sound to me. And it’s interesting because there was a sense of ease about it. It was warm. It was . . . kind. One of the most powerful circles we had was after Brenda and Paulette did their workshop. I felt that after that very intense experience, people felt really safe to express all of what was going on inside them without censorship or concern about being judged on what was or wasn’t politically correct to say. They put it all out into the space. It was clear to me after that circle that people were going deep, opening themselves widely. Having a theatre background made a difference. Will and I were not going to get caught up and stuck spending hours and days with people debating with each other. That took careful crafting. I’ve been in groups—university groups especially—where the facilitation has gone right off the rails. All of a sudden there’s a divisive debate and even when people leave they don’t feel good because it hasn’t been guided and it’s gone nowhere. One of the things I’ve learned from my teachers is that at the end, you close things up in a good way. You bring people back to feeling whole. Our intentions were very clear. We were facilitating
everything around inviting people to bring forward their views and experiences and political passions. We knew that could be tricky, considering the content of what we’re dealing with and, more importantly, that it wouldn’t be productive when it came to getting us to a place of creative development. Will: We focused on turning our questions and engagement with all of this stuff—that tumult—into some form: into writing and staging and music and visual expression.
any time you could ask me on the side about what I thought, and I would be honest with you. And if I saw things going sideways, you knew you could count on me to let you know, right?
Will: Let’s hear from you, Bisia. Several years ago, when I participated in one of your workshops, I saw something that led me to invite you to be on this team. I saw how the singing and movement work you do encourages boldness. In this project we were asking people to take emotional risks, personal risks. I know that a lot of people have serious qualms about singing in public and I saw how you were able to support people who are queasy about singing get to a place where they were able to make that leap and be bold and do it in a relatively short time. As a theatre director, I believe that once a person is able to step into that place of boldness physically and vocally, even a little bit, it translates directly to their capacity to take that step emotionally and take bigger risks. And I saw that your vocal and movement work was gentle enough that a diverse group of all different ages and levels of experience could access it. We weren’t a choir learning songs or a dance class learning choreography. That could be very intimidating for people who did not sign up for hardcore performance training. I was quite taken with how your process is open enough that anyone can do it. That’s one of the things I appreciated about what you brought to the project.
Rob: Krystal, I’d like to ask you, what did you learn
Bisia: What I did related to your need. I understood
from your work on the project?
that your need was to bring an experience to a group of people that would help them connect as an ensemble as quickly as possible. I did that. And I did that in a variety of ways. I brought two qualities, two ways of being in my world. One, because I’ve been a registered massage therapist for thirty years, I am a health care provider. It’s a perspective that allows me to view and address and support people in pain. Whether it’s physical or emotional, I see that. So I come up with ways to support them, individually as well as in a group. The other part of what I bring is as a teacher of vocal improvisation and movement for eighteen years. That’s what you invited me for—to bring all the threads together. In the work I do, people realize
Krystal: Yes, because at the end of the day . . . it is a
theatre piece. Rob: Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking throughout
this exchange. It may be obvious by now, but it should be said that the person in your role, Krystal, needs to be a theatre artist—not any kind of artist, but a theatre artist in particular, who may be experienced with improvisation or story development. I think that is a big part of it. Will: What I’m hearing during this part of the conversation is the question of what it means to be a cultural consultant. It’s a term we’ve used to describe part of your role, Krystal, but during our process I think we discovered some of the complexities and nuances of what that means. Krystal: Among other things, Will, you knew that at
Krystal: I learned that I can be present and guide the
boat amidst a storm. I can absorb a lot and still be present and vigorous and alive. I also learned that as an educator and a practitioner of healing through the arts, and a theatre artist, I can adapt very well to an artist facilitator role. I could bring my skills to facilitate difficult, very politically charged discussions into a theatrical and creative form. For all of us, there was a lot of work and care and strategizing and skill that went into making this move along in a good way. You know, I went through the show as a member of the audience several times, and once with my family. 28
Each time, I saw people involved in the project who cared enough to take the time to explore, to take the time to create, and to take the time to tell the truth. I saw them take action. I saw them take risks. I was moved very deeply by that. It was powerful to go through the labyrinth and be witness to the history. So, as far as my learning, I feel great gratitude that I had the opportunity to witness the process of making the show, to be loving, to be supportive, to be creative, and to help to hold the space for the work.
that they all have parts to play. We need a base line and we need an anchor. We need a melody, and we need harmony. We need counter harmony and we need counter time. And out of all that, the language of music and the skills within musical composition, you have a piece of music. If you have a piece of music, you have a group. So the group learned not just music and timing—which were important—but also, through the movement and body components, we gave people permission to start extending their voices beyond their small selves to fill the room—take space, voice what was inside, and not lose the quality of the emotion. Krystal: I took part in most of the warmups with Bisia
and Margot and what I appreciated, as an artist and a human being, was having that time and space to get present. Whether as an artist or an athlete, we always have to do a warmup, we always have to get present in the body and respect the body we have—the vessel. That’s a time of honing, self-loving, and self care. For me, the warmup allowed that nurturing time, that self-care time, the time to get present, to be still, to check in and become open and connected to breath and to access all of the richness that lies within. That then ran through everything we did. To me, it is about being brave and being bold, but it’s also about being courageous enough to express one’s primal voice. When I let out that sound, Bisia, it’s not so much about what it sounds like, but it’s the interaction with each other when we are connected in that place. It’s about having a ritual, too. It’s about developing discipline. Will: So, Bisia, if you were to advise someone who will be taking on the role you played, what do you feel is important for that person to know, or what should a producer look for when hiring someone? Bisia: I feel that there needs to be a person who stands
back enough that they can watch the group mind, the group body, and the group soul. See where it dips and falls. See where it suffers. See where it is stuck. See where it needs to be held. This person must be able to read the needs. Look for someone who has a sense of loving the art form they have, someone who can bring people together. People who do theatre and vocal and movement have many different techniques and approaches. But I feel that making sound is really important: making sound as a group. This project was about cultures being silenced and history being used as a silencing tool. As settlers and witnesses, in examining historical facts, there is tremendous shame. Shame
silences and enrages. VoiceWorks gives people a safe container and the skills to express themselves. When I take what I’m thinking and feeling and put it into singing and movement, I transform it. I take action. Rob: I would say a music/vocal artist may know full
well how to work with experienced, disciplined singers and dancers, but for this kind of project, you’re looking for someone who is particularly sensitive to nurturing people’s spirits. Will: I loved that one of our cast members who has training in Qi Gong practice stepped up when we invited her to lead some sessions with the rest of the cast. That’s the sort of practice that is so useful in these circumstances. Rob: And yet, as valuable as that was, I’d be sure
to always lean toward a practice that’s grounded in performance and theatre, because it remains playful. If you lean too much toward spiritual practice, you run the risk that it becomes about that. And this is a project about theatre, about performance. Will: Margot, you came in to substitute for Bisia on some of the Saturday mornings. What’s your take on the work you did? Margot Johnston: I think I stepped into the role maybe four or five times, as a student-teacher, working with movement, rhythm and sound, melody, words and harmony, and inviting people to create vocal improv pieces that related to the processes of From the Heart. In my mind, I had a goal of helping people arrive in the space, helping people warm up physically and vocally, helping them become a group and open the creative process for what was coming next. I think the participants would have benefited from more clarity, more often, about how experimenting with voice and movement related to the whole project. Many of the people in the group were very shy, and particularly shy to have their voices heard. Improvising with sound and movement was really important for people to become confident in their own voices. It seems to me that if you’re going to stand up and do things in front of people from a deeply heartfelt place, not simply an “acted” place, you need skills that help you land in your body, so you have access to your own emotions and to your ability to express those emotions in a very personal way.
Will: I think it did. And that was my hope, that the work you and Bisia do was just the thing to get people who are maybe timid about performing, who haven’t done anything like this before, who don’t know each other and are from across generations, to feel willing to make that kind of physical commitment in a relatively short time. One of the things I saw you do, which I really appreciated, seemed to be directed at people who were hesitant about singing. As a way in, you often started by asking people to create rhythms with their hands on their thighs, while sitting in chairs. It was a much less risk-based place to start. I saw that particular approach allowing a way for people to ease in subsequently to more commitment with their voices—first standing up and then moving. Margot: Because I was a student-teacher, there was a
certain VoiceWorks format set up for me to follow. This brought some challenges for Bisia and me as co-facilitators, working alternately with the two groups. Now we are colleagues and collaborators, so it would be a completely different experience with a great degree of freedom and collaboration. Will: We established a rigorous expectation that the participants would show up each day and be ready to start together on time. And I think you will all agree that everyone was consistently respectful of that expectation. But you’ll remember there was one person in the cast who always slipped in late on the days we sang. I talked to her about it and she explained that she did not want to be involved in the singing and felt that being tardy on those days was the most gracious way that she could avoid it. In her case, I thought it was perfectly all right to give her that latitude and not to demand that she be on time. Margot: Our voice is one of the most important and
most vulnerable things we have, and one of the things that has been most subject to silencing and abuse. People come to vocal improv for many reasons and one of the reasons is to reclaim that voice. It needs to be a very careful process. So when people come to do work on a project like this one, no matter what is offered, be it singing exercises, theatre games, or story-telling, there will sometimes be resistance. The facilitator needs the sensitivity to allow participants to find the level of commitment they are able to make. We can support them and help them find their way, but it is their choice to take that step.
Krystal: Will and I spent many long discussions, in the
early days of the project planning, talking through how to make sure that people were both taken care of and allowed space as adults to take responsibility for taking care of themselves. I was relentless in my concern for the psychological care of people in the cast. Without trying to be counselors or therapists, we knew that from an ethical point of view we wanted to support their well-being. We had to move very quickly to build a sense of safety and trust, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. But when you take care of the basics, it can happen quickly. Bisia: Yes, we were all committed to providing a
net for the cast members. The need for the safety net became most apparent to me in the pre-show warmups. After a few evenings of performances, we all noticed that the cast was under pressure from the months of preparation and the emotional weight of the performances. Reconnecting body, emotion, and movement became a welcomed priority. By bringing ten minutes of body awareness and singing into each pre-show gathering, the cast members were able to become a group again and recharge their energy to perform. Will and I were able to share responsibility for holding and preparing the group for each evening’s performance. Another way that we helped with the well-being of both cast and audience was through our nightly ritual of cleansing the energy in the labyrinth. Each evening, before the show started, four performers from “It’s Complicated” walked the labyrinth, ringing chimes and dropping leaves. Just as the heart of the labyrinth was a place of solace and connection for the people, our ritual was intended to prevent the layers of emotion from building up in the space itself, freeing it to receive the feelings and impressions of the evening to come. Will: Let’s turn to you Rob. Can you describe what you did in the project? Rob: There were a few things. I interviewed the show’s
participants at the beginning—as many as I could— either as individuals or in small groups. Sometimes it was in person, sometimes on the phone, sometimes over the lunches. And it took me a while to get to everyone, so “at the beginning” became “during” the project. Then I interviewed people again at the end, a couple of weeks after it was over. At the end, I re-read all the interviews and wrote about issues and themes
that I saw emerging around what people experienced. They were useful for us to get a sense of how people were feeling and will, I think, be useful for other people who are considering doing a show of this kind. Will: I think it was quite important for people to feel they had someone else to talk to—someone other than the director.
of their thinking or feeling. I was definitely supporting them to go there—not to censor it—because that’s where the richness lies. And that’s what’s going to move people. That’s what’s going to touch them: that old thing that’s stored down there and been passed on from seven generations of colonial thinking, and some didn’t even know they were carrying it in their bodymemory. When it makes it to the performance, that’s what’s going to touch somebody.
Rob: Yes. There may be a tendency to see my role
as counselor-like, but it’s not that. I was there as a journalist for people to tell their story to. Sometimes they wanted to share something emotional or an opinion. And I felt it was valuable to have someone there, a neutral party, who was somehow part of the professional team but also part of the cast ensemble, who they could talk with. Especially at the end, people told me how much they appreciated having a chance to reflect and look back on what they went through—to share that with someone and to know that it would be shared with others through my reporting. So the role I played turned out to have a much more substantial impact than what we originally envisioned, which was that I would be there simply to record and report. Will: I think you’re right about that distinction—that you weren’t a counselor. What I saw was you playing the role of witness. As a journalist, you’re good at coming up with questions that prompt people to dig deeper and more thoughtfully into their experience, but then once you asked your questions, they took the helm and you stood as witness to what they told you. Rob: Witnessing, that’s the right word. I was very
much holding a space for them. It was another way, in this project, for them to get their thoughts and feelings out. Krystal: To have the space to be able to exorcise one’s
thoughts and feelings and even reactions to what comes up is so valuable for self-care. Even if things people told you didn’t wind up in the performance, Rob, it still allowed a space for those things to get out—to be said—and for them to voice what they’re thinking and maybe even surprise themselves. They might even go into a rant. Some people might not want to do that in a group, but they might feel safe to rant to you. And it gives them a chance to collect their thoughts, then they might come back to the group and they might write something like that or it might just be that the rant loosened something in the deep cavern
Rob: I think it’s about learning and exploring. So you
were all embodying that and I did as well. My attitude when I was interviewing was to learn and explore. Again, as a journalist I’d be saying, “Why this?” and, “What about that?” and it would help people reflect and get down to stuff they really did want to share in a way that they might not have, if they felt I was there just to interview them for an evaluation of the project. I think many people rapidly got a sense that I was sincerely interested in hearing what they had to say and learning from them. And there was some considerable thought that went into the questions I asked. Will, you and I worked on them together, carefully designing the questions so that people would be able answer them according to their different levels of comfort. I think the report I compiled at the end was valuable as well. Through some basic analyses of these qualitative interviews, looking for recurring themes, we were able to confirm or dispel some of our own beliefs about what worked, what didn’t work, and why. We learned, for example, about how moved so many of the participants were by their own experiences and learnings even before we got to the performances. We learned how people saw the Indigenous themes dovetailing with the theatrical expression of their ideas. Many people reported how their understanding about the issues was profoundly affected by the very process of finding ways to express themselves through playful, creative, or theatrical ways. It also became evident through the interviews just how much members of the ensemble were making an impact on each other—people told me about feeling touched or inspired to witness each other’s learning. I don’t believe these perceptions were voiced anywhere during the project as much as they were to me in the interviews. I passed along what I was hearing and seeing to you, Will, and I think you were able to then build on that information in your facilitation process. Another thing I did was to take notes while we were working on the script development 31
exercises. The notes started as something for my own use, but it morphed into me writing poetic one-line encapsulations of the scenes I was seeing and then reading them to everyone at the end of the presentations. It seemed those little summaries had an interesting effect on the way people thought about their own scenes or other people’s scenes, as they heard and remembered what everyone had done at the end of each session. Krystal: And when you read back your summaries
of the scenes, I think people felt heard and seen and acknowledged. It’s playful and it’s powerful. Will: Rob, your summaries named what was going on.
In a way, that’s what the show was trying to do. In these performance pieces, we were essentially naming our struggles to understand, naming our unsettling experience, and shining a light on these things through the different scenes, songs, and visual installations. In a way, what you did was to model that. So, what would you recommend as the qualities that a project rapporteur should have? Rob: I feel it’s important that whoever fills that role
joins as a participating member of the ensemble. I think that helped people feel comfortable with me and relate to me in the conversations we had. It may not be critical—maybe if you were present the whole time that would be okay—but I do think being an actual group member is valuable. I’d also encourage finding a person for my role who is a bit of a poet—a witness and a poet. The job is to bear witness to people, assist them to learn about and explore and discover what they’re going through, and then in some way attempt to reflect that back to the group. Krystal: What about you, Will? What do you feel you
brought to the project as a director and as co-facilitator of our script development work? Will: My job, first and foremost, was to assist the
participants in finding ways to express their ideas theatrically, rather than just explaining them. We were more or less successful. And certainly the concept of the gest was so important—looking for a physical manifestation that encapsulated that feeling or response to the material they were digging into. We talked about how each of you, in your respective roles, embodied spirit and care and bearing 32
witness. I think I embodied the mind, which is my default mode as a theatre artist. Rather than going right to improvisation, I generally encouraged people to consider what they wanted to convey and how they might orchestrate their piece to convey it. My approach was connected to heart and body, of course, but it involved taking a moment ahead of time to think things through. I worked on ways to build their capacity to access a theatrical vocabulary for expression, and then I met them as a co-creator—finding equitable ways to contribute to their creative process without taking over. I’d say, hands down, the most important thing I brought to bear during the devising process was making sure that we didn’t act out stories from history, especially stories from First Nations histories. I made it clear to everyone, I think, that those are not our stories to tell. Really, what was exciting for me was that instead of focusing on acting out stories that are perceived as having happened in the past and are now over, we focused on stories from the past that move us right now, as non-Native people in the 21st century. In performance, having that intention invites the audience to be witness to something that is very present and very alive for the performers. I worked hard in the script devising phase to make sure we were anchored in creating work that said, “I am moved. I am summoned by a story in these ways.” I also think an important theme for me was continually emphasizing the importance of beauty— grounding the pieces in theatrical forms that were astonishing. Rob: I saw both you and Krystal embody a culture of
learning and discovery. And for other communities who take on this project, it’s important, I think, that they commit to their own process of learning and discovery as they develop their scripts. You got our whole cast on board as allies because you didn’t have this predetermined script all set. You had a sense of openness so that we all thought, “Okay, we’re helping Will here. He needs us!” (laughs). Krystal: Your full-on commitment, your tenacity,
and enthusiasm were a great comfort and security for everybody, I think, including me. Will: Thank you for that. There’s an important difference, you know, between saying, “I’ve got everything under control,” and saying, “Everything
is going to be fine—we’ll find a way.” I was trying to model resilience. I was pretty transparent about our funding challenges and other bumps in the road, so I think it was clear to everyone that everything was not under control, but I believe I helped make people feel that we would figure out a way to make it all work. And, for the most part, we did. Is there anything else anyone wants to say about the work we did, looking back on it now? Krystal: There is such a rich diversity of what people
receive, what they might witness, from being part of the process—it’s so varied. Maybe one becomes more comfortable in their own skin—to be more comfortable talking about “decolonization over coffee,” or just to have some tools to be able to go and engage with others and not feel so full of angst. Some people might feel that, “Now I can talk to my in-laws,” and start those conversations. I think what each of us got from it—the gifts—were varied. And I don’t think one could have imagined what the outcome would be at the beginning, because the process was very . . . it was very fluid, very unknown. Uncharted territory. We didn’t have a blueprint. We had a framework. We had guiding principles and I feel we had some agreed upon ethics about how we were going to approach the work, which was a strong enough base to work with. But the other part was going to have to reveal itself when we surrender, and are vulnerable, jump off the cliff, and let the outcome manifest. Rob: I hadn’t quite thought of it like this before, but
the project seemed to be a way of taking action on Indigenous issues, on Indigenous-related issues, in a positive way. We do see that there is a growing willingness to do resistance action in support of Indigenous issues, but people throughout the political sphere really crave, I think, actions that can seem radical, not just giving to a charity or something, but positive actions for change. I volunteer a lot in the Transition Town movement in Victoria and we often see how many people get drawn to that. People reveal their own secret radicalism as long as you can offer a way of doing it that will make a positive contribution. I feel that this project did that, and I feel that craving has lived on. A lot of people left this project saying, “I want more.” Not necessarily another theatre project, but wanting more ways to take positive action in their community around these issues. It made me rethink the purpose of theatre. I was thinking, how many shows have come through
Victoria where thirty people—minimum—would say it profoundly shifted their understanding or changed their lives? Not very many! And here we had thirty in the original cast alone, many of whom were saying something like that, let alone the audience. To me, that said so much. When do we value the process of building a piece of amateur theatre in a community group context quite in that way, at that depth? It’s truly community theatre: People were here to take action on their own learning in a public way—with other people, through the arts. Bisia: The word that comes to me is “respectful.” The
mood was respectful from the word go. And you gave people a place to land. You asked us to really stretch, taking difficult issues, our questions, our uncertainties, our not knowing, and put them out there through theatre. You provided an opportunity for that. Krystal: People came into the show at so many different
levels—being involved in theatre already or not and coming with all their own levels of expertise and gifts and knowledge and wisdom. It was very rich and interesting and very meaningful. Because it’s rare. And I don’t say that lightly. As an Indigenous woman, in my whole life involved with theatre, I have never, ever come across a project where non-Indigenous people volunteered so much of their time to explore this issue and then, whether they were experienced in theatre or not, wanted to perform in a show to share it for audiences to witness. It gave me a sense that people want to take action if there is a venue that is presented to them, if there is a gateway.
The next section will take you through the labyrinth, from beginning to end, accompanied by descriptions of our creative process in terms of our search to identify gests. 33
Through the Labyrinth
A map of the labyrinth was offered to audience members in the heart chamber, at the end of the journey. Giving them a program or a map at the beginning would have defeated the purpose: finding oneâ€™s way along the path, not knowing what lies ahead.
A gest of caring:
We made an effort to build a sense of caring for one another into the workshop sessions and wanted to extend that sensibility into the show itself, by expressly demonstrating our care for the audience. When entering a place that’s new, people generally want to figure out what’s going on there and what they are expected to do. When you come into a theatre with comfy seats and a stage up front, the expectations are pretty obvious. You can be confident that your job is to sit back and take in the show. All bets are off when you walk into the entrance of a labyrinth that
When you hear the sound of rain We built our own rainsticks. It is easy to do. Instructions can easily be found on the internet. During the course of the eighty minute show, the audience repeatedly heard the sound of the rain from the rainsticks as a cue for them to continue their journey. They finally came to the heart of the labyrinth and, after spending time sipping tea and talking with others, everyone eventually made their way to the exit door and out into the evening air. Hanging next to the exit door was a fabric banner offering a light-hearted wink to the audience.
Remember, every time you hear the sound of rain, it means it is time to continue on your journey of reconciliation. Welcome back to British Columbia
is intentionally designed to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Perhaps you’ve been to a maze and gotten lost for a time, or you may have been to a haunted house designed to spook you at every turn. You may be wondering if this is going to be anything like one of those experiences. Our strategy for putting people at ease with a gest of care involved clear and respectful communication at the outset of the show. We simply told them what was going on here and what they were expected to do. At the start of each of performance, I met the audience of eight people in a little room at the entrance to the labyrinth. This foyer chamber was called “Betwixt”—the place between the world outside and the world they were about to enter. I invited them to gather in a small circle and took a few minutes to explain the rules of the game. In my description of what to expect, I said that they will know when each piece is over because one of the performers will pick up a rainstick and tip it. “When you hear the sound of the rain” I told them, “it means it’s time to continue on your journey . . . of reconciliation.” The rainstick was a crucial part of the mechanism of the labyrinth. We didn’t want the actors to have to break character at the end of their pieces with an awkward curtain call in close quarters with their small audience, nor did we want to break the forward momentum of the journey. Even more importantly, we wanted to maintain for the audience a sense that they were finding their own way without a guide, just as I had explained to them in the opening speech. We needed a device that the actors could use to signal that they were finished and that it was time for the audience to take initiative to continue on their way. My initial idea was to have different kinds of bells placed in every room of the labyrinth. At the end of each piece, one of the actors would pick up a bell and ring it. We did not use the bells. When I came up with that idea, I was thinking as a director and a playwright, looking for an interesting bit of theatrical staging. I have come to realize that I was also thinking as a white person who lacked cultural understanding about the lived experience of First Nations people in Canada. During the pre-production phase of the project, I had lunch with a Lekwungen Elder.13 I shared with him several ideas I was working on, including the idea of the bells as a transition signal. With a gentleness I will never forget, he cautioned me that for many First Nations people who survived the residential schools, the sound of bells brings up exceptionally disturbing memories. Bells were routinely used at the schools to signal the transitions that marked the students’ days. He suggested that we might try something like rainsticks instead. 13
T he Lekwungen include the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, whose traditional territories cover what is now the city of Victoria and adjoining areas. They are Coast Salish peoples.
I believe in the importance of projects like From the Heart—projects that are initiated by non-Indigenous people to take responsibility for standing as allies in the work of reconciliation. But this small story attests to the undeniably greater importance of initiating projects like these in sincere consultation with Indigenous people. I did not know enough. Had I bumbled forward with my “clever idea,” I could have inadvertently woven distress and harm into the very fabric of the show. Based on my experience, this is the best advice I have to give: whether you are planning to produce this show or simply want to be a part of a better Canada, reach out to forge alliances with Indigenous people. Take time to listen and to learn from what you hear. I, for one, tend to talk a lot. I am working on learning how to listen more. In the chamber called “Betwixt,” this is what I said to people before they entered the labyrinth:
Welcome everybody. We always begin by
acknowledging that we are standing here on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen, who are Coast Salish peoples. My name is Will. I’m the fellow who started the spark of this project about a year and a half ago, but it was really in January that we began to work in earnest. There was me and our co-facilitator Krystal Cook, who is Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations from Alert Bay. There was Bisia Belina and Margot Johnston, who taught us to sing . . . . And by us, I mean a group of about thirty people ranging in age from eighteen to their late seventies: some of us new immigrants, some of us first generation Canadians, others whose families have been on the land for up to seven generations. All of us were drawn together to do something to shift the fraught relationship between Native and non-Native people in Canada and to do it in a creative way. We began by recognizing that we needed to learn, but not by inviting First Nations people to come teach us—we felt that they had already done a lot of teaching through writing, if we were prepared to listen. So instead, I wrote to sixty publishers across Canada and asked, would you kindly send us free copies of your books by Indigenous authors so we might learn? And they did. We got boxes of books in the mail and we began to read them. For three months, we looked through the books, we looked at our own personal histories and experiences, and our family histories. We were looking for the things that unsettled us, the things that helped us to see what we hadn’t understood, and when we found the most potent moments, we turned them into theatre or performance of one kind or another. It was never our intention to create a performance that would tell somebody else what to do or lecture about what Canada should do. It was all about creating a performance that would invite you—invite the audience—to come be witness to the stories that, for us, shifted what we understood.
And that’s what you’re going to see tonight, all along the way through this 14,000 square foot labyrinth. And it is a labyrinth, not a maze. A maze is designed to trip you up and trick you into dead ends. A labyrinth has a path, and once you choose to start on the path it will take you where you need to go. In our case, after about an hour and a half, it will take you to the very heart of the labyrinth, where you will be greeted and offered a cup of tea. There you will find a comfortable place to sit and talk with the other people who have come through—to talk about your experience, and their experience, and where to go next. If for any reason along the way you feel that you don’t want to continue, that’s all right. Each of the rooms has one working door with a little sign that says, “If you need to leave, this way out,” and that will take you directly to the heart of the labyrinth. We ask you not to take any photographs along the way. And if you have any cell phones or other things that ring or buzz, now is a good time to turn them off. You don’t need to applaud after any of the performances—it’s not that kind of a play—and you will know it’s the end of each piece because at the end of each one, one of the performers will pick up a rainstick, like this one, and tip it. When you hear the sound of the rain, it means it’s time to continue on your journey . . . of reconciliation. So that’s all I have for you. There’s no usher or guide to lead you through this journey. You find your own way. Kind of like in life. And like in life, you find your way in the company of the people you are with. So, when you’re ready, you can push open that door. It will take you in to the first room, which is called “The Journey Begins.” And then you just follow the path.
I’ll see you on the other side.
A gest of entering:
“The Journey Begins”
When the audience passed through the first door into the labyrinth, we hoped they would feel a sense of excitement about the exploration to come and maybe a little trepidation too. I knew it would be a mistake to lead them right into an opening scene—the idea was to ease them into the world of the play. We needed a transitional space where they could not only become used to the idea of finding their own way, but a room that would build in a pause before they met the first performance. I wanted it to be a beautiful prelude to the journey as a warmup for what was to come. I envisioned a path that would take them into two environments: the seashore and the forest. In my imagination, I saw a seashore corridor with sand along both sides of the pathway. Tall fabric walls with lighting projections of water crashing in waves against them would be supplemented by the sounds of the ocean. The path would then round a corner into the dark woods at night where the audience would navigate their way through the trees and perhaps around a small lake. Once the designers began work on the labyrinth, they gave it to me straight. We simply did not have the floor space to build both environments; I was going to have to pick one. We went with the forest, let go of the idea of a seashore, and also lost the lake in the woods. Imagining these possibilities was not time wasted. It is essential working on a project like this to start with a wide open “blue sky” mentality. What would you do if time and money and even gravity were not impediments? Let the
I think the great thing about the labyrinth is that it’s really personal, almost like having a conversation. Performing in those little spaces you get to see people’s reactions so close up, you see these nods or you see somebody welling up or somebody getting agitated. I enjoyed the idea of inviting people into the labyrinth.... to go through all those emotions we did, but in a little eighty minute time period. — Stephanie ideas flow. If you start by cultivating a passion for possibility, you can then work your way down to what you can manage with the resources you have. You may discover that in some surprising and sneaky ways, a few elements of those first big ideas actually manage to find their way into the finished work. They certainly did for us in several of the rooms in the labyrinth. We created the trees of the forest with tree branches donated by the gardening and maintenance staff of a local
The danger of overproducing As the pieces moved from ideas to staging concepts to actually trying them out in the labyrinth, I was tempted in several cases to lean on technical effects. Left over from a show I produced a few years back, I own a spiffy little home planetarium device that projects a night sky up onto a ceiling. How beautiful it would be, I thought, to hide this electric machine in a corner in the forest of “The Journey Begins” and fill the ceiling above the trees with a massive field of luminous stars. What a surprise it was when I saw how it actually diminished the experience of the forest. It was a low budget environment. The trees were just big branches buried in sand in five gallon plastic buckets that had been wrapped in newsprint paper. Hanging in the sky was literally a paper moon, like the one that Ella Fitzgerald sang about. And yet the simplicity gave it a quality of handmade charm and playfulness. The minute I added my electric star field, it drew all the attention toward itself. The magic was drained away and all I could see was the dazzle of those laser lights. I could imagine myself walking through the forest of the labyrinth as an audience member and thinking, “Cool! Where can I buy one of those star projector thingies?” It wasn’t helping. I unplugged the machine and put it back in storage. In another scene, we considered using a rear projection video recording as part of a scene but rejected it for similar reasons. I have seen some marvelous uses of video in theatre, but unless it is truly called for in a scene, a video in a live show can be so captivating that it can easily eclipse the performers and suck all the focus away from what is happening in the moment. Then, later in the show, I thought about supplementing a storytelling scene with a whole series of banners with graphic images that would drop down from the ceiling as the scene progressed. Again, I realized I was overproducing what could be a simple, powerful, actor-driven moment. Just because we can go high-tech doesn’t mean it’s the best choice, especially in a show about the open, honest expressions of human experience.
burial park. They had an enormous brush pile and generously allowed us to bring in our truck to take what we wanted. The municipalities of Victoria and neighbouring Saanich have crews to prune overhanging street trees and both offered to let us take what we needed from their recent collections. The trimmed branches were set in plastic buckets donated by the local recycling depot, held upright by sand and positioned in the room to make a winding path. Camouflage netting was stretched above the branches to create a sense of treetop foliage and a large Chinese lantern with a cool white bulb was our moon hanging above the trees. We called the room “The Journey Begins.” As part of a gest of entering we incorporated a subtle trick into our forest. In the semi-darkness, as the audience followed the pathway we had set up through the trees, they circled around 180 degrees, and then back again from the other direction, and then around again. Walking the path made them physically spin their own bodies as they made their way through the forest. Since the purpose of the room was to serve as a transition away from the real world into the world of the labyrinth, we wanted the audience to disconnect from where they’d been. This gentle variation of the centuries-old children’s game Blind Man’s Bluff wasn’t disconcerting by any means, and they weren’t blindfolded, but it was a small gesture of disorientation intended to throw the audience just a little off kilter as they entered the space.
A gest of no easy answers — layers of complexity and contradiction:
“It’s Complicated” During our script devising workshops, while sharing journal writings and exchanging stories, threads of ideas for pieces emerged that were so complex and contradictory that it seemed impossible to stage them. A story of a white couple who had adopted a First Nations baby and given him the best, loving home they could was also a problematic story of a boy raised without any anchor to his cultural heritage. This complex issue is made even more problematic due to the legacy of the notorious Sixties Scoop in which an estimated twenty thousand Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and put into foster care or adopted, often without consent and sometimes without the knowledge of their families and bands. We felt ill-equipped to address these kinds of exceptionally complex stories through a few moments of theatre in our labyrinth.
In a few words, write about the relationship I want to have with Indigenous people.
Instead, we sought to create a piece that would reflect the sense of feeling ill-equipped. My impulse was to turn it into a song and place it right at the start of the journey as the first thing the audience would encounter after making their way through the forest of “The Journey Begins.” I wanted to ease them into the labyrinth in a gentle way, while at the same time forecasting some of the very serious challenges we would be responding to in the performances they were about to see. As two of our First Nations guests later pointed out to us, what we did was very much in accord with their tradition of hosts offering a song to arriving visitors. We developed this piece during the last days of the script devising workshops, after Krystal had left to have her baby. To create the song, I asked the cast to give their thoughts to these writing prompts:
In a few words, write about how politics makes that relationship complicated.
l L et’s keep the past in our minds, so as not to repeat it.
l The will to make meaningful change.
l E asy, natural, difference and sharing, like you are my
l The silencing of their voices.
brother, like you are my sister.
l T o know you and let you into my life. Acknowledge the complications and listen.
l Honour you. Build with you. Share with you. l I want you to visit with me in my home, or to go
on a camping trip. I want to hand you a cup of Bodum French press coffee with grounds. I want the bittersweet taste of coffee to be the flavour of connection. A simple small moment under the big ceiling.
In a few words, write about how cultural differences make that relationship complicated.
l I understand the anger and resistance, but I cannot solve it. It seems beyond me. I’m stuck.
In a few words, write about how history makes that relationship complicated.
l I want to connect, but feel too ashamed that I have benefitted from your oppression.
l I am haunted by the legacies of what happened in the name of the crown.
l Enormous crimes were committed.
l [I feel] afraid, embarrassed, brainwashed.
l Has it gone too far to be repaired? Don’t know how to
l How I can help in a way that doesn’t offend you?
In a few words, write about what would need to change for that relationship to grow.
l I don’t want to step on your toes with my misdirected good intentions.
l Our opportunities are so different.
Well, it’s just the story of the world.
l I ask you to come to my home. l I’ll slow down. I start a new conversation. l We can have peace if we get to know each other. l Treat each other as we would want to be treated.
l Take responsibility. Choose vulnerability.
If we’d had a little more time, I would have asked a group of participants to go through the list of responses and arrange them into lyrics. Instead, I did the first round of editing myself and then asked Bisia to call together a group of improvisational singers she knew to meet in her home one evening. The singers, along with some members of the cast, tried out different melodies to turn these lines into the lyrics of a song. The song was progressively pared down from the words written by
the cast, to my condensed version and now finally, they were simplified even further. Writing by committee can be challenging. Whether I am writing by myself at my desk or in collaboration with my artistic partners, I often find myself thinking about an essay by the poet W.H. Auden. He writes that he might have a line in his poem like, “The chestnut’s comfortable root,” but it doesn’t seem quite right to his ear, so he fiddles with it. He tries, “The chestnut’s customary root” and that sounds a little better. It’s not about changing the emotion; it’s about identifying the nuance that he knows is there if only he can capture it. He explains that it’s like trying to remember someone’s telephone number that you should know but can’t quite recall. “8357. No, that’s not it. 8557. 8457, no it’s on the tip of my tongue, wait a minute, I’ve got it, 8657. That’s it.” For me, that’s the lovely thing about writing collaboratively. The scene is built gradually. Everyone weighs in on different elements of it, finessing, adding, and subtracting until it seems right. Until finally you all say, “That’s it.” 14
W. H. Auden, The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Prose. 1939-1948, vols. 2-3 (Princeton University Press, 1996), 345.
It’s Complicated I want a simple moment a moment with you and me— I want a simple moment, sweet, just with you and me. For all my good intentions—don’t know how to be a friend, Afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and offend. I want I want, I can’t I can’t, I turn away, I’m stuck. It’s complicated, I don’t know, how to make a start. History is complicated—our damned dishonoured crown. The crimes of theft, the pain that’s left. They haunt us even now. I want I want, I can’t I can’t, I turn away, I’m stuck. It’s complicated, I don’t know, how to make a start. The laws are complicated—the ownership of lands, The lies we make, so much at stake. Too big for me to change. I want I want, I can’t I can’t, I turn away, I’m stuck. It’s complicated, I don’t know, how to make a start. 42
A gest of an emotional collision:“Answerizing” One of the prompts led a woman in the group to write about a troubling conversation she’d had months earlier with a good friend of hers over a cup of coffee. It had begun with her casually voicing concerns about a group of white, middle class, Canadian youths she had heard about. They were planning to go to a First Nations reserve, expecting Native people to teach them. From her point of view, these young people may have been well intentioned, but their idea was terribly ill conceived. The conversation with her friend did not go well. He challenged the premise of her feelings, characterizing her as just being negative. He was adamant about what he considered to be the truth and insinuated that he knew what he was talking about since he had grown up around Native people. She saw him as reactive, speaking from a place of ignorance and she leapt to her own defence, wildly frustrated that he was not open to hearing what she was saying and not prepared to learn anything new. She fired
back at him with what seemed to her at the time like heartfelt passion. In retrospect, she realized she must certainly have come across as argumentative and even patronizing towards her friend. Several of us shared our reflections on what she had told us. It brought to my mind a passage from a book I am very fond of: My Story as Told by Water by David James Duncan. In one chapter, the author writes about fights he used to get into with his father over their different views on the Vietnam War. They were not discussing the topic, nor were they interested in reaching any kind of mutual understanding. They were just answerizing—defensively lobbing their predetermined positions toward each other across the supper table. Looking back, he considers the opportunities that were missed and why: I know now that no argument I could have constructed would have changed my father’s mind, any more than his . . . could change mine. We needed wisdom. And wisdom is not a rote dogma, not ideology, not research material, not something we stuff into one another. The inner feeling that brings light to the eyes, the humor that helps create empathy, the fresh angles of vision than can waft into a room when hearts remain light, were gone. 15
David James Duncan, My Story As Told By Water (Sierra Club Books, 2001), 69.
The people at the table varied from night to night as different actors took the roles.
The woman who had told the story partnered with another participant and began work on a piece tentatively called “Decolonization over Coffee.” It developed into a script—a scene—that unfolded much the way the actual story had taken shape: two people, both with good intentions, stuck at an impasse in their conversation as their different points of view collided. The writers took care to ensure that no one was characterized as being in the right or wrong position. The key to the scene was that their words were mutually triggering and trapping them in useless arguments that would not resolve and would only get worse as the confrontation ramped up. That’s what the scene was about. And that’s where clues about a gest could be found. How might we physically embody the quality of the impasse? There were variations along the way, trials and tests that included the use of stylized rhythmic speaking, as an almost musical equivalent of volleys back and forth, and a far-fetched idea of mine to have the actors perform the scene on stilts to exaggerate their physical exchange. Ultimately, we relied on shadow and light. The scene ended up being called “Answerizing,” although we often referred to it as “the café scene.”
When the audience came around the corner after the song, “It’s Complicated,” they found a small coffee shop and were greeted by someone who appeared to be a waiter. The waiter invited them in, saying, “Have a seat wherever you like.” At one of the tables a person was already seated, drinking coffee. As the audience settled into their seats, a second person entered from the opposite direction, as if late for a rendezvous. The two of them were clearly friends. The latecomer pulled up a chair and quickly ordered a cup of tea from the waiter. The genders and ethnicities of the two people at the table varied from night to night as different actors took the roles. What started as a very ordinary, upbeat conversation then drifted unrelentingly into a heated debate about the legacy of colonization and the implications for non-Native people living in Canada. The gest came into play when there was a brief pause at a tipping point in the exchange. The waiter reached over to a switch on the wall, dimmed the light in the room and then, crouching low near the table, shined a flashlight against the two people, projecting their shadows high against the wall behind them. For the remainder of the scene, the waiter focused the flashlight on the actors’ gestures, moving in and out to make the shadows loom larger or shrink smaller. The two shadows took on a life of their own, graphically stylizing the exchange between the two people at the table in a series of physical gestures. The scene became less about the specifics of the debate points. Instead, it literally highlighted the impasse itself. The woman who had originally shared the story wanted the scene to reach a breaking point and searched for a gest that would embody that fracture. Her impulse was for one of the characters to become so caught up that she or he broke the coffee cup, startling them both and abruptly interrupting the intensity of their confrontation. I became mindful of the danger of flying shards of ceramic coffee cup bits, and the trickiness of engineering this bit of business (not to mention the cost of breaking cups six times a night during the whole run). I proposed that instead of the coffee cup we break something else. I suggested we break the theatrical premise that we had built into the scene. The audience was relatively caught up in the shadow projections, so they were a little thrown off guard at the climax of the scene when the tea drinker turned to the waiter (whose flashlight was now virtually right up against her face) and shouted “Would you stop that? Would you just—turn that thing off and put the lights back on?” The waiter sheepishly backed off, mumbled, “Sorry,” turned off the flashlight, and brightened the lights in the room, using a dimmer on the wall. The couple at the table both took a breath. They regained their composure and they fumbled their way into trying to start their conversation again, this time with an intention to hear each other. That was the end of the scene. The performer playing the waiter picked up the rainstick and tipped it to signal to the audience that it was time to move on.
A gest of difficult learning:“Patience
of the Seasons”
In Krystal’s first writing workshop she just opened everybody up. Learning about telling your story and seeing that your unique story is going to be honoured really set the scene for everyone telling their own stories as the time went on. In the end, every story and every workshop we did seemed present in the different performances. All those prep days were the underlying heartbeat of the journey.
During one of the writing workshops, Krystal offered a prompt to write about the first Indigenous person we’d ever met. In response, one of the participants wrote about a teacher she’d had in her first year at university and the profound gift of teaching that this “warrior of a woman” had given her. After she shared what she had written, there was a moment of silence as we all took it in, an experience that was not uncommon during the writing workshop sessions. Her jewel of a prose poem seemed pretty much ready for performance just as it was. Still, I encouraged her to take it to the next level and asked whether she felt confident setting it to music so that the lines she’d written would become the lyrics of a song. If it had turned out that this was outside her comfort zone, I would have asked her to partner with a musician in the group to create the song together. As it happened, she is a songwriter and plays guitar as well. The next time we all met, she had put her words to music, having made some adjustments to accommodate the metre. All the staging required was a simple stool where she could sit and tell her story through song. Once we got on site in the labyrinth, it became clear that if she accompanied herself on guitar, the sound of the instrument would be heard throughout the entire space. I asked her to try singing it unaccompanied. She was astonishing in her ability to sing without the sense of a performer delivering a song. Looking directly at the audience, she sang with the same quality of vulnerability and honesty that we saw when she had originally read her piece to us in the writing workshop. The first time I
heard her sing it a cappella, my eyes welled with tears. “Patience of the Seasons” had such a resonance with audience members that several people who saw the show approached us to ask to join the cast specifically to be able to take on that role and sing her song. When the audience rounded the corner after the café scene, they saw a young woman sitting on a stool. At the first performance we had no chairs set up facing her, assuming that people would listen to her song while standing. Apparently they assumed she was some kind of usher or guard sitting on that stool and they all walked right past her; she had to call them back. It was part of our learning curve about how to make it clear for the audience what we’re asking them to do when there is no usher to guide them. From then on, eight empty chairs gave the audience a clue that they were being invited to stop here and listen. Once everyone was settled, she spoke to them: In my first year of university, I took an Indigenous Studies course. My professor was a warrior of a woman: so bold to share the past, so patient with our reactions to it. She always reminded us that sometimes, when we’re learning, it is easy to get overwhelmed or burdened or frozen by the weight of history. This song is my reminder to cope. It is all I have to offer. They are the only words I have left to say. Then she began her song. The introduction and the song were two halves of the piece—both important. The song held the meaning, while the introduction allowed her to invite the audience to be witnesses to her experience and her learning, rather than implying that she was trying to teach them. 45
Patience of the Seasons A
cappella: Listen all my children to the words I tell y ou . Keep t hem saf e, keep them warm, t hat’s all you’ll ever need . . . .
Intro strumming Em
Music and lyrics by Stephanie Tiede
The lie D Tha t what was done was y esterday. Chorus 2:
Verse 1: Em G Words fall from your lips of trut h and hope,
I ate and ate and ate them up Em
‘Til I was f ull and satisf ied
But those words turned ugly on my tongue,
I spat t hem back naïve and young
At the ones
I wanted most to know.
Chorus 1: Em Teacher l et me sit back at your table, G Am I’m not sure if I’m yet able to share D All that I’ve been shown Em Still I take to the road . . . . Verse 2: Em
I’m lost and tired and feeling like G None of this journey’s going rig ht, Am The trut h has changed D To a knowing kind of weight. Em But if I stay unmoved, unchang ed,
M y ignorance per petuates
Beca use I f ear the past more than the f uture G
H istory’s a long f orgotten teacher Am
And if her knowledge is l ost D A nation’s unity’s the cost . Verse 3:
So I will wake, take u p this l oad
G Somet imes t ogethe r, som eti mes alo n e, Am But onward D Is the only di rect i on I can go. Em
Each new day’s par t of the jo u rney
You co u ld say we’re always learning,
Change in pace/prog ression to match a cappella i nt ro: Am But if I Teach
Am add 9
Yo u C And y ou Teach G
Me Am Then t hat’s all we’ll ever need.
Coaching singers When rehearsing new cast members for “Patience of the Seasons,” I found some of them were delivering the song a little like a contestant at a TV singing competition. I encouraged them to dial it way back and to allow themselves to find the meaning in each line as if they were simply explaining how they felt. I once heard a story about the great British theatre director, Trevor Nunn, on this very point. Hugh Jackman describes how, when he was playing Curly in the 1999 National Theatre revival of Oklahoma!, Trevor Nunn had the actors work on all the songs for several weeks without any musicians. For the solo songs, they rehearsed as if the songs were monologues. If the songs were duets, the actors would rehearse them as if they were two-person scenes. It was challenging, because songs often have a repeating chorus. Usually, the singer just repeats the chorus because it’s song and that’s part of the deal with a song. But here, during Nunn’s rehearsal process, the actors needed to come up with a reason why their characters would repeat themselves word-for-word in a conversation. How do you do that in a conversational tone without sounding a little obsessive? After they were able to play those scenes as if they were actually talking as real people, the director brought in the musicians. The show is available on DVD and it is really quite astounding to see what a difference it makes to watch people having a conversation that has been so believably elevated into song.16 From moment to moment, the meaning is clear and the relationship between the singers seems exceptionally real. This is a lesson we can bring to our work when creating and performing songs that are deeply personal.
The DVD of Oklahoma! was released in 1999 by Image Entertainment. Hugh Jackman’s comments can be found in the extras options on the DVD.
A gest of reminiscence and a damaged past:
“A Long and Complex Relationship” Three of the older members of the core ensemble had a story about a mutual friend. Years earlier, they had all known a First Nations man called Charlie. He had been in and out of prison and, for a time, had lived with two of them in their home. The third person was a theatre director and had worked with him on several plays. All three had been thoroughly impressed by Charlie’s resilience; charmed by his geniality and indefatigable sense of humour; and dazzled by his sheer breadth of talent as a performer, a storyteller, a pianist, and a dancer. But here, too, was a contradiction. After he was out of jail and succeeding brilliantly as a performer in his own one-man show, seemingly taking charge of his life, he slipped back into old, self-destructive behaviours and died. We called the piece “A Long and Complex Relationship.” Charlie had profoundly touched their lives. The tone of their mutual piece was reminiscence: talking about the people and events of our past as a way to keep those memories alive, while finding meaning in how our lives have been shaped by the people we’ve known. Here was an interesting variation on the search for a gest. What is a physical thing we could do that would embody the gist of reminiscence? In this case, our gest was the arrangement of the room. We designed this particular performance space as a gathering place that put the audience right alongside the performers in an intimate living room-like environment. The
idea was to make the audience feel as if they were guests at a memorial service in someone’s home. As the audience arrived in the chamber, one of the actors was whistling a song from the musical The Fantasticks. It was not only a favourite song of Charlie’s, it also served as a subtle introduction to the piece. People who knew the tune would likely hear the song’s refrain in their minds: “Try to remember . . . .” The other two actors welcomed the guests, inviting them to sit. The scene was all carefully scripted, yet it had the feeling of spontaneity. The performers told stories beginning with lines like “I remember,” and “One time….” A few times, they pulled out letters they had received from Charlie, which they read aloud and ref lected upon thoughtfully.
This was not audience participation—the audience wasn’t called upon to do or say anything. But the physical shape of the room, audience and actors sitting together on a curved bench, and the tone of reminiscence provided a kind of unspoken contract. It’s as if we gave them a visual clue that this place—this chamber in the labyrinth—was a place where stories were told about someone who had died. Any social situation has unspoken expectations in place. By giving clues like these, the audience could relax into understanding their relationship to the actors. They fit right into the flow of the scene and the actors’ job was made easier because the audience was relatively clear about their role in the scene. Even though we told the audience at the entrance to the labyrinth how it all worked and what they were expected to do, in a show like this they will find themselves continually asking that question each time they round another corner and enter another unfamiliar room. We built a gest into the design of each one of the chambers. Each room had a clue, or a few clues, to help the audience infer what their relationship was to that particular piece and the performers in it. In “Answerizing,” the audience members were put into the position of eavesdroppers at a café. There was a sort of voyeuristic appeal to watching a conversation on the sly. Other scenes gave them clues that they were bystanders/witnesses, dinner guests, or some other configuration with a relationship to the action that we had consciously determined. In this scene about Charlie, the clear implication was that the audience members were friends in a sympathetic circle of well-wishers who had come to hear stories about a much-loved man who had died. We wanted to make Charlie’s vitality present in the scene and searched for a second important gest for this piece. “It was only after he died,” explained one of the piece’s writers, “that I really understood what I had not been seeing.” His brutal childhood in foster care and the repercussion of the residential school all led to him living his life without any substantive, grounding support. To varying degrees, some of us may take for granted the foundations of our upbringing that give us a sense of stability during challenging times. After Charlie died, this writer recognized how, during the years she knew him, she had no real inkling about the exceptionally fragile scaffolding he was always standing upon, metaphorically speaking. To embody the contradiction of a man who is by all appearances confident and accomplished as he daily contends with an immanent risk of collapse, she suggested the image of a high wire tightrope walker working without a net. That was the image we used: the shadow silhouette of a live actor as Charlie on a tightrope rear-projected high on the wall of the labyrinth directly in front of the actors and audience. This was, strictly speaking, a metaphor, not a gest. For me, there is a clear distinction. Metaphors and similes are equivalents of a situation; they are linked to it by analogy. Metaphors intensify by expanding the familiar into the extraordinary: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Similes, too, make our felt understanding come
During our scene, many people were clearly affected. Some were shedding tears, some just quietly came up to us and said thank you. Occasionally, people would stay behind for a moment to talk with us about how they had been touched by the scene, obviously having got something from it that was valuable to them.
Leaving a gap When conceiving of the pieces for the labyrinth, we regularly tried to leave a gap in the way the performance pieces were constructed—a gap that required an audience to fill it. Our intention was to disrupt the customary relationship audiences have toward performers, a relationship based on the premise that the people on stage are delivering a performance to them. Instead, we tried to come up with familiar, nonperformance-based situations in which the audience might have a logical reason to be there witnessing what the performers were doing.
— Eavesdroppers at a public place — Explorers in a forest — Guests at a memorial service — Visitors at the dinner table hosted by people from a different culture — Bystanders at crossroads where a shocking event takes place
These were situations that we felt would propel the audience into an active relationship with the scene. It is one thing to explain to an audience, as we did in the first chamber of the labyrinth, that we are inviting them to be witnesses to the performers’ experiences. It’s another thing to actually engineer the encounters so that they are clearly witnesses. Even in the more straightforward scenes, where performers were more or less telling stories, I always asked the actors to consider two questions intended to spur them into forging a vital relationship with their audiences: “Who are these people to you?” (just answering “they’re the audience” wasn’t good enough), and “Why is it important that you tell them this story?” It is a fun and creative task for ensembles to take on. Make a list of as many actual situations you can imagine in which a small group of people would be witness to something together. Continue to add to your collective list, as more possibilities come to mind. Then draw on the list to construct frameworks for encounters in the labyrinth.
alive by vividly forging a link between two images: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Gests, by contrast, are not equivalents; they are the thing itself. They are the sum of a relationship, a change in circumstance, or an emotional state, all distilled into a concise physical aspect of that thing. The physical arrangement of a small circle of friends is a gest. I felt that, as a metaphor, the man on the tightrope was a striking and perfectly appropriate image. I wasn’t about to contest it simply because it wasn’t a gest. One of the other members of the team for this piece did contest it. She expressed some concern that the image of a tightrope might be overused or too clichéd as a metaphor for instability. I have great respect for her as a writer and her resistance to that image led me to a small crisis. One of the challenges for a director in a project like this is to strike a reasonable balance between honouring the insights and wisdom of all the participants—following their suggestions—and countering what they bring to the table with your own opinion. It is the nature of partnerships in this work to establish a measure of mutual respect that allows us to navigate our sometimes contradictory wishes. I asked her to bear with me and concede even though she had a good point: it is a cliché. However, it is important to keep in mind that while a metaphor in a poem or a story may seem thin or overused, the language of theatrical imagery operates under different rules. In this case, the silhouette of a man balancing in the air on a tight rope right in front of us delivers a much more complex image for an audience than it might if it were a metaphor on the written page. We made it part of the scene. The audience and the performers sat in on a curved wooden bench in their intimate story-sharing session. Directly across from them was a shadow screen five metres tall. In the centre was a wide circle of light bisected by a tightrope nearly two metres above the floor. To make it possible for actors playing Charlie to do a scene on a tightrope without extensive special training, we took advantage of light and shadow to fake it. An eight-foot long, twoby-eight plank casts the shadow of a horizontal line when a light source is positioned behind it at the same height. The actors who took turns playing the role could balance fairly confidently on what appeared to the audience to be a rope. It was a captivating sight to see him at that height and the audience generally went along with the premise, even though I suspect many of them figured out our trick. Oh, if we’d had the time, how I would
A note I received from a cast member
have loved to train the actors to work on an actual tightrope (or slackrope) to raise the stakes and the visual drama of the man on the high wire. Even in silhouette, our Charlie was utterly engaging as he responded in pantomime movement to the stories that were being told about him, precariously moving back and forth on the rope. The audience became drawn in by his charm as the scene progressed. At the instant in the story when it was revealed that Charlie died, the actor “lost his footing” and slipped off the tightrope, falling out of the light. Whether or not the audience believed the plank was a rope, they clearly recognized a person was falling from a significant height. In that memorable moment of performance—in the language of theatre—it was a breathtaking metaphor for death. His fall was punctuated by a circus-like crash of a cymbal, which also served handily to mask the thud of the actor’s body landing on the queen size mattress placed below the plank. The scene didn’t end there. One of the performers whistled a song that Charlie had composed for his beloved uncle. The other two rose and moved to the base of the shadow screen where a small mound of earth was on the ground. After placing several items on it—some flowers and seashells—they poured ashes from an urn into a small opening at the back of the mound. When they finished, they shared the line, “From our hearts, we know that his resilient spirit is here in this play with us tonight.” Then, in a final image afforded us by the shadow screen, the silhouette of a single tree branch appeared in the circle of light on the screen and rose as if growing from the burial mound. One of the actors picked up the rainstick and tipped it to signal the end of the scene. They all thanked the audience for coming and sent them on their way.
I have read your description of our scene, Will, and find it very accurate and interesting. But when you write about how we arrived at the shaping of the scene, you make it seem as if we had cleverly invented it, based on the experience we had lived, and as if we had found metaphors and gests for it, whereas I believe what we did was reproduce what truly had happened, not exactly as it had happened but mostly. What we did was a repair. Only five people attended Charlie’s memorial. I attended only because of a chance meeting with Penny. Of his many brothers and sisters, just one was present. It was a very solitary end for such a special person. When we got a chance in From the Heart to have many people share the ceremony with us, it felt for me as if we were somehow redressing a wrong. The metaphor of the tightrope was what Charlie himself chose to express his life in one of his own plays, and it felt very good to me to use it here, as if we were hearing his voice. From the Heart was such a special kind of play, so far-reaching in terms of meaning and emotion for audiences and for the participants. — Lina
New performers joined the cast during the run of the show.
A gest of needing to understand why: “Head This was an exceptionally difficult piece to create. It focused on the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children during the long history of Indian Residential Schools across Canada. Two participants started independently on their own investigations and then merged their work into one piece. One woman was keen to investigate the stories of the perpetrators. She wanted to create a piece that asked, in the spirit of sincere inquiry, what enabled and sustained the institutional permission for people to sexually abuse children? She was taking a risk. Most of us are so appalled by what these men and women did that we are resolutely uninterested in what they have to say. Even broaching the idea of hearing their voices smacks of sympathy: they should be treated as unforgivable villains, full stop. Over the course of the workshops, I began to see how this woman often kept an eye out for what wasn’t being addressed. I admired how she regularly pushed boundaries with a sly, good-humoured irreverence. These voices, she felt, needed to be included for the sake of inviting complexity to our work and in order to deepen our understanding of our country’s history. The text went through several drafts. Starting with improvised dialogue with another participant, she then turned to research, distilling what she found into a wellresearched scene packed with historical information. While workshopping the scene, she pared it down to a sparse series of questions directed at a member of the clergy from someone desperate to make sense of what happened. Her partner in the piece had taken a risk from the start. When interviewed about what drew her to participate in the project, she explained: I’m quite often drawn to heart things . . . and hard things as well [laughing]. I didn’t realize they would go hand in hand in this one. I was drawn to the title. I’m foolish. I just usually jump and don’t necessarily know what I’m getting myself into. But I’m glad that I’m here and I’m glad I’m doing it, despite the fact that it feels like jumping over the edge sometimes. Once you’re on the edge, the edge is an interesting place to be.
During the script development workshops, we were constantly learning, reading books, watching videos, and searching for stories that moved us. Many of us saw the documentary Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle produced by Gumboot Productions, a Canadian film and television production company based in Victoria. Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle is a searing portrait of a painful past and a people’s powerful dedication to finding healing. Like encountering testimonies spoken at the TRC hearings by survivors of the residential schools, the video opens a window to a world that is challenging for many of us to see and critically important to witness. In the documentary one man says, “I can still feel the breath of the priest on the back of my neck.” Another man says, “I drank to forget about what happened to me as a child. And my drinking got so bad that I took a life. Because I was hurting. So I wanted someone else to hurt worse than I am. And . . . that life I took . . . is my daughter’s.” Even brief lines like these, when we are open to hearing them, can, as Roger Simon puts it, summon us. The woman in our group who was drawn to the heart of hard things was touched especially deeply by these two lines. Putting pen to paper in one of Krystal’s workshops, she wrote about how the words of these two Indigenous men summoned her to step into dialogue with what they said. It’s been said that the distance from the head to the heart is only about a half a metre, but that it can be a long and difficult journey for the spirit to take. It is so much easier for many of us to remain in our heads, analyzing and debating aspects of difficult stories, than it is to open our hearts and consider the ways we may be implicated in these stories. We called this piece “Head to Heart” and searched for a gest in the staging that would embody that journey. We found it by incorporating a literal opening up to reveal what had been hidden. Making their way down the corridor after the piece about Charlie, the audience came upon a small opening at the bottom of the fabric wall less than a metre high. Just inside the opening, standing on the floor, two marionettes were having an intense discussion. One was a man in a suit; the other was a priest in a frock coat. The man in the suit pressed the priest with questions, which he deflected:
The image of the low opening in the corridor was inspired by a walk in the woods. This is another example of how images we encounter in our everyday lives can easily be incorporated into images for the labyrinth or for any work of art we create.
Man: How could someone sexually abuse a little child?
Priest: It was just a few bad apples.
Man: How could so many people do it to so many children?
Priest: The flesh is weak.
Man: How could they allow it . . . and then help cover it up?
Priest: That was a different time. People thought differently then and their intentions were good.
Man: T o give them a little money, does it clear your conscience?
Priest: You don’t understand.
The priest fell silent. Through his gesture of turning away, it became apparent that he was a perpetrator himself. At that moment the intensity of the marionettes’ encounter was at its highest. The man in the suit pressed on with a desperate need to know. Man:
How could you do it? Would you do it again? If you could tell the truth–would you? Are you sorry?
Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle It was the Kuper Island Residential School, and it stood on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia. They called it Alcatraz. For almost a century, hundreds of Coast Salish children were sent to Kuper Island, where they were forbidden to speak their native language, forced to deny their cultural heritage, and often subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Some died trying to escape across the water on logs. Many more died later, trying to escape their memories. Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh and Peter C. Campbell joined survivors of the school, 20 years after its closure, as they began to break the silence and embark on an extraordinary healing journey. Watch the video online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_uVBE6AXs4 Purchase the DVD: http://movingimages.ca/store/products.php? kuper_island
A note I received from a cast member We borrowed the marionettes from master puppet maker Geahk Burchill, the artistic director of CastIron Carousel Marionette Troupe in Portland, Oregon. His puppets have names and so we kept them in our script. The priest was Walter Schmitty and the man in the suit, a fighter, was Jack Armstrong.
Then, in an utterly unexpected move, the puppeteers opened the curtain that had separated them from the audience and stood face to face with the people watching. All attention had been focused downward on the small-scale world of the puppets, when suddenly the world of the play changed. The puppeteer who had been operating the man in the suit spoke directly to the audience while the other puppeteer looked on:
The stories that unsettle me the most are the stories, and the voices, inside my head that speak . . . “I can still feel the breath of the priest on the back of my neck.” Or another voice that says, “I had so much rage inside of me that I took a life . . . and that life was my daughter’s.” And then I try to imagine myself in the footsteps of the priests and ministers. I try to imagine how they understood their world, how they saw themselves in that world. What did they believe was their role? From what moral high ground did they come? How could their beliefs enable them to treat other humans with such cruelty? And then I look down at my own feet and my own moral high ground and ask, what form does it take today, how do I place my own interests above others, how do I judge? By what authority do my own beliefs take precedence over others?
It got very juicy once we started working with the marionettes. We didn’t know what they were going to look like and it was amazingly appropriate that one of the marionettes was a priest and the other was a fighter. Once we saw them, the dialogue and actions flowed. Jack (the fighter) kept going after Walter (the priest) until he was able to find out the truth. We found a gest of indifference when Walter would not admit to being a pedophile and finally silenced the conversation by holding up his hand and turning away. When Jack realized he was face to face with a pedophile and became so angry at learning the truth that he wanted to kill Walter, his big fists started to tremble in horror and disgust. We realized that Walter would not admit to being a perpetrator and on some level he may have thought he did not do anything wrong. There were no signs of remorse—only holding up his hand and turning away to end the conversation. The piece was born from tears and anguish. Each performance night, we had to dive into the heartache and trauma—for the unspeakable acts humans are capable of doing to each other—and ultimately to see where each of us becomes a perpetrator in varying degrees in our life. — Patty
One of the performers picked up the rainstick and tipped it to signal the end of the scene. “Head to Heart” is another example of how the pieces in From the Heart are not intended to tell stories that are not ours to tell. The settler Canadians who created the show were not survivors of the residential schools and so it would have been unethical for us to present those testimonies in the show. As allies, our work was to find theatrical ways to perform our own testimonies about the ways in which hearing these stories have altered our understanding. In the following scene, several related unsettling experiences of a few project participants were combined in a single imaginative allegory that invited the audience to engage directly with the project participants’ experience.
A gest of violation:
A gest of violation: “At
Several participants felt compelled to grapple with their responses to stories of unjustly appropriated traditional lands. We were appalled at the blithe sense of entitlement among early settlers to run roughshod over the lives and ways of life of First Nations people. We were not looking only at stories from Canada’s history; we were looking at how cultural appropriation carries on untroubled from day to day here in the 21st century. We were asking ourselves where we saw these attitudes manifesting in our own lives. We investigated the idea of creating character called the Taker, who might randomly appear here and there along the route, pilfering objects from the labyrinth. Ultimately, this seemed too easy a target. We could imagine the audience becoming ticked off at the Taker, but where would that lead us? Setting up a character to vilify wouldn’t really enrich understanding. Instead, we took a cue from a story told by one of the participants about an experience she’d had at a Potlatch years earlier. Invited there as a guest, she had come with the best of intentions but inadvertently committed a cultural faux pas smack in the middle of the event. Her First Nations hosts graciously found a way to untangle her offence, but the experience left a lasting impression on her. Her misstep, she realized, was the result of not knowing enough about their cultural protocols to be a respectful guest. She was mortified to have become the one who reproduced the kind of cultural trampling on other people’s traditions that she abhorred. It wouldn’t do to create a piece that put the audience in her position, as the one who violated a community’s cultural traditions. We were resolutely against tricking the audience into doing something that would shame them as the transgressors. And so we turned the tables by making the audience the community who had a rich and complex tapestry of cultural protocols and then had someone like the Taker barge in on them so that the audience might experience the disruption. We would
try to ensure that this version of the Taker could not easily be dismissed as a simple villain. He was renamed the Visitor. He would appear to feel entitled to take whatever he wanted, and would be utterly clueless about the effect of his actions. The rooms in the labyrinth gave us an opportunity to create little worlds, all independent of each other. In this scene, rather than attempt to reenact history, we created an allegorical world for the audience to inhabit. We hoped that by encouraging a little distance from the historical narrative, the audience might feel more open to the material, less defensive. We felt an allegorical world might allow audience members to see a glimpse of themselves in the Visitor, while simultaneously being horrified by what he was doing. We were, of course, building the gest of that participant’s experience into the very construction of the scene. How do you theatrically embody the realization that you may have been blind to your own cultural blunders? We chose to orchestrate the actions in the scene so that the audience could feel a visceral empathy for people who have been on the receiving end of a violation, while at the same time making the Visitor’s behaviour uncomfortably familiar. To make the Visitor’s disruption effective, we needed to find a way to quickly build the audience’s emotional investment in our allegorical community. And we needed to establish some cultural protocols that could be disrupted. These two needs fed into one another. Upon entering a chamber resembling a dining room, the audience would be welcomed by two hosts who would invite the guests to join them at “our table.” Word choice was important here. We felt that if we were to start introducing words like “our traditional territory,” the allegory would collapse and it would look like we were playing at being Indigenous people. We tried to find language as neutral as possible to signal that this was a community that had cultural traditions, but did not represent an actual place in the real world. We used phrases like “at our table . . .” and “in our way . . .” to maintain the allegory. We called the piece “At Table.”
Seated around a table with places for ten, the hosts treated their guests as visitors who were not familiar with the local customs, but who were clearly eager to learn. Much like the earlier scene with the memorial service, the performers established an implied relationship with the guests right from the start that clearly signaled to them the nature of their role in the encounter. The audience members consistently picked up on the cues that they were honoured guests in the hosts’ home and appeared to feel at ease playing along. This device of helping gracious guests learn the traditions of this new place allowed the hosts to teach a whole series of our invented cultural protocols and build the audience’s sense of commitment to the world of the scene along the way. A recurring theme for us throughout our work on the show was to build in delight whenever we could find an opportunity for it. The protocols we designed for this allegorical world were not complicated; they were fun and marvelous. Each one, in its own way, was also gestic. The first protocol was a hand gesture. Once everyone was seated, one of the hosts said, “At our table, we use a greeting to welcome each other. This is how we do it.” The host demonstrated holding up the back of the hand and encouraged the audience member seated nearest to put the back of his or her hand against the back of the host’s hand. The host then indicated that they were both to turn their hands simultaneously and touch palms as the host said, “Welcome.” The host then invited everyone to turn to the person in the nearest chair and perform the ritual of welcome themselves. The audience’s physical investment in the scene began to build with this simple gesture, which was created expressly for this scene. How is it gestic? The idea came from an old concept in pantomime that I learned in theatre school. When Marcel
I think a number of people involved were hopeful that our work would not be misunderstood by the First Nations community. As the run of performances has been going on, we’ve seen increasing numbers of First Nations people in the audience, and the response so far has been pretty positive. Some audience members have taken to coming back to be there in the heart room at the end of the show. That has been pretty amazing. — Susan Marceau reached down to the floor to pick an imaginary flower at his feet, he didn’t reach straight down—he reached way out to the side and then swooped back in to pick it. It’s a common device in pantomime. You start by going in the opposite direction of something so that when you come back to it, it’s a deliberate move that clarifies what you are doing, having done the opposite thing first. A double take works the same way. You see something, then look away, and suddenly look back. It is in the looking back that it becomes clear you have now seen it.
The hand gesture was designed with this in mind. The gesture of welcome started with the hands back to back, so that the two people made a deliberate choice to turn their hands together as an invitation of welcome. It may seem like a lot of effort for a minor point, but building and incorporating gests at every opportunity embeds meaning on a very subtle level. Every little bit means something, and it all adds up. The next protocol raised the audience’s level of commitment a little further. The second host—who we called the Singer—said, “At our table, we always start with a song. I will teach you, then I’ll invite you to sing along. If you feel comfortable harmonizing, you are welcome to.” She would
improvise a brief song at every performance that was based not in lyrics but in made up sounds—a kind of folky melodic equivalent to scat singing in jazz. If we had written a song with lyrics it would not only have meant that everyone would need to learn the words, it would have called attention to the meaning of the song’s words, rather than the act of singing itself. The purpose of including the song was to encourage the audience to enjoy a sense of participation in a collective activity that was really quite lovely to hear and experience. Singing together, especially in harmony, is fundamentally gestic. Ensemble singing is nothing less than contributing to and being a part of a community. It was clear from the faces of the people around the table that there was a sense of joy at the table at each performance, simply because it was so beautiful to hear everyone’s voices together. Our collective community at the table grew richer. At the centre of the oval table was a large white bowl filled with red cherry tomatoes. Encircling the bowl were ten brass vessels. They were actually ten different types of short brass candlesticks turned upside down so that the bases formed little cups. Inverted, the candlesticks weren’t obviously candlesticks. Finding them at the thrift store was a great example of lowbudget theatre prop gathering. They became quasi-familiar fixtures that belonged perfectly in our allegorical world. The 58
host invited the guests to notice the vessels, to notice that they were all different, and to find and select their favourite one. After they made their choices, the host asked cheerfully if they’d all found the one they liked best. Often, the guests around the table would grin and nod. Then the host would say, “Alright, now give it to someone else . . . because that is our way.” We could count on laughter all around as everyone realized they’d been set up, but it was a light-hearted and playful trick. This little unexpected twist served two purposes. First, it further involved the audience in becoming invested in the world of the play. They were called upon to play along and, as they did, they built their imaginative commitment to the world of this scene. The ritual of generously giving away the object that you consider most valuable was a subtle yet undeniable homage to the gift-giving culture of the Potlatch. More significantly, though, it helped to establish that there were protocols at work here that were different from protocols the audience might consider familiar. This was a world that had rules. They may be playful, but they were part of a tradition. Next, the big bowl of cherry tomatoes in the centre of the table came into play. The host began by informing the guests, “At our table, we don’t serve ourselves: we serve each other.” Then, with a mischievous smile, the host pulled out a handful of spoons with twenty-inch long handles, “We serve each other with these.” At this point, the guests often started to laugh, seeing the long spoons and anticipating what they were going to be asked to do. The host instructed everyone to pass the spoons around and then demonstrated how to scoop a cherry tomato from the bowl, place it into someone else’s brass vessel, and gently tap the side of the vessel. Each one produced a different tone. It was delightful and magical and the audience members’ investment in the world of the play was elevated yet another level.
This protocol created for the allegory was borrowed from an old parable about a visitor who travels to Heaven and to Hell. In Hell, the people sit at long tables and starve because they cannot lift the long spoons to feed themselves. Heaven, it turns out, also has long tables and long spoons but there the people feed each other across the table.17 This is one more example of the rich smorgasbord of stories that can be drawn upon to create a show. 17
T he allegory of the long spoons is often attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok, although variations of the story appear in different cultures around the world.
The stakes had been raised. In only a few minutes, the audience had physically engaged in four protocols: the welcome hand gesture; singing together; the selection and then gifting of the brass vessels; and now the spoons. They were all reaching across the table, testing their skill at fishing little tomatoes out of a common dish, placing them in small ornate receptacles, and striking the side to make a musical note. Each night we saw people fully engaged and enjoying the moment. It was not surprising, then, that some people didn’t notice the Visitor, who had been looking at them through the window before coming into the room through a side door. Wearing a hand-made half mask with exaggerated features, he was clearly not from the same world as the hosts or their guests. He didn’t speak in words; he expressed himself in gleeful sounds that were only vaguely intelligible. Clearly curious about this place, the Visitor barged right in and took great pleasure in the bounty he saw in the room. He spotted the bowl and made his way right to the table where he wedged in between two of the guests. He grabbed a few tomatoes, taking a single bite from each one with great enthusiasm, delighting in the taste and then carelessly dropping his half eaten food back into the bowl. We’d chosen cherry tomatoes to be the featured food in this scene not only because they are pretty and fit nicely into a spoon, but mainly From the Heart allowed us to create a series of logically coherent worlds in the chambers of because they are messy inside. the labyrinth, and then abruptly change the world of the play midway through a piece. The That gave us an opportunity café scene turned from realism to a world of archetypal shadows looming on the walls. The for the Visitor to spoil the miniature world of the marionettes shifted suddenly to a living person speaking directly meal for everyone else. There was a visceral response from to the listeners. It’s a theatrical equivalent to a deke in hockey. The audience settles into the audience members when their expectations of what’s about to happen—they’re following the puck and the player’s he cast his chewed tomatoes body language—but no: the other player takes off in an unexpected direction. A theatrical back into the common dish. deke catches the audience off guard. In that instant, as they recalibrate their sense of what’s This is an example of using happening in front of them, they become more alive to the encounter. pure theatrical language to tell a story. The Visitor saw one of the brass vessels across from him and used what was once called I do anti racism work as a profession, so I a boarding house reach to stretch over the table and snatch it up. Here was another small gest—in a world in which people basically profit from racism. What intrigued give to each other, the rude reach across the table summed up the gist of his worldview in a single gesture. His every action was a gest. me was the opportunity to put my money He turned the vessel over in his hand, admiring it as a treasure, and where my mouth is, to think about how can then casually pocketed it as he spotted the rainstick in the corner of the room and hurried over to it. Echoing Indian Agents and I influence other settlers to think differently their confiscation of regalia, he picked it up and examined it closely. Clearly this was a potential treasure for him to take, and he shook about our hosts in this land. it to try to figure out what was inside. The host at the far end of the — Grace table called out to him, “Stranger, come here so I can give you our greeting.” The Visitor set the rainstick back on its stand and rushed over with his arms spread wide to offer an overly comic hug in a gest of not understanding what is culturally appropriate. The host gently but firmly explained that they have a traditional way to greet and showed him the hand gesture. 59
When the Visitor first examined the rainstick, the Host and the Singer exchanged a subtle look and a nod. The Host’s invitation to show the Visitor their greeting was sincere, but it was also a momentary distraction. While the Visitor was across the room, the Singer quietly asked the guest sitting next to her to go get the rainstick and hide it under the table. This little act of collusion drew the guests further into alliance with their hosts and echoed stories of resilient First Nations communities who found ways to outwit Indian Agents. With sincerity, the Host welcomed the Visitor to join the other guests at the table, but he rebuffed the offer and hustled back to the rainstick to find it now gone. He was confused and a little dismayed but then turned his attention to a large framed picture on the wall showing a mother holding her young daughter. We had created the picture by altering the image of charming 1902 painting called “Reine Lefebre and Margot Before a Window” by the American artist Mary Cassatt. What happened next was one of the most intense moments in the scene. How do you stage the searing wound in the fabric of Indigenous families’ lives left from the wholesale theft of their children for generations? You can’t. Certainly not in a small scene in a labyrinth. We looked for a gest to stage it: an allegorical gest for an allegorical scene. With a smile on his face, the Visitor pointed excitedly to the girl in the picture. He clearly wanted that child. He pulled a pair of sharp scissors from his pocket and cut the girl out of the painting, leaving the image of her mother alone with a rough gash at her lap. The Visitor triumphantly waived his prize in the air and then tucked it into his pocket. A framed picture cannot possibly be compared to a child, but in the world of theatre, it is shocking to an audience to see something that appears to have value being destroyed right in front of them. This was our hope: that in a small way, the shock
of seeing a beautiful picture of a loving mother and daughter crudely torn apart would produce a reaction that this was simply wrong. Further along in the labyrinth, in a piece called “Imagine,” we approached the story of children taken from their parents in a different way. After snatching the picture of the girl, the Visitor grabbed one of the long spoons and made his way to the door. Before he left, he performed one final gest. He stopped at the end of the table where he dug into his pocket and took out a small handful of pennies. He tossed them on the table as if to show that he’d now paid in full for everything. He left the same way he’d come in, through a side door. The Singer went to the picture, tried to straighten the frame and sorrowfully touched the open gash where the child had been. The host went to the door, closed it behind him and said, “He’s gone.” She returned to the table. “Friends,” she said, “at times like this, we stop everything and ask that you stand with us, holding hands and breathing together.” After three or four long, deep breaths the host looked around the table and said, “We are still here. We will endure. Thank you for coming.” The Singer took the rainstick from under the table and tipped it to signal the end of the scene. Our intention in “At Table” was not to teach the audience a lesson, but rather to put them in a position of being witness to testimony about our perceptions on the injustice of cultural destruction. Being witness to testimony doesn’t necessarily mean standing listening to someone talk. In this case, we hoped the audience would be witness to a heartfelt experience of what it might mean to have one’s traditions and coherent community violated. Incorporating a mask for the Visitor was somewhat hilarious, while also disturbing. By playing him comically as a person who never considers the effect of his own presumption of entitlement, we hoped that audiences might experience a double edge in the scene. Just as some members in our group recognized a bit of ourselves in him, the audience might similarly choose to recognize some of themselves in him.
A note I received from a cast member I remember so vividly how the scene continued to evolve as new performers joined the cast and introduced their own unique improvised contributions—new ways of playing a moment here and there that added depth and then were integrated into the scene. I imagine this happened in others scenes in the show, too. For me, that was one of the things that made the whole experience organic and led the players to feel further commitment to the show. For a brief and magic period of time, we drew together as a community. — Lynne 60
Imagine if this scene had been staged with an actor barging in without wearing a mask. As the scene progressed, it would have been easy to be put off by him as a person. The stylized mask rendered him a kind of archetype, making it easier for the audience to connect with the idea of a visitor who freely takes without compunction. This was another ongoing concern in From the Heart—what techniques and staging devices can we use to keep the audience conscious of the big picture of the legacy of colonization instead of acting out realistic slice-of-life scenes for them?
I took my daughters to see it last week and they’re little—they’re 6 and 11 so of course they don’t understand all of the words but it felt like a big deal to me that I could offer this to my kids. Being able to take my children to something like this, it’s something that will sit in them for the rest of their lives. — Tasha
A gest of oppressive policies:
“Drumming of the Facts” We sit in a large circle—it is a Saturday morning at the end of the second month of the script development workshops. We have invited Paulette Regan, whose book was the catalyst that inspired the project, and her teaching partner Brenda Ireland to lead a two-day workshop delving into the topic of the show. Brenda is leading this part, telling us dozens of facts about policies and laws that First Nations people in Canada have been and are still subjected to. l In 1881, the Indian Act made it illegal to buy produce from
a First Nations person without permission from an Indian agent. l From 1927 to 1951, it was illegal for a First Nations person
to hire a lawyer to work on land claims and illegal for a lawyer to work on land claims for First Nations people. l At Alberni Residential School (and many others), First Nations children caught speaking their own languages were punished with needles pushed into their tongues. The list goes on and on. l Approximately twenty thousand First Nations people living
on reserves across Canada have no access to running water or sewage systems. Due to underfunding, one third of First Nations communities do not have a safe source of drinking water. l In 1876, The Indian Act became law in Canada, resting
on the principle “that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the state.” The Indian Act is still in effect today.18 62
By the end of that section of the workshop, we are all feeling pretty emotionally tender. I believe that was Brenda and Paulette’s express intention. As settler Canadians, part of the work of getting out from under our own colonized mindsets involves breaking down our assumptions that we already know about our history and we’ve already figured out what our attitudes are toward it. Hearing this unrelenting litany of what oppression looks like knocks us off balance—spins us around like a dust storm. As we are reeling from what we’ve heard, a possibility opens for us to take in a glimpse of the magnitude of the damage these policies have had on our fellow human beings. As he often does, Rob Wipond offers his reflections on what he sees happening in our work together. On this day, he is as articulate as always. He characterizes Brenda’s measured presentation of one fact after another after another after another as “the drumming of the facts.” We all agree that this is just what it feels like. It is a drumbeat that announces, that marks, that drives, and that tells a story. In the days that followed, we considered how to find the perfect gest to stage the drumming of the facts. This one was risky, because in From the Heart we never wanted to put ourselves in the position of “the ones who know,” presuming to educate those who don’t. That would run counter to the whole purpose of the show, which was to invite our audiences to be witness to the stories and experiences that have unsettled us. We strove to see our audiences as our allies and peers, not students at our
T o learn more about The Indian Act, see: http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/ home/government-policy/the-indian-act.html
lecture. So how best to present these facts in a way that reflected the experiences we had when we encountered them? The answer was to let the facts speak for themselves without performers delivering them. As we did with several of the rooms in the labyrinth, we turned this chamber into a visual art installation. The facts would hang from the ceiling on two dozen or more placards. It would be impossible for the audience to find a direct path through the space. If you walked straight, right in front of your face would be a fact that blocked your forward movement. Some were suspended slightly higher for taller people and some lower for shorter people or those in wheelchairs. If you turned left or right there would be a different one so you would be forced to make your way around it, where you would run up against another one, and so forth. Like bumpers in a human size pinball machine, there were facts impeding your forward movement everywhere you turned. To emphasize our intention to treat the audience as our peers and allies, a sign at the entrance to the room read:
Two members of our team, Katrina Brown and Loreena Sandor, were recent fine arts graduates from the University of Victoria and they turned the concept into reality. By the time it
was finished, it was quite an unsettling room to be in. Almost all the rooms in the labyrinth had no ceilings: this one had a ceiling of chicken wire painted black. On a practical level, it gave Katrina and Loreena a grid to hang the wooden placards. On another level, the mesh wire ceiling made it feel like a prison. The wire was stapled to ceiling joists: big, old, rough-hewn wooden beams. The space was lit not by paper lanterns, but rather by harsh, downward pointing spotlights. A project like this is full of what you might call â€œhappy accidents,â€? and there was one in this room that had great meaning for me. Katrina and Loreena experimented with adjusting and readjusting the positions of the placards to find just the right design so that it was challenging to navigate but it was still possible to get through. They screwed little metal hooks to the tops of the placard slats so that they could hook, unhook, and re-hook them on the ceiling mesh until they were satisfied with the placement. What struck me when I saw the completed room was that those hooks were so plainly visible. It was clear as could be that each of the heinous policies and barriers represented on the placards had been put there by someone. They werenâ€™t wired-in fixtures that were part of the room. They had deliberately been placed there, and there, and there, and there to block the path. It was a physical metaphor of the imposition of systematic institutionalized oppression and it added subtly to the psychological weight of the room. We had an impulse to support the visual experience of this room with a recording of actual drumming. While drumming is found in every part of the world, we knew it would be perceived 63
A note I received from a cast member
First Nations of British Columbia circa 1880. This is not an authoritative depiction of tribal territories. Based on a map drawn by S. Daniel/STARSHELL MAPS in Cheryl Coull’s book, A Traveller’s Guide to Aboriginal B.C. (Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 1996)
as Native drumming in this context and we weren’t about to appropriate it as a sound effect. We did feel comfortable with an alternative. We played a low volume recording of the beating sound of a human heart, as a nod to drumming and to the hearts of people whose lives had been so damaged by the polices shown in the room. One of the members of the ensemble suggested that to deepen the intensity of the drumming of the facts, we could draw a map of the traditional territories of the First Peoples of the region on the floor of the room. That way, as audience members figuratively walked across the land, they might be especially mindful that these policies had been imposed on the people who were living here when the settlers arrived. Two members of the ensemble got to work painting a five by ten foot canvas map, based on a local historian’s map of pre-contact BC. The morning it was ready, they brought it to show the rest of us and they were full of concern. They said it could not be put on the floor. It was obvious to everyone that they were right. Seeing this beautiful map caused us to recognize at once the implications of our artistic choice. Placing it on the floor directly along the audience’s route would do more than encourage them to be mindful of historic policies; we’d be forcing them to re-enact colonialism symbolically by trampling on it. And to what end? So that they would more deeply feel a sense of what it is to desecrate something? I certainly would not want to walk on it myself and would feel manipulated and resentful if I were forced to because it was the only way through that room of the labyrinth. This was another object lesson for us. We were enthusiastic about the idea to have the territory on the floor. It seemed to be artistically powerful. But when it came time to implement it and it dawned on us how ethically problematic it would be to make audiences 64
The most unsettling experience for me occurred during the first day of the evocative and emotional workshop led by Paulette Regan and Brenda Ireland. The workshop, structured like a traditional First Nations healing circle, delivered devastating facts about residential schools and cultural genocide that occurred in Canada. In an ironic twist, or maybe not, it was not the workshop content that unsettled me. After first encountering Canada’s gruesome truth three years earlier, I’d battled with insidious white guilt and settler shame and worked hard towards becoming a respectful and responsible ally. What unsettled me so greatly in this workshop was when fellow settler participants broke a sacred moment of silence to relieve their own experiences of discomfort, to shake it off in a group improv activity. I couldn’t believe what was happening. My body felt paralyzed with shame, embarrassment, resentment, hopelessness, anger, and, most of all, sadness. This was supposed be different . . . . From this experience and others, I believe the most important lesson is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When we learn to experience stark discomfort as pivotal in our journey, when we learn to embrace grief as a welcome guest, when we learn to honour silence as sacred space, only then do we develop the courage and respect necessary to transform ourselves as individuals and as a collective, which is, after all, what this decolonization work is all about.
walk on it, the potential for artistic impact didn’t matter. Respectful ethical considerations have got to trump artistic choices every time. Everybody saw that. We chose instead to hang the map on a wall right at the entrance of “Drumming of the Facts.” When people emerged from the “Drumming of the Facts” chamber, they had a minute to walk down a curving corridor. We had considered installing relevant quotes from our readings along the walls of the corridor, but dropped that plan. With thoughts of our audience’s well-being in mind, we figured it was better to give them a brief break, even if only for a half a minute, as they made their way to the next room.
A gest of history we don’t know:
“In Our Own Backyard / Erasure” In his 2012 book, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s ‘War’ of Extermination on the Pacific, Tom Swanky approaches troubling questions about the 1862 smallpox epidemic in BC as if he were a detective on a serial murder case. He has come to believe that the nineteenth-century epidemic that killed up to one hundred thousand native men, women, and children in the region by mid 1863 was not merely an unfortunate turn of events in our history. Meticulously pouring over oral accounts and archival materials, including timelines of expedition records and land claim registrations, Swanky has produced a compelling case suggesting that a closely knit group of land speculators, corporate developers, and key players in the early British Columbian government sent travelers intentionally inoculated with the smallpox virus to visit Native villages, with the express intent of eradicating entire communities in order to claim their vacated land. Swanky also writes about an extraordinary document that can be found buried in the BC Archives. In the records of Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie’s famous Chilcotin War trial, a Tsilhqot’in leader accused of having participated in the murder of some white men presents a justifiable rationale for killing these men to stop them from intentionally infecting his people with the deadly disease. When you look at the microfiche copy of the original transcript of his words, this key section of his testimony has been scribbled out. Subsequent official records delete it from the account of the trial. Swanky has also linked old maps, published writings, and letters that appear to show evidence of a mass grave of over a thousand Indigenous people right in Victoria’s own back yard.19 Several participants were so unsettled by the material in Tom Swanky’s book that they wanted to create a piece about it.
I know a lot about group process, so it wasn’t that I learned anything new, it was that things were reaffirmed for me about what I believe to be true, about what is needed to have a safe group that’s going to be able to allow all of us individual people to do this collective thing together with the least amount of harm and the most amount of good. — Brian Here is an example of what From the Heart can do. It would be folly to try to adapt his entire book for the stage—that would be an overwhelming task. But readers who are moved by certain aspects of the story, or aspects of any book, can create a theatre piece based just on the specific parts that moved them. Two members of the core ensemble wrote the initial draft of the piece. Next came a writing session with more participants who wanted to be part of it. I got to observe the meeting and it was truly unforgettable. Here were half a dozen people sitting around the table, all full of opinions and passionate about their sometimes conflicting perspectives on how the scene could progress. Here was enthusiasm for one’s own idea mixed with patient respect for other people’s ideas. Here was fast-paced negotiation and compromise. Here was mutually agreed upon solutions to concerns about the implications of word choice and what was necessary to include and to cut. By fostering a sense of a working toward a mutual goal with others we respect, this is the kind of collaboration we can aspire to promote. Ultimately, the piece took the form of two parallel stories, told by a pair of storytellers directly to the audience. To reflect this double track, the piece incorporated two names: “In Our Own Backyard” and “Erasure.” As the audience came to the end of the corridor after “Drumming of the Facts” and entered the room, they were warmly greeted by one of the performers, who thanked them for coming, gave them friendly compliments, touched them in a light friendly way, shook hands with them, and presented them with little gifts of origami. 19
Tom Swanky, The Great Darkening: The True Story of Canada’s “War” of Extermination on the Pacific plus the Tsilhqot’in and other First Nations Resistance (Dragon Heart Enterprises, 2012). For an excellent report on Swanky’s work, see Rob Wipond’s article “Infected at Birth” published in Focus Magazine: http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/413
The first performer started the piece with the line,
“The land was full of people.” 2nd performer: “History tells us that in the 1862 epidemic, in some cases entire Native villages were annihilated
by smallpox within a few weeks. Very tragic accidents. And yet, the speed of the devastation did not follow the natural course of smallpox epidemics. It looked more like, say, one or two visitors had gone from home to home, person to person, infecting virtually everyone at the same time. 1st performer: Along a river system the visitors would go, exchanging gifts, sharing the air. Ten days later whole villages would be reported sick, dying. (The implications of her welcoming gestures began to sink in.) 2nd performer: In the BC archives, there exists a record of the reasons for judgment written
by Judge Mathew Begbie for the execution of Klatsassan. 1st performer: Klatsassan: the unknown one, the unnamed, the one like the dead. 2nd performer: The Grand Chief, the leader of the Chilcotin rebellion. 1st performer: A Christian Minister said that one could hardly look at him without feeling about the man
something (awe)ful, something winning, and something great. 2nd performer: In his court summary, even Begbie described Klatsassan as, “The finest savage
I have met.” (Pause) Yet Begbie concluded that Klatsassan was a murderer. 1st performer: Said he was a thug. The leader of a gang of savages. 2nd performer: In Begbie’s notes, right where Klatsassan recounted his side of story–that they’d been warned
of two white men coming to spread smallpox in their village, and that’s why they’d fought–all of this was scribbled out in one thin line. 1st performer: Not like Begbie’s own factual corrections, which were always methodically and heavily
blackened out. 2nd performer: More like someone else had done this later, wiping it from the official record. 1st performer: So the final record jumped abruptly from Klatsassan’s opening lines to half way through the final
lines, and made Klatsassan sound like he’d been irrationally afraid of these white men, based only on bizarre, inexplicable superstition. 2nd performer: In the archives, you’ll also find a letter from the police chief to the Victoria Daily Chronicle,
describing the location of a mass grave of Aboriginals just outside downtown Victoria. Dead from smallpox. Possibly the biggest mass grave in Canada, possibly 1200 bodies. Forgotten. 1st performer: On the bus, at breakfast, walking about town, at random times throughout the day I’ll find myself wondering
if right here . . . (trail off). It feels like I have genocide hidden in my own back yard. 2nd performer: I walked to where the grave was supposed to be, stood there, cars whizzing by, wind in a couple
of trees. I lay down on the grass there, in the night, and I felt like I could hear the screams, the suffering. (Pause) I wondered if even the Coast Salish know about this place. Beneath my feet, the ground was moving. It felt like my own search had just begun . . . . 66
While researching material for the show, I came across an online story that left me feeling as if I had been punched in the gut. A photo showed a person’s hands holding a pair of rusted metal handcuffs—little ones—handcuffs that had clearly been manufactured to fit the wrists of a child. The writer explained that they had been donated to a Native American cultural centre and museum in 1989 by a middle aged white man who said that when he was a boy he’d been given the cuffs by his grandfather, who told him they were “used to restrain captured Indian children who were being taken to boarding schools.” The museum’s director called upon her elders for guidance on what to do with these tiny artifacts that seemed to carry with them such deep pain and sorrow.20 The image conjured such a potent sense of injustice and cruelty when I first saw it that I immediately considered including the story—with the photo—in our visual installation “Drumming of the Facts.” I felt it might convey to our audience the same kind of visceral response I had experienced. The problem was that the story about the handcuffs is not true. A little further research revealed that what is shown in the photo is actually a toy that was distributed as part of a promotional campaign for a popular American radio program called “Junior G-Men,” broadcast during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Kids who joined a Junior G-Men club would receive their own detective badges, manuals, and little metal handcuffs. There were no keys; a button on the side popped them open. You can find them these days on e-bay and other online auction sites. Comparing the sellers’ photos with the image in the online story leaves little room for doubt. They are unmistakably the same. The brutality and cruelty with which First Nations children were literally incarcerated in residential schools and separated from their families is indisputable. And yet, featuring a story in a production of From the Heart that can easily be shown to be untrue runs the risk of jeopardizing the credibility of the entire project. What I learned from this was to attend to due diligence when gathering material. Identify sources and try to ensure that they are credible. This task can be challenging when the topic is the history of First Peoples in Canada. For example, I have heard that even though mainstream historians are said to be skeptical of Tom Swanky’s research findings, the Tsilhqot’in people consider his claims to be absolutely in line with the truths they have heard passed down through oral tradition for generations. Find the stories that move you, that summon you, and tread carefully.
The two performers spoke directly to the audience. At the end, they pulled back a curtain on the wall to reveal an enlarged copy of the microfiche of Klatsassan’s testimony with lines scrawled through the key section. Alongside it was a map of Victoria and Esquimalt with the alleged location of the mass grave. They then turned the rainstick to signal the end of the piece.
Coaching the actors Whenever the actors in the show spoke directly to the audience, I looked for a coaching prompt that would help them to avoid a relationship of teacher to student. This scene was tricky because, as vulnerable as the performers were in acknowledging the impact the stories had on them, they were more or less in a teaching mode. They were imparting information. I offered them this suggestion: imagine that your audience is a group of visiting historians from a place far enough away from Canada that they know nothing about our history. These historians are keen to learn from you and will take in what you can tell them with open ears and open hearts. My intention was to help the actors establish a relationship with the listeners that was not based on trying to sway their opinions or prompt them to change. Starting with an imagined assumption that they were speaking to a completely receptive audience, predisposed to welcoming this learning, the performers’ only task was to openly express their own responses to these stories. The device of inventing a persona for the audience anchored the performers just where they needed to be, inviting the listeners to be witnesses to their experience.
A gest of coping:
“Entangled” I knew that we were going to need to have at least one funny piece in the show, if for no other reason than to give the audience a break from the intensity of all the other scenes. Three or four different elements all came together to form a comedy piece called “Entangled.” I am profoundly influenced by the work of radical educator Paulo Freire and his vision of teachers and students as co-learners. Applying his philosophy to my work in theatre, I participated in Krystal’s storytelling, poetry, and autobiographical writing workshops as a co-learner with the rest of the project participants. I was genuinely interested in learning along with them. For me, that’s part of what decentring leadership looks like. All of us were taking risks and writing about personal material, to whatever degree we felt comfortable. One evening, Krystal’s prompt was to write a poem in four lines on the question “What is your personal action?’ I wrote four lines about my frustration at being so entangled in my own distress that I often feel incapable of taking any action. A couple of weeks later, I saw my personal experience echoed in Paulette and Brenda’s workshop. On their first morning with us, they led us through what they have identified as some of the different coping strategies used to deal with emotions that surface once we start confronting our mutual histories. Among other things, they described: Shame Rage Proclaiming ignorance (we didn’t know any better) Rationalizing Denial Seeking to exert control From the beginning of the project, I had kept a file folder of comments that had poured out of the members of the core ensemble during our group reflections at the end of sessions and from their responses to the material they’d been encountering while reading the books in our collection. These were often just single sentences, like:
“ It is a struggle to open the books [by these First Nations authors] and to face their stories.”
“I am moved by seeing so much loving by First Nations people in the face of having endured such pain.”
“I feel I have been lied to: I am colonized.”
“What is it to be ready for change? I am always ready and I am never ready.”
“ It is hard to say what I need to say; I am remaining silent for now.”
“ I am so appalled at the almost diabolical ingenuity that was used to destroy a way of life.” 68
It was strong lyrical stuff, but thematically random. It reminded me of that one drawer in the kitchen that winds up being stuffed with all the odds and ends that don’t quite fit anywhere else. I kept all these lines in a notebook and called it the Kitchen Drawer Collection. These three elements—my own writing in Krystal’s workshop about my personal unsettling; the coping strategies identified in Paulette and Brenda’s workshop; and the Kitchen Drawer Collection of powerful individual lines—all formed an intersection, a kind of three-part Venn Diagram, that I recognized could provide just what we needed to make a comic piece for the show. There was a fourth element too. It was something I’d once seen that had made me laugh and laugh. My friend Tim Gosley, a Victoria-based puppeteer extraordinaire, does a hilarious comedy routine based on the Noël Coward spoken song “I’ve been to a marvellous party.” Tim performs it while wearing a little puppet body hung around his neck, with sleeves that allow his hands to be the puppet’s hands. Like so many things I see on stage that I think are brilliant, I kept the idea tucked away in my memory, waiting for an opportunity to borrow it for one of my shows. As I considered the possibility that the intersection of the three elements could form my writing contribution to the show, I realized that this was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. Tim’s little live-animated puppet man was just the right device to bring these three elements together through comedy. In Joe Wright’s useful book Why is That So Funny? he describes a three-part process for crafting comedy on stage. First, make a choice. Just do something. Second, exaggerate it. Extend what you’ve done to comic proportions. Third, tidy it up. Take away the extraneous stuff and keep only what really expresses what’s going on. The choice in this case was to present a version of me who was fettered by his own coping strategies. Exaggerating the choice meant making the conflicting coping strategies comically tangle me up. I pictured the TV trope of a crime investigator with a bulletin board filled with photos and newspaper clippings, each linked to another with thumbtacks and string. I saw my character as an obsessed scholar determined to figure out a solution for what to do when confronted with the evidence of our troubled history of settler-Indigenous relations. I had an image of him as Tim’s little puppet man, manically connecting the dots for the audience by using the string on the bulletin board to link one story to another, inadvertently binding himself up in the process—hoist by his own petard. I called the piece “Entangled.” That was the idea. Then came the tidying up. I spread all the Kitchen Drawer Comments out on a long table along with notes from the coping strategies discussion with Brenda and Paulette, and I used the texts to stitch together a monologue. For a variety of reasons that reflect the difference between a concept and the realities of life, gravity, and spatial relationships, the string bit didn’t work. In rehearsal we tried out other comic bits. We kept the ones that made us laugh. “Entangled” is a fine example of how the performance pieces in From the Heart can accommodate a range of performers.
I feel more comfortable I think now going and doing any kind of indigenous solidarity work, because I feel a little closer to the process and I’ve learned what it means to be unsettled to some degree. I recognize feelings like anger, resistance or frustration as positive rather than just being negative feelings. I see them as being “oh I’m feeling unsettled now. That’s a good thing. I can turn that into positive action.” — Lisi 69
I had planned to take the role of the scholar myself, but wound up playing the Visitor in “At Table” instead. One of the people in the core ensemble, a British-born woman in her 70s, had jumped at the chance to do some physical comedy in the show and asked me if she could take on the role of the Scholar. I had been so impressed by her consistent willingness to try new things, I cast her without reservation. An early version of the script featured a full-out pratfall and she was excited by the idea. I was a little concerned. We were working on a concrete floor, after all, and I didn’t want her to get hurt. Later, when we tidied up the comedy bits, the pratfall was changed into something else. She had been looking forward to it and was visibly disappointed, but carried on with the new bit like a trouper. She shared the role with a recent immigrant from China, who had wanted to be in the core ensemble but was traveling during our script development workshops. He returned to Victoria in time for the rehearsal phase and joined our cast then. He had trained as an actor and taught at a theatre school in China, but had not yet found many opportunities to perform in Canada. I gave them some direction to get started and then this tall young Asian actor and this small senior Englishwoman started meeting at her home for tea and self-directed rehearsals. She brought a delightful English Music Hall sensibility; he brought his skill and genuineness as a performer. They learned from each other, developing a friendship as they identified the comic timing in the lines, refined their piece, and built the puppet together. In the third week of the run, when we expanded the cast from thirty to nearly ninety people, another performer came on board to play the Scholar. Large in both girth and exuberance, he had been acting in amateur community theatre productions for four decades, often playing the comic parts. He embraced the role with such commitment that it was hard to believe he hadn’t come up with the idea himself. It was something I saw again and again among members of the expanded cast. There was never a sense that they were understudies or replacement actors. People who had not been part of creating the show found such resonance in the material that they all brought a remarkable personal commitment to their performances. “Entangled” didn’t have a satisfactory ending until we began working in the labyrinth. By complete coincidence, the Scholar’s room was the only chamber in the entire place with a functioning window. It could be unlatched and swung open. During a playful moment while building that room, one of the people in the ensemble jokingly stuck her hand through a little cat door in what was the bottom of a kitchen door, now installed upsidedown in our labyrinth. She pointed her finger and laughed, saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny to have someone standing here during the show with a finger poking through this little hole?” It was a hilarious image and by the next day we made it happen in the form of a little stuffed, white-gloved hand installed there. It was intended purely as a random element of the set, part of our impulse to make the labyrinth unlike anything the audience would have seen before. Sitting in the room one quiet evening, 70
trying to figure out an ending of “Entangled,” I looked up at the hand and realized it was pointing toward the window. I suddenly knew how to resolve the piece. After comically struggling through half a dozen coping mechanisms, the Scholar comes upon a book in his study that he or she does not want to deal with. With little arms, the Scholar tries to tuck the book away on a shelf that is too far to reach. In order to get to the shelf, the actor steps away from the table where the puppet has been standing but then realizes everyone has now seen him/her as an actor with a puppet (as if they hadn’t noticed before). Acknowledging that the gig is up, the performer takes off the hat and the puppet and lays them on the table. She or he speaks to the audience: “Oh well, this wasn’t working for me anyway.” Then, with a sense of desperation, asks: What am I supposed to do? I get so wrapped up in being angry at people who died a hundred years ago, or I shout at the TV, or I just want to not think about it. What does it take? How am I supposed to decolonize myself? Where is the alchemy of change in me? Where do I find what I am looking for? Almost in the middle of these final words, the performer stops suddenly, having noticed the mannequin’s hand on the wall directly behind the audience. The actor looks to where the finger is pointing, toward the window at the far side of the room. Looking back at the pointing finger and then back at the window, the performer walks slowly to the window and upon reaching it, unfastens the latch. It swings open. There is blue sky outside. After peering out, the performer then turns and speaks again to the audience. Indicating the piles of books, he or she says: These are important to me. I need to read. And I need to try to make sense of it all. But I think I need to go do something . . . else. Something . . . out there. I need to go . . . listen. Yeah. The performer nods as if to indicate that a decision has been made, goes to the rainstick, picks it up and turns it to indicate the end of the scene. For me, this was a perfect gestic ending to the scene. This person is not going to change identity. Instead, the Scholar shows the possibility of simply stopping all the incessant talking in favour of seeking out those with something to say and taking time to listen.
A gest of regret. An impulse to do something that was left undone:
“Too Big to Touch” Krystal’s prompts to write on experiences that were unsettling led to some lyrical expressions of deeply moving personal accounts. One woman offered this story: My friend’s resilience was truly amazing. We were experiencing something similar. The loss of our young brilliant cousins, both murdered, both teenage girls. The one difference is that my family are settlers of Scottish and English descent and her family are Cowichan—Oh!–and my cousin’s murderer has been put in jail and her cousin’s has not. One night, after a long day of walking for justice for murdered and missing women, she broke down a little and, for the first time, I saw her cry. She said she missed her cousin. I became so overwhelmed by all of the layers of injustice, layers of oppression, racism, theft. It all became so big. I wanted so badly to simply reach out my hand and support her. But it wasn’t so simple. I became frozen, frozen in my own guilt and sadness. It was just too big to touch. Like “Patience of the Seasons,” this prose poem was very effective just as it stood. Our task, though, was to enrich or elevate the audience’s encounter with the writer’s words by recasting her story in the language of theatre. So what was this piece about, we asked? Certainly it was about what family means to us—to all of us, Native and non-Native. We found a visual gest for this aspect of the piece that we incorporated into the very design of the chamber of the labyrinth where the scene would take place. Almost an entire wall of the small room was taken up with a big picture window and we completely filled it with a collage of black and white photos of families from a broad range of cultures: snapshots of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. It was a visual manifestation of loving support among families. When the audience entered and took their seats, the photo collage was to their left. Directly in front of them was a young woman sitting on a simple low bench. The wall behind her was a sheet of white fabric. A flashlight from behind the screen cast a circle of light revealing a shadow silhouette of another young woman sitting on the other end of the bench facing away from her. The woman the audience saw in front of them was the teller of the story; the shadow of the other woman was her Cowichan friend.21 It made sense that her friend was seen as a shadow in silhouette rather than there on the bench in plain view because, like the earlier scene with Charlie, it was a piece about the
storyteller’s memory of an event, not a re-enactment. But this choice also served several other purposes. As a predominantly settler cast, we were conscientious about avoiding situations in which a non-Indigenous person would be playing the role of an Indigenous person. Again, as with the earlier scene, we found a compromise by having settler actors removed one step from being onstage and instead representing those individuals as non-speaking shadow silhouettes. As it happened, in the other shadow sequence, a First Nations teenager heard about the show after it opened and wanted to join the cast. He stepped in on some nights to play Charlie in silhouette on the tightrope. Gestic use of the shadow came in two stages. When the storyteller began to describe how she was “so overwhelmed by all of the layers of injustice, oppression, racism, theft . . . ,” the flashlight wrangler behind the screen shifted the angle and shone the light through a table set up with an array of toy figurines we’d found at a thrift store. They cast a complex layer of images of violence, anguish and grief across the lit screen.
T he traditional territory of the Cowichan people covers the entire Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, the region surrounding Cowichan Lake and Shawnigan Lake, extending into the Gulf Islands. The storyteller’s description of her own cultural heritage changed at each performance to accommodate the performer in the role.
The images were f leeting, and were meant to be—as images in the mind can be. As a director, I feel that a glimpse can often be much more effective than a clearly rendered depiction. The images of overwhelming pain appeared for only seconds and then vanished. The storyteller continued with her lines, “It all just became so big, I wanted so badly to simply reach out my hand and support her. But it wasn’t so simple. I became frozen, frozen in my own guilt and sadness. It was just too big to touch.” It was here that the most elegant and startling gest came into play. This was, at heart, a story of the events that led to the storyteller’s own revelation about the weight of guilt and sadness across a cultural divide. That’s what got in the way of her wanting to be the loving and supportive friend she aspired to be. It is the marvel of gests that they can contain a direct contradiction, like the one this young woman was feeling. At that moment, she turned slightly away from her friend, unable to move to help. But then her arm’s shadow tentatively reached up on its own to lay a loving hand on her friend’s shoulder. Her friend’s silhouette reached back to take the shadow’s comforting hand. A third performer had been sitting motionless directly behind the storyteller on the other side of the screen during the entire scene. She waited until this moment to extend her arm, as if it were the shadow of the storyteller’s arm. The audience nearly always gasped.
A note I received from a cast member There’s one minor detail we changed midway through the production. In the original script, the speaker said, “We were experiencing . . . the loss of our young beautiful cousins . . . .” We altered it to be “the loss of our young brilliant cousins.” It was one of those “Why didn’t we catch this before?” moments. As a group of young women, we felt it was an important edit that we carried through the remaining performances. — Christine
I tend to be struck by the visuals of theatre and what one can do with physical theatre—there’s an image that sticks and it makes a difference. That’s what I would hope for. I don’t believe in telling people what they should think. — Dorothy
A gest of families torn apart: “Imagine” One of the aspects of From the Heart that I cherished was seeing collaborations among participants of different ages. I have been involved in theatre projects that were based on young people interviewing older people about their lives and then dramatizing the stories of the seniors’ lives as a way of honouring them. This was different. In this project, young adults worked with people who were the ages of their older siblings, their parents, and their grandparents as collaborators on an equal footing and with a common goal. Nearly everyone in the ensemble spoke with sincere joy about mutually benefiting from the enthusiasm and insights of their colleagues from across the generations. Sitting in circle during one memorable discussion, a young woman in her twenties expressed her despair that the situation we are in will never get any better. Another cast member, a
woman who was nearly eighty, told her not to lose hope—not to lose heart. “Those of us my age,” she said, “have lived through some terrible, terrible times. We have seen it get better. Trust that it will.” To me, this is what co-learning looks like. Two women in the ensemble with about fifty years difference in their ages chose to team up to create a piece exploring intergenerational bonds. The histories of the residential schools that had torn children away from their parents and grandparents year after year troubled both women. I don’t know what their working process was. They met on their own, outside of the workshops, and within a week they had produced one page of dialogue, which they titled “Imagine.” It was a piece about empathy.
OLDER Imagine if it were you—if it were your children they came and took from you.
Imagine if it were you—if you were forcibly removed from your family.
Imagine if your parents had to let you go out of fear. Imagine if you were sent to a large, cold institution. Imagine if there was no one there you could trust. Imagine if you were ill-treated and abused. Imagine if you could no longer follow your traditional ways. Imagine if you were forbidden to speak your own language, if they said your parents and extended family were wrong. Imagine if they decimated your culture in all its complexity. Imagine if they convinced you that you were dirty and ignorant. Imagine if your child didn’t have the maturity to understand time and the thousands of years your people had been right in protecting, nurturing, and harvesting the land and sea with respect. Imagine if you handed down the confusion to your own children. . . . IMAGINE.
Imagine if the rest of society didn’t know about what happened or denied its significance. . . . IMAGINE. 73
Their staging concept was to have the young woman move reluctantly from left to right across the stage, as if from home among her family to the residential school, then to the city, away from the people who loved her. One of my early influences for directing theatre was Bill Ball, the founder of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre. Ball writes that a significant part of the director’s work in theatre is to elevate the actors’ choices, honouring their ideas while making suggestions for how they might take their impulses further and make them more intense. I like his approach because, like my own, it reflects a quality of partnership and mutuality between the actors and the director. In this case, I offered an idea that I felt would elevate the choice made by these two writers. Rather than being pulled from left to right, I suggested that we consider having the two people pulled apart from each other, and then pulled completely out of sight of each other and the audience. We tried it and were astounded by the power of the image. When the two performers were pulled apart by ropes around their waists and yanked out of sight, the audience commonly experienced a firsthand gut response to the idea of the violence of the theft of the children and the pain of loss for the adults left behind. Only ninety seconds long, it became one of the most discussed pieces among audience members in the tearoom after the show. During rehearsals, one of the older actors asked me if I felt she should look at the younger actor with anguish and
With only seven or eight lines to learn, the brevity of the scene allowed for several different actors to step into the roles. We needed a physical action they could be doing when the audience discovered them: a gest of guidance and teaching that created a bond between parent or grandparent and child. One of the actors suggested having the older woman teach knitting to the younger woman. It was a simple gestic embodiment of passing along knowledge and skill. When a male performer stepped into the parent/grandparent role, it became obvious that we had made a somewhat gender-based choice. Looking for another gest of guidance and skill teaching that would be more gender-neutral, I found an old hardcover field guide for identifying birds. A published clothbound guidebook on ornithology was clearly not part of a traditional First Nations teaching tradition. Our focus remained on the allegory and it served our purpose well.
alarm as her “granddaughter” was being pulled away from her. To me, it was clear that she should not. I felt that if she had made that adjustment, the piece would have become a scene in which she was in the role of a character representing a First Nations parent or grandparent. It would have implicitly turned the focus on her anguish. The piece was intended to be about both performers’ empathetic response to someone else’s anguish. In developing these pieces, we always returned to the question, “What is the performers’ relationship to the audience?” Our choice was always to remain anchored in our own developing understanding of history. Our challenge was to find a theatrical language to express an idea about the history we were trying to come to grips with, not to act out a realistic portrayal of the stories of First Nations people.
A gest of unexpected realization: “Born It was not unusual for participants writing about their significant moments of discovery to find a common thread. In one instance, three women, each in her own way, had slowly come to realize their oppression as women in a patriarchal society. Each in her own life, each in her own way, came to realize in middle age how she had long been unaware of her own complicity in oppressing First Nations people. The piece came to be called “Born Complicit.” Three stories, three narratives testifying to similar experiences. Rather than choosing just one story to tell or creating a fictional composite, we relied on a performance form called metissage, which literally means “mixed blood.” One storyteller begins with her narrative and carries it on for a couple of sentences before she pauses. The next storyteller begins her narrative. A couple of sentences in, she pauses and the third begins. After a couple of sentences, she pauses and the first picks up the thread where she last left off. Repeat. The stories are braided together leaving built-in cliffhangers that are continually resolved and then left hanging again. When it is done well, the audience is able to hold each separate story in their minds simultaneously. The stories seem to speak to each other as their crossovers and their uniqueness resonate in the course of the telling. The women who worked on the scene discovered for themselves that metissage is not effective when each speaker has big chunks of text. They found an ideal momentum of rhythm and pace with smaller segments. They worked hard on their drafts, collectively improving them by sending e-mails of the work in progress to each other. Like the story about smallpox a few scenes back, I had some concern that the performers could easily slip into teacher mode. Unless we established a way to anchor their relationship to the listeners as an invitation to be witness to their experience, it could by default become: “Listen to my story—it is important that you learn this.” To avoid diminishing their sense of personal urgency to tell the stories, I asked them to make a simple switch in the writing. I asked them to describe their stories in the third person. The opening line that began all three pieces was spoken in unison: “Three white women, growing up in loving families, food to eat, a good education.” Then, throughout each of their lines, they changed the pronouns from “I” and “my” to “she” and “her.” What a profound difference this made. They became advocates for a woman whose story they clearly felt was important to tell. I coached them to find urgency in expressing
Here is what I have today. I’ve changed my piece slightly and then tried to match it paragraph by paragraph to Susan’s, using a few of your introductory lines, Susan. Feedback appreciated! What has come up for me that isn’t touched by this piece is the feeling of being locked inside our culture with the blinkers on. It is such a huge revelation to me to feel this mechanism at work—a mechanism so fundamental that it can affect even the level of curiosity I feel about certain settler issues, as in don’t want to know, don’t want to hear, etc. It makes my head hurt to go against this internal racism. It’s like those dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere but find that you’re running through deep water. Anyway, there’s certainly lots of material to work on. And I love how this all works in sync with Zen meditation practice! We are so lucky to have From the Heart. This natural expression of wholeness, our pain/the world’s pain coming together with our good will, love, compassion, and wisdom, and out of this wholeness spontaneous energetic creative action will arise. It may not be what we expect. I’m amazed by the process and continue to grow in my understanding of the issues and the word complicit, starting with my dad’s dictionary from the previous century: complicity is a partnership in an evil action. Thank you, Susan, for bringing this piece in. This is not for the faint of heart, and I honour your courage and perseverance. All the best, Soshin
The women who created “Born Complicit” always generously kept me in the loop, including me in their e-mail correspondence. The email above is from one of the many messages they sent back and forth.
to the audience who this woman was: the barriers she faced, the issues she considered, and the choices she made. Third person removed the presumption that these women were telling their own stories. Sometimes they did tell their own stories and sometimes they traded with each other. Another benefit of this decision came in performance. With such a text-heavy piece with quick cues, I didn’t ask them to memorize their parts. We had the scripts printed and staged the scene with the performers standing in front of three music stands. The ability to read the three woven stories in third person also made it that much easier for other performers to step in. A new performer in the piece was not asked to assume the character of the writer and convince the audience that this was her authentic voice. Instead, each new performer spoke as an advocate for the woman she was describing. A lot of women rotated into the roles, often picking the text they identified with most. We also had a middle-aged man join the scene. He sounded absolutely authentic speaking as the writer’s advocate with lines such as: At sixteen, she found that young men she counted as equals counted her as “less than.” At seventeen, she was one of ten nice Church sponsored youth on a summer of community work in the North. She saw the legacy of Canada on the Selkirk and Tagish peoples through the lens of privilege—like a tourist. What she saw shook her sense of who she was.
A note I received from a cast member Will, I’ve just read your description of our piece for the book, and I wouldn’t formulate my story or our stories quite this way. For me, the strength of the stories was how we showed that our attitudes about ourselves, Canada, First Nations people, etc. were formed in the water we swim in. As we reflected from a place of middle age, we were more able to see that water of complicity and how our upbringings, our culture, our families, our interactions, etc. were in many ways hurtful to both ourselves and others, including Native people. — Tasha
BOAL One of the members of the core ensemble is a professional arts-based community workshop facilitator. She was trained in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques including Image Theatre, in which participants in a workshop setting take turns “sculpting” each others’ bodies into living tableaux. The sculptors wordlessly adjust their fellow workshop participants’ limbs and stances to create an image conveying their interpretation of a social dynamic or a story. As we moved toward developing the pieces for the show, this particular member of our group was enthusiastic about the potential to integrate Image Theatre into a piece in one of the chambers of the labyrinth. I had met her a few years earlier when I was a participant in a workshop of hers and I admired her skill as a facilitator. I had personally invited her to be part of our ensemble. When she proposed integrating Image Theatre, I really wanted to find a way to accommodate her expertise, but, after giving it some thought, I felt strongly that it simply wasn’t going to suit what we were aiming to achieve. In Image Theatre, a facilitator’s role is to lead participants through a process in which they will make discoveries—a process in which they will learn things they didn’t know. Even though the outcome is intended to create new knowledge for both the participants and the facilitator, the facilitator’s role is to ask questions and invite reflection. As I thought it through, I kept returning to my gut feeling that the relationship of a participant/ performer facilitating the audience’s experience runs counter to the intention of From the Heart. I am repeating myself here, but it bears repeating. The whole premise of From the Heart is not to teach but rather for the participant/performers to stand in a place of humility and invite the audience to bear witness to their experience. I struggled to imagine a reasonable counteroffer—a compromise that would retain the spirit of Image Theatre as a mode of performance-based expression but would be grounded in an invitation to the audience to be witnesses. I considered the idea that individual members of the ensemble could create tiny versions of Image Theatre in which they wouldn’t sculpt other people’s bodies, but would instead create evocative images to express meaning using small everyday items. That was one of the threads that led to the staging for “Stories that Must Be Told.”
A gest of perceptions embedded in language:
“Stories that Must Be Told” During one of the workshops with Krystal, she asked us to tell a story about our childhood. As I started to write, my memories, and the words, came to me in Portuguese—the way they were lived. I wrote a poem in Portuguese that reached deep into my heart. When Krystal asked if we would like to share what we had written, We made a concerted effort to ensure that the ensemble was culturally diverse as an express acknowledgement that all non-Indigenous Canadians reap the benefits of the legacy of colonialism. As a result of our outreach (with support from the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria), the ensemble included a number of relatively recent immigrants as well as some who had been in the country for some time and yet still identified strongly with their country of origin. In creating a space in the show for their contributions, we were always mindful that none of us is defined by our national identities, but rather that our identities inform our perspectives. A foreign-born naturalized citizen or permanent resident in Canada doesn’t bring the perspective of her mother country; she brings her own unique personal experience, which has been shaped by her culture, her country of origin, her family, and her language. In the journal writing exercises, these participants reflected on their experiences, encounters, and relationships with First Nations peoples. They considered their own questions as immigrants regarding the Indigenous peoples of Canada. When two of the participants asked if they could share their responses as they had written them, one in Russian and the other in Portuguese, we welcomed it. Both of their readings were remarkably compelling. Although no one in the room understood the words, we all felt the undeniable sense of importance behind whatever it was that they were explaining to us. The experience that night conveyed a palpable sense of how people from different cultures have perspectives and ways of seeing the world that are embedded in their very languages. It led us down the road toward the search for a gest. How do you find a way to physically embody the diversity of perception held by those who understand the world through languages other than English? How do you physically embody a way of seeing the world that those who speak English exclusively may not have grasped? The germ of an idea began to form that night. I invited the other people in this group of immigrants to tell stories from their perspectives, based on the prompts.
I said that mine was in Portuguese, and she said it did not matter. It was a very, very powerful experience for me to read it aloud, and emotional. The whole group seemed mesmerized as they listened. Words are not always translatable. Emotions are not always translatable. So the language element of our work played a huge role for me. — Mice
Furthermore, I asked them to use the scraps of fabric and hand instruments, kitchen utensils, small toys, and other items selected from our table of found objects to assist them in explaining the meaning of their stories. The initial experiments were big and bold and on their feet. For the second round I invited them to scale it down by sitting at a small table to tell their story in their first language to only two other people. They spoke with kindness and earnestness to their two listeners, while the rest of us looked on. Most of us in the room did not understand the words they used. If they had only used speech, I expect our attention would have flagged after a while. But the small objects gave us clues and drew us in. We found ourselves actively piecing together the meaning of each story, even as we were missing the specifics. The objects made us want to hang on to every gesture and intonation. As the audience left “Born Complicit,” they turned a corner and faced a sign that contextualized what they were about to meet. It worked in much the same way as the singer’s introduction in “Patience of the Seasons” and the sign at the entrance to “The Drumming of the Facts.”
Entering the room, the audience saw four small round tables with a storyteller seated behind each one and only two open seats per table. In the café scene much earlier, when the audience was first getting used to the feel of the show, we felt it was useful to have a waiter direct people where to sit. By now, however, audiences had grown accustomed to the game. The group of eight people usually picked up on the clue and took it upon themselves to separate into four groups of two, a pair for each table. The cast members who initially created this piece spoke in Russian, Farsi, Dutch, and Portuguese. When more people joined the cast for the extended run, I worked with them to create their own stories with found objects to reflect on their personal perceptions and discoveries about their relationships with Indigenous people and cultures. They spoke in Japanese, 78
Mandarin, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Farsi, and French. As the director, working with each of them one-on-one, I wound up being the only one who heard the English translation of every story in this piece. Each one was an extraordinary tale of personal epiphany, empathy with aspects of Indigenous people’s lives, loss and survival, and aspiration to contribute to a better, more culturally equitable Canada. Some people who saw the show urged me to make English translations of the stories available in the heart of the labyrinth at the end of the show. They felt it was important to give the listeners details of what they had seen and heard. I considered it but, as the director, I made a choice to leave the stories untranslated. It was, after all, the point of that piece that cultures around the globe have nuanced understanding and wisdom built into their languages. One of the intentions of “Stories that Must Be Told” was that these cultural perspectives deserve to be respected and recognized as valuable on their own terms, not as things easily translatable into the worldview of English speakers.
The storytellers in the room changed from night to night. As one young woman told her story in Mandarin, she showed her listeners a little glass jar of red beans. Tucked in tightly among the beans were a few small brightly coloured feathers. After carefully pulling out three feathers, she held them in the palm of her hand and then blew on them so that they danced in the air above the table. They floated down, landing in a bowlful of water, where they became wet and sank. As she continued to speak, she took more feathers from the jar and this time also some red beans. Placing these feathers gently on the waterâ€™s surface, she put a single red bean into the curved cradle of each feather and then gave it a little flick with her finger. These tiny boats, bearing their tiny cargo, sailed across the surface of the water in the bowl. Another, also speaking in Mandarin, made use of a small bowl of earth, a cheaply made Chinese toy, some stones, and a gift box. A Japanese speaker told a thoughtful story involving a beautiful piece of blue fabric and two stones of different sizes, while a French speaker folded small pieces of paper and used an old toy airplane to explain her story. A Brazilian woman speaking in Portuguese had a collection of small flashlights and a small book. When a bright red scarf appeared, the flashlights were switched on and illuminated her heart. Two women speaking in Dutch took turns at a table on different nights. Pulling away a piece of fabric, the speaker revealed a selection of small wooden bowls, one with earth, others with herbs, clams, berries, and water. She intimated a sense of respect towards these things, then proceeded to pull out a small plastic bag of cheezies (or sometimes marshmallows) and stuff the junk food into her mouth while explaining with alarm something that seemed urgent. Two men speaking in Farsi also took turns. The speaker traced his finger around the circumference of a softball. He then held up a single flower. He spoke earnestly, apparently about the flower, and looked at it lovingly before sorrowfully plucking off its petals and letting them fall to the table. Then, producing another couple of flowers, he gave one to each of his listeners. On some nights, a Persian woman held up a twig, only an inch and a half long. It was elegant in the architecture of its
simplicity. As she spoke in Farsi, she explained something while she snapped the twig in two. She asked her listeners a question. Then, offering her own answer, she produced a short length of twine, bound both pieces together, and, with a small cleverly tied knot, she bandaged the twig. She gave it to one of her listeners. A storyteller plaited several earth-coloured scarves into a braid on the table while speaking in Russian. Then taking a scarf from around her neck, she wove it expertly into the existing braid and took the hands of her listeners into her own hands as they felt the scarves together. On some nights another Russian speaker also used scarves but in a different way: plaiting them so that they were all tightly interconnected at one end, with the other ends freely spread apart. A young woman spoke in Spanish, telling a story with a handful of dark yellow corn kernels on her table. Moving them around like pieces on a game board, she paired some with others, while some seemed to be getting into little skirmishes. A kind of small-scale dance of life unfolded. Then she appeared to say something significant. She paused, and leaning close to the table, she blew a breath and scattered the corn kernels to the edges of the tableâ€”some flew off on to the floor. Taking one kernel in her fingers, she held it for a moment before setting it among a little cluster of popped corn over at the side of the table. She looked up at the listeners as she finished her tale.
There are some lines from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I have always loved. If the angel deigns to come it will be because you have convinced her, not by tears but by your humble resolve to be always beginning; to be a beginner. I am resolutely a beginner. As a white, North American, middle class man, I am in a continuous state of learning and relearning about my own unacknowledged privilege regarding race, class, and gender. I am also always continuing to learn about the lived experience of Indigenous people in Canada. With all of its independent pieces, a show like From the Heart is flexible enough to change and adapt to new learning, even once the opening night has come and gone. So it was that we made an important adjustment a week and a half into the run of performances. One evening, one of the people in the audience was a respected First Nations community leader. Though we had not met, I knew her by reputation and was looking forward to hearing what she thought of our work. In a note she left afterwards, she wrote very appreciatively of her experience, thanking us for the care, love, and concern we demonstrated. She wrote that it was gratifying for her to see her reality in this place and that it gave her hope. She then went on to describe how terribly painful it was for her to encounter “Stories that Must Be Told.” She had to leave before it was over. To sit and hear the four storytellers speaking so fluently and casually in their first languages was too awful for her to bear, in light of her own language having been ripped away from her through the violence
of colonization and through assimilation. I didn’t meet her that night but in the note she left, she extended an invitation for me to talk with her and she gave me her e-mail address. I was mortified to learn that we had unwittingly caused such distress. At the same time, I was filled with gratitude that she had chosen to stop and take time to share her experience of the piece so that I might understand its implications from her perspective. My mother has taught me many things. Among them, she taught me that we all make mistakes. What matters, she says, is what you do next. I stayed up late that night working through ideas for what we might do that would continue to honour the people who had created and were performing that piece in the show, while also responding to this new knowledge. The next evening “Stories that Must be Told” was performed the same way it had been with one notable change. The audience sat in pairs at each of the four tables and rotated to new tables as each story was completed as they had done before. But now, although there were still four tables, there were only three storytellers. When people moved to the fourth table, they found an empty stool. There was no one at that table to tell them a story in Kwak’wala or Hul’q’umi’num’ or Gitsenimx or Nhiyawwin. In place of a storyteller, a single candle stood burning, to signify a flame of hope that hasn’t been extinguished. Next to it on the table was a piece of paper with a description of the devastating loss of Indigenous languages in BC and the systematic, intentional way they have been destroyed. It was a theatrical solution to the challenge: a minute and a half for the audience of two at a time to sit in silence. It was gest of absence and of hope for renewal.
The note found on the table British Columbia is home to 60% of the First Nations languages in Canada, with thirty-two distinct languages. This diverse wealth of languages is at risk, and every First Nations language in BC is in danger of being lost. Of these thirty-two languages, all are endangered and three are “sleeping,” with no known living speakers. Most fluent aboriginal speakers are aged sixty or older, and their languages will be lost forever when the last speaker dies. The dramatic decline in BC First Nations languages since the late 1800s is largely due to the following causes: l The Canadian government’s historic severe assimilation policies l The Indian Residential School System, followed by Indian Day Schools, that removed First Nations children from their homes and forbade them to speak their languages industrial, and cultural pressures from the dominant, l Social, English-speaking society l Exclusion of First Nations languages from government, commerce, industry, arts, education, and media 80
A gest of hurtful stereotypes:
“Face to Face” One of the powerful activities Brenda and Paulette facilitated during their weekend retreat with us involved leafing through and reflecting upon our responses to a stack of images of culturally offensive historical material, including pejorative names for Indigenous peoples and racist advertising images from the past hundred years. We had already talked about a song that one participant shared with us. He had learned it at camp as a boy. Several people in the group knew the song and remembered it well. The song has been taught for generations to boys and girls in Scouts Canada and the Girl Guides: We are the Red Men, tall and quaint, In our feathers and war paint: Pow-wow, pow-wow, We’re the men of the Old Dun Cow. All of us are Red Men, Feathers-in-our-head-men, Down-among-the-dead-men, Pow-wow, Pow-wow. We can fight with sticks and bones, Bows and arrows, slings and stones, Pow-wow, pow-wow, We’re the men of the Old Dun Cow. All of us are Red Men, Feathers-in-our-head-men, Down-among-the-dead-men, Pow-wow, Pow-wow. We come back from hunts and wars, Greeted by our long-nosed squaws, Pow-wow, pow-wow, We’re the men of the Old Dun Cow. All of us are Red Men, Feathers-in-our-head-men, Down-among-the-dead-men, Pow-wow, Pow-wow. We love Girl Guides, yes we do Eat their innards in a stew. Pow-wow, pow-wow! We’re the men of the Old Dun Cow. All of us are Red Men, Feathers-in-our-head-men, Down-among-the-dead-men, Pow-wow, Pow-wow
Sharing our responses to images of cultural stereotypes.
Some of the performers tried their hands at making a piece. They created a scene in which a Scout Leader taught “We are the Red Men” to kids around a campfire, with other elements of the material woven into the scene as well. After seeing it just once, I appreciated their efforts but felt strongly that it wasn’t working as a realistic scene—the raw offensiveness of the material was getting lost in the plotline of the story. Ultimately the impulse of this piece was reconfigured into a visual installation. On a wall in a corridor of the labyrinth, we mounted the images themselves—plus a page with the song lyrics. Directly across from this display was a wall filled with photographs, artwork, and other images of actual First Nations people: students, engineers, innovators, teachers, keepers of cultural wisdom, woodcarvers, scholars, soccer players and hockey players, theatre artists, and community leaders. There was artwork made by a First Nations youth and another piece made by an Elder. The installation was called “Face to Face.” It was not an entirely original idea. In Oregon in the 1990s, I saw a gallery exhibition by an American photographer called Bette Lee. At the outset of the first Gulf War, led by George HW Bush, there was a massive march in downtown Portland (along with marches in cities across the US). Bette took photos of the demonstrators protesting the war, as well as photos of people who had come to the march to demonstrate their support for the American soldiers being sent to the Middle East. Bette curated her photo documentation series in what was essentially a hallway in one of the buildings at Portland State University. She hung the black and white images so that they faced each other across the hall. I was so moved by the experience of these parallel, contrary experiences creating a palpable sense of their own encounter with each other as I walked through the space, that I never forgot it. I tell this story to emphasise the great treasure that we all carry with us in our personal collections of memories of powerful experiences. In an artistic endeavour like From the Heart, or in any creative process, we can always draw on the indelible moments that have astonished us in our lives. We can reflect on the essence of what it was that made them so memorable. And we can integrate the dynamic of that experience into the new work we create. When we imagined “Face to Face,” we weren’t copying Bette’s work; we were finding inspiration in the power she had tapped into and transposing it into a different context. 81
A gest of personal action: “The “What can I do?” is a question I’ve often heard from people wondering how to contribute to reconciliation. I’ve asked that question myself. There are many answers. Near the end of Unsettling the Settler Within, Paulette Regan reflects on Anne Bishop’s belief that the key to our liberation lies in the recovery of hope. Paulette invites her fellow Canadians to have the courage to “question the myth, to name the violence, to face the history.” Despite the challenges, she writes, the way we will find that hope is through examining our own actions with open eyes and stepping forward “to work in respectful and humble partnership with Indigenous people.” 22 There was one final room for the audience to pass through before they arrived at the heart of the labyrinth. We wanted to find
Journey Continues” a gest that would embody taking action toward recovering hope. Our inclination was to try to address it in this room, mindful that any action is not an end point—it is simply one step of an ongoing journey. As a parallel to the path through the forest at the beginning of the show, which was called “The Journey Begins,” we called this room “The Journey Continues.” Honestly, we didn’t have a clear plan for what the room would look like until the last minute. Various ideas were considered. Ultimately, inspiration came from an American poster that a participant found on the Internet. It was a list titled “How to Be an Ally to Native Americans.” We relied on the expertise of one of our participants to adapt the list for a Canadian context.
How to Be an Ally to Indigenous Peoples l Reach out to your Indigenous neighbours l Don’t co-opt Indigenous cultures or ceremonies l Learn about the people Indigenous to wherever you are l Support Indigenous craftspeople, businesses,
and events l Remember that the basis of the Canadian nation as
an entity under international law rests solely upon the recognition of the principle of Aboriginal title and then the transfer of that title through the treaty process to the Crown and later on to the Canadian nation.23
Grounded in the words of this list, it seemed natural to make this room into a visual installation, rather than a performance. As always, we looked for a gest to embody the aspirational spirit of the piece. In this case, for a gest of taking personal action, we contrasted these words with the words on the rest of the signs throughout the labyrinth. All the other signs had been created by a graphic designer and professionally printed by a signage company. For this piece, we created handlettered signs, using thick, bold markers on strips of fabric. Our hope was that the banners would be perceived as an effort that someone had made to write out an action by hand. The aspirational spirit also led us to hang the banners high in the air so that one would have to look up to see them: the natural posture of aspiration.
l Read Native authors l Slow down and listen more than you talk l Learn about and reject the
“Doctrine of Discovery” and “Terre Nullius” l Learn about treaties l Live with gratitude l Notice where you are l Appreciate the diversity of nations, cultures, and people l Celebrate National Aboriginal Day every June 21st l Return sacred objects l Support renewable energy l Read and promote the UN Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples l Demand that our country honour its treaty commitments
Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada (UBC Press, 2010), 237.
Indigenous Foundations is an online information resource developed by the First Nations Studies Program at the University of British Columbia. To learn more about how the nation of Canada is based upon transfer of Aboriginal title, see the Indigenous Foundations website page on this topic: http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/ home/land-rights/aboriginal-title.html
l Question and resist stereotypes, including team names
and mascots l Care for the Earth—live lightly while you are here
A gest of reflection, of consideration, and of becoming allies:
“The Heart of the Labyrinth” As the audience moved past the ally banners and around one last corner, they came to a door with a notice that said, “Welcome to the heart of the labyrinth.” Stepping over the threshold, past branches of a tree alongside a mound of leafy plants on the ground, they entered a large and inviting space that was set up like a comfortable, well-lit living room. Someone was there to greet them. She asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?” Inspired by the vision of a performance based in a labyrinth, and drawn by the opportunity to work on a project with our labyrinth designer, Mark Lakeman, Victoria-based mosaic artist Shylene Schlackl volunteered to be the steward of the tearoom during the extended run of the show. Shylene described some of her experience to Rob in an interview at the end of the project. In running the tearoom, I really stepped into my own power as a community development artist and leader. Communication for social change has been part my core philosophy since I started doing work grounded in community activism and that’s what I think From the Heart is about: communication for social change and using the arts as a vehicle. My main goal is to help people connect with each other through their stories and through their own truths. My work all came together in this project— it was like a full circle moment for me and for my career. It changed my career completely. The heart of the labyrinth played as crucial a role as any aspect of the whole experience. Just as we had purposefully disrupted expectations about what a theatre experience is, here we were disrupting expectations of a post-theatre experience. Into the very structure of the performance, we built a gathering place for the audience. While drinking good herbal tea, they had a place where they could reflect on their experience in conversation with those in their group and with others who had come through. There were also tables with small, hand-folded paper booklets and pens where one could sit, write, or draw one’s responses—to be taken home as keepsakes or left for others to read. In lieu of a curtain call, there was a list with the names of
all the actors. We hadn’t handed out a program at the beginning of the show—we didn’t want them to have a map of where they were and what lay ahead. Instead, we offered free maps in the heart chamber, so they could take one home and use it as a memory prompt. On the reverse was the list from the banners in “The Journey Continues” of how to be an ally. A wall-sized map of the labyrinth was also prominently displayed in the heart chamber. For audience members who were interested in reading, all the books that had been donated to us were available to browse. In case an audience member was in need of someone to talk them through a particularly distressed response, First Nations counselors were on hand. When spectators were ready to leave, the room’s glass doors led directly outside. Designing this room was a thrilling experience. I called on my friend and colleague Paula Jardine to help create the space. Paula, who co-founded Public Dreams Society in Vancouver, now lives in Victoria. She has long explored the ways in which 83
Thoughts about the tearoom from Paula Jardine
public arts-based events can be designed to promote connection, encourage conviviality, and foster a spirit of empowerment among people. Paula and Carolyn Knight, another local community arts practitioner, joined me to arrange the configuration of the tearoom. The University of Victoria theatre department generously loaned us a truckload of furniture from their scenic department, which we used in rooms throughout the labyrinth. Here in the heart chamber, we had piles of large rugs, sofas and settees, tables, and overstuffed chairs. The First Metropolitan Church, who had provided us with workshop space during the script devising sessions, also loaned us a hundred wooden and metal chairs. Arranging the furniture in the heart chamber was like turning the panels of a Rubik’s Cube to solve the puzzle. We moved the rugs and the furniture into a dozen different arrangements and then, each time, stepped out in order to re-enter the room to gauge how it felt. Some patterns felt particularly unwelcoming. If a couch close to the door was set up with its back squarely facing the entrance, it felt like we were coming in through a rear door. If we entered and found ourselves facing the couch head on, it seemed a little daunting, like we were interrupting. Placing groups of couches and chairs randomly around the room made it unclear where one should go. After a while, we discovered that the rugs could be used as islands of a sort, differentiating independent gathering places and turning the gaps between the rugs into pathways that helped make it intuitively clear how to navigate the space. The large map of the labyrinth was hung on the far wall. It created a destination point that drew people into the room. An extra large paper lantern with a warm light hung high in the centre, anchoring the space. When we found the right arrangement, it was obvious to everyone. There were spaces for people to sit in clusters of couches and chairs, one round kitchen-like table, setups for two people to sit alone, and even some more secluded spaces for those who wanted a semi-private place to reflect or to talk to one of the counselors. The tea station was central and easily accessible for refills. The shelf of books had some easy chairs near it in the way that a nice bookstore offers a place for people to relax and look through books. 84
I thought of the tea room as the heart of the heart. It was a place of reflection, providing an opportunity for people to think, discuss, and write down thoughts and feelings stirred up by their journey through the labyrinth. For us, the gesture of offering a cup of refreshing tea was important; presenting guests with a beverage is a universal gesture of welcome and, in this case, acknowledged that people had just been through something potentially difficult. And it had to be a beautiful cup. An offering in, say, a styrofoam cup, no matter how beautiful the contents, greatly diminishes the gesture. Offering a cup of refreshing tea in a beautiful cup is an act of respect. Carolyn and Shylene had a good collection of cups that we use in other community gatherings, and the James Bay United Church jumble sale ladies provided another dozen. One of the biggest challenges for the tearoom was having no access to water. We had to have enough cups to serve an entire evening of audience members and performers, and every evening someone had to take them home and wash them. Because it is in our nature, we found a way to turn that work into a meditation of love, preparing the gift for the next day. — Paula
As the performance date drew near, one of the cast members brought us a gift. Her mother had nurtured a small magnolia tree in her garden for many years. She loved that tree and when it died she couldn’t bear to break it up into mulch for the compost heap. She asked her daughter if she thought we could find a place for it in the labyrinth. With its many intricate branches, it was the perfect size and shape for what is sometimes called a wish tree. For those people who wanted to write about their experience at the show and share these thoughts with others, we provided small paper booklets and pieces of paper cut into the shape of leaves that could be strung with a loop of yarn and hung on the branches of the tree. It was Shylene who brought her knowledge of how to fold single pieces of paper into tiny little notebooks and make the leaves for people to share their reflections, feelings, and hopes for the future.
Afterword / Afterward I began this book by writing about the Lil’wat word cwélelep. It is a beautiful word to pronounce. It starts with a “hwih” and then in the middle, you dwell briefly on the l—cwélllllelep. This single word contains a way of thinking about the world that was new to me when I learned it, and yet I recognized its meaning as something I had experienced but not named. When I hitchhiked across Canada as a teenager, I was in an unfamiliar place every day with no assurance of where I would be that night. I felt alive and connected with the world around me. I noticed my surroundings—all sorts of startling and surprising details. My eyes were open and clear. Cwélelep was not the only Lil’wat word I learned from Lorna Williams. She taught me kamúcwkalha, which describes that unmistakable frisson of excitement that can be felt in the room when a group of people with a unified purpose are on the very cusp of embarking on a new challenge together. There is célhcelh, a word that carries a sense of the responsibility each of us has to remain dedicated to ongoing learning throughout our lives, and to be mindful of the responsibility we have
To learn the pronunciation of
these Lil’wat words, please visit https://sites.google.com/site/ lulwatprinciples/home
to support other people’s ongoing learning, too. Kat’íl’a is what we are doing when we take a little pause away from the rush and fervor of our lives of learning to find a quiet, peaceful place within ourselves. Kat’íl’a affirms that there is value in taking this time for deep inward listening. A7xe7ul means claiming the particular knowledge, experience, wisdom, and perspectives that you have within you, and recognizing that what you have to offer will contribute to the well being of everyone in the community. Each of
us has a job to do—a job that is given to us, or that we take on. Emháka7 is about approaching that job with the greatest care and attention that you have to give. Each of these Lil’wat words has enriched and added dimension to my understanding of my own purpose and my sense of what it means to be in relationship with others in my community. When I was working collaboratively with the cast and crew of From the Heart—women and men who are generous and who are dedicated to making a positive contribution to the world, I saw all of these Lil’wat principles of learning enacted on a daily basis. I am very proud of what we accomplished. I believe it was an extraordinary project—an extraordinary show. It was also simply a container that enabled people with good hearts to step forward and put into action their desire to contribute to making a better Canada. I welcome you to pick up where we have left off, and to consider the possibility of creating your own production of From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation.
The nuts and bolts of producing From the Heart in your community Assembling the professional team l Producer or production steering committee The role of the producer, or the production steering committee, is twofold. This person or
committee is the steward of the Big Vision of the Project. On one level, this means overseeing the whole operation from recruiting the members of the artistic, fundraising, and promotion teams, to forging partnerships with advisors from Indigenous communities and partnerships with supporting organizations, to simply making sure that tasks are getting done. On another level, the work of the producer is to ensure that the project stays true to its intent as it moves forward and develops. This aspect of the producer’s work starts by bringing together collaborators who are very clear about the intention of the project. If everyone understands and supports the intention from the start, the producer’s focus turns to what it should be: making sure your team has the all resources they need to do their jobs well.
l Sponsoring Partners I f you are planning to apply for grant funding, you will need to produce the show as a project of a charitable society. If your group does not already have charitable status, find a partner who does and will take on the project. Our two primary partners, the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, and VIDEA: A BC-based International Education Association, offered us a wealth of logistical support and the general public’s admiration for both organizations’ long histories of good work lent credibility to our efforts to promote the project. In addition to the dozens of individual and business donors who supported the project, our two major partners, aside from ICA and VIDEA, were First Metropolitan Church of Victoria and Morguard Investments, the management agency for Uptown Mall. As sponsoring partners, First Met hosted us in their church’s space during the three months of the devising phase, and Morguard hosted us in huge vacant indoor area in mall for two and a half months, both for no charge. We could not have afforded to rent spaces of these sizes for those extended periods of time. Another key sponsor in this regard was The ReBuilding Center in Portland, Oregon. The ReBuilding Center is the largest salvage building materials business in the region. They generously loaned us over 350 used doors and windows for the construction of the labyrinth. We took great care to return the material without any damage so they could be put back on sale once we’d returned it all. Sponsoring partners large and small enable a production like From the Heart to happen.
l Grant writer(s) and Fundraiser(s) This is a pretty straightforward role, though there is plenty of room for creativity. In addition to writing and submitting grants, you can produce a simple fundraising brochure to assist with soliciting donations from individuals or businesses. Our letter-sized, folded brochure featured a graphic of the conceptual design of the labyrinth (which consistently seemed to capture the imagination of potential donors), plus brief bios of the team, a description of the project, and a tag line that read “Participate, Donate, Spread The Word.” The brochure also listed different areas of the project that required funding.
Creating the Script Creating the Labyrinth Supporting Community Participation Creating the Legacy: Documenting the Process.
Within each of these categories separate line items showed what a donation would support. So, depending on whether someone was interested in the idea of the labyrinth, or the process of creating a script and all that goes into it, or another aspect of the idea, that person could see how a donation was directly going to contribute to part of the show that was tangibly connected to their interest.
l The core artistic team In our model, we had two co-facilitators for the devising phase, one Indigenous and one nonIndigenous. We had two voice and movement coaches, one of whom stepped in several times to substitute for the other, and we had a rapporteur. After the script was complete, I took on the role of Director. For a description of the work this team did, see pages 25 - 33.
l Production Manager The Production Manager is responsible for all of the day-to-day logistics on the project. During the script devising phase, the Production Manager maintains ongoing communication with the core artistic team to ensure needs are met, questions are answered, and problems are resolved. When the work shifts to building the labyrinth, rehearsing, and then performing the show, dayto-day logistics include regularly initiating and running meetings with the production team (stage manager/assistant stage manager, the supervisors/coordinators for the labyrinth construction, costumes (where applicable), props and set dressing, advance ticket sales, safety monitor, and onsite ticket sales/greeters etc. Depending on the scale of the production, you could also have an Assistant Production Manager. The Production Manager is the liaison between the project and the producing organization (charitable society), including keeping information f lowing both ways with the bookkeeper about money coming in and money going out.
l Stage Manager The Stage Manager provides support for the director: note taking for stage directions and prop, set, costume, lighting, or sound requirements, plus offering other assistance as needed in rehearsal. During performances, the Stage Manager supervises the running of the show behind the scenes, solves problems as they emerge, and generally takes responsibility for making sure that everything goes according to plan. Relying on the Production Schedulerâ€™s list, the Stage Manager is the go-to person when anyone needs to know what to do, where to be, and when. This includes the performers, crew, box office volunteers, and the counselors and hospitality volunteers in the heart chamber. Depending on the scale of the production, you could also have an Assistant Stage Manager.
l Marketing/Promotion Director This person writes the media release and calendar listing notices and distributes them; coordinates radio, television and newspaper interviews for feature stories with the artistic team and perhaps some members of the cast; arranges for the design and distribution of promotional f lyers or poster; and supervises advertising. We asked Victoriaâ€™s daily paper, the Times Colonist, to be our media sponsor. They accepted and gave us two free quarter-page ads leading up to the show, and one free post-show ad that we used to thank our many donors.
l Production Scheduler Given the large cast and crew, this is a vital and complex job. The Production Scheduler is the point person for checking when volunteers are available and coordinating all the variables so everyone knows where to be and when to be there. The Production Manager and Stage Manager rely on the Production Schedulerâ€™s list for reference. For us, this job became even more important during the extended run of the show when the cast grew from around thirty people to over ninety. At every performance we had a different configuration of cast members with a colour-coded master chart. 87
l Hospitality coordinator(s) Having food and drinks for participants are a core requirement of any community-arts endeavor. Having a meal together, even informally, builds community, conviviality, and a shared sense of purpose. Our Saturday meals during the script devising sessions were an important part of our group bonding. The lunches were originally provided by Victoria caterer Ava Christl, and then by members of the group Aboriginal Neighbours. Rehearsals for the individual performance pieces didn’t involve the entire group at a time, so no meals were provided then, but we did get donations of pizzas, sandwiches, fruit and snacks for the volunteer crew to enjoy during break times of the week-long labyrinth building sessions. During the show, in the heart chamber, we offered tea to the audience, and also to cast members when they finished their scenes at the end of the evening and joined in the informal post-show conversations. A separate team of hospitality coordinators stewarded this phase.
l Designer(s) Your labyrinth designer may be a licensed architect or may not. If not, you’ll want to coordinate with a licensed architect if your local planning department requires officially stamped plans for an occupancy permit. In our municipality, there was no planning department category for what we were proposing, so we listed the labyrinth (perfectly legitimately) as a “Temporary Art Installation” for which there was a category.
l Technical Director, Assistant Technical Director, and Lighting Director The Technical Director co-ordinates with the designer to supervise or co-supervise the construction of the labyrinth. Depending on the scale of your production, the Technical Director may be a hands-on builder or may supervise set dressing, props, and lighting installation. Our labyrinth was lit using strings of electric cable with sockets every ten feet. They are typically used to light construction sites. We installed low-watt fluorescent bulbs and covered the lights with white paper lanterns. All those cables were strung and well secured by our Lighting Director, a volunteer who also performed in the show.
Steps in the process l Gathering the cast Creating and performing From the Heart requires a fairly hefty time commitment from volunteers. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission promotes a saying: “It Matters to Me.” Whatever your approach is for soliciting cast members, be mindful that those who already have an investment in the idea of contributing to reconciliation between settler Canadians and Indigenous people are predisposed to making a commitment. Seek them out. It matters to them, and so they are more likely to stay the course.
l Presenting the project to potential participants By hosting a presentation about the project, community members can show up to learn more, ask questions, and perhaps take part in a sample theatre devising exercise to get a feel for the co-facilitators’ working process. Allow enough time between the presentation meeting and the start of the workshops for people who choose to sign up to be able to make arrangements in their schedules. A participant sheet (page 107) gives you useful information about each volunteer’s particular interest in becoming involved. By asking them to mark where they see themselves on the scale of comfort as a performer gives you a way to access each person’s level of (self-identified) experience without actually auditioning them. 88
l Scheduling scripting workshops We created our script over the course of 12 weeks, from January through March, with some Saturdays skipped due to holiday weekends. Our core cast was made of 30 people, ages 18 to 80. To make it easier for the participants to take part in the project, we split the group evenly into Team A and Team B. Team A would meet on a Saturday from 9am to 3:30 pm with a communal lunch provided. The following week, they would get Saturday off and meet on a Tuesday evening from 7 to 9pm. That week, Team B would take the Saturday slot and then meet again on the following Thursday evening. The facilitators led more or less the same exercises with both groups each week, so if someone couldn’t make it to a session, it was simple to switch to the other group and not miss anything. With few exceptions, people remained in their assigned group, but having this latitude made it possible for everyone to be present for all the workshops almost all the time.
l Building in a workshop for the ensemble on Indigenous history and cultural awareness During the first two months of the script devising phase, we worked on ensemble building and exercises designed to improve writing and storytelling skills, and practicing techniques for turning ideas into performance. At the start of the third month, we were ready to delve into applying the skill and techniques into creating pieces for the show. To launch this next step, the entire ensemble of 30 participants took part in a weekend workshop of intensive learning about Indigenous history and cultural awareness. Paulette Regan and Brenda Ireland led the workshop for us. They have been co-facilitating this workshop for many years. Paulette describes it in the first chapter of her book. It’s called “Unsettling Dialogues of History and Hope.” To find resources for facilitators in your area who have training and experience leading a workshop that will serve this purpose for your group, I encourage you to identify and connect with the Indigenous community whose territory you are on in the early planning stages of your project. Approach them with the idea of From the Heart and forge a partnership. They may be able to offer you guidance on who to speak with about providing a workshop and also join the work in an advisory capacity in addition to the role of an Indigenous cofacilitator. They may be able to introduce you to people in their community who will come and open the first gathering of participants with some words of welcome and ceremony.
l Timelines In April, the core ensemble took a break while work continued on finalizing the design of the labyrinth (now that the performance pieces had been set), and stepped into gear on the promotion, including the poster design. On the first weekend in May, we loaded the materials into the performance space and began construction of the labyrinth with a team of new volunteers joining our core ensemble. While the labyrinth was still in the process of construction, we started rehearsals. Because of the modular nature of the show, I was able to rehearse with performers from each scene individually. Our first technical run-through took place on a Tuesday evening the first week of June, followed by a dress rehearsal, a preview and a Friday night opening. In the weeks that followed, we scheduled four evenings per week, Wednesdays through Saturdays, with six shows per night. Eight tickets were available for each show. The first group of audience members entered at 7pm, with a new group entering every twenty minutes. The final group started at 8:40 so that they would finish a little after 10pm and still have some time in the heart labyrinth before we closed up at 11.
l Recruiting an extended cast By expanding the cast we dramatically increased the number of people who could take part, while also ensuring that we had a sufficient number of performers during our run of 20 shows. We’d kept a list of people who had wanted to be part of the project but couldn’t make the full commitment to co-create the show. In April we began reaching out to these people and also got word out through the press that we welcomed more volunteers to join after the first two weeks of performances. As early as opening night we began mentioning it at the show and posted the invitation on a sign in the heart chamber. Dozens of volunteers came forward to take up the invitation.
If you choose to produce From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation, there is no licensing fee. However, we expect that if you use the name, you will honour the philosophical and ethical foundations that define this project as described in this book.
What we can offer you l Logo Valerie Eliot of iD2 Communications Inc. designed the logo for the pilot production. It is available for use in your production for no charge. Upon request we will send you eps files of the horizontal and vertical (stacked) logo and guidelines for logo usage.
l Banners Kit Maloney created two beautiful four-metre long grommeted fabric banners featuring the From the Heart logo. These are also available for loan to your production for no charge. You will be asked to cover delivery and return shipping charges to borrow them.
l Books Throughout the workshops, cast members regularly borrowed books from our library to take home with them to read as a way of taking responsibility to learn more about our countryâ€™s history and the legacy of colonialism. Our collection of several dozen books donated by Canadian publishers are available for loan to your production for no charge. You will be asked to cover delivery and return shipping charges to borrow them. You will find a useful reading list on our website: http://www. from-the-heart.ca/resources/book-list. Please contact me for a list of the titles from our collection that are available for loan.
l Support I am available to answer questions and for basic advice for no charge to anyone who would like to produce the show. If you would like me to come to your community for consultation, coaching or training sessions, my rates are negotiable.
To ask questions, make arrangements for accessing the resources listed above, or to enquire about consultation, coaching or training sessions, please contact me through my website www.willweigler.com.
A conversation with architect Mark Lakeman:
What you need to know to create a labyrinth for your own production of From the Heart
You may have heard the story of Icarus—the boy with the mechanical wings. His father warns
him not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun will melt the wax that holds the wings’ feathers. Icarus disobeys his father, soars up into the air and when the wax melts, the feathers loosen and fall off. He plummets to the sea and drowns. Icarus is one of the most well known characters from Greek mythology. But why was he flying in the first place? Icarus’ father was Daedalus, said to be the greatest craftsman/architect of his time. King Minos had commissioned Daedalus to design and build an unfathomably complex labyrinth on the island of Crete. There, in the heart of the labyrinth, Minos imprisoned his wife’s illegitimate son Asterius, the half man half bull Minotaur. As the designer of the labyrinth, Daedalus was the only person who knew the way out. To ensure it remained a secret, Minos kept Daedalus and his son captive in a tower on the island. Daedalus collected feathers from birds and used them to build two sets of wings, so that he and Icarus could escape. That’s why they were flying over the sea.
When I began to conceive of From the Heart as an immersive theatre performance set in an extraordinary labyrinth, I realized I would need to find a modern-day Daedalus to design it. I knew exactly the person I wanted to ask. In the 1990s, I was living in Portland when a good friend of mine brought me to visit a remarkable place he’d learned about. It was called the T-Hows. Built from branches and fabric in an undeveloped open lot, the large labyrinthine installation was a place where people were gathering that summer to spend long afternoons and early evenings, sharing tea and enjoying conversations. The afternoon I went there, the designer himself was serving tea from a table low to the ground. His name was Mark Lakeman. I made my way into the heart of the labyrinth and, when I found the tea table, I said hello. Mark looked up at me, surprised. He recognized my voice and he knew my name, but neither of us could figure out how we knew each other. It took a little while and then it came to us. Twenty-five years earlier, we had known each other as boys. I was eight and he was six. For a brief period of time we’d been as close as brothers, fellow explorers in the world of play and imaginative invention. Our families had moved apart and we’d lost touch with each other. Yet, in our own ways, we had both followed parallel paths, drawing on creativity to build and strengthen community. Mark has earned an international reputation as a visionary architect-designer and community design facilitator for sustainable, humancentered gathering, working, living, and playing spaces. That afternoon at the T-Hows, we renewed our long lost connection as friends but it wasn’t until From the Heart came along that I saw an opportunity to work together. I reached out to ask Mark if he had the time and inclination to collaborate with me on the project. He embraced it without a moment’s hesitation.
I was eight and he was six.
For the labyrinth, Mark’s abilities with natural and found materials were an obvious fit, but the project was so big that we still needed help to get the job done. A vast labyrinth requires a lot of walls and a quick and effective way to construct long, tall walls is with fabric. Mark suggested that his friend and sometimes colleague Mar Rickets should be invited to join our design team. Mar is the founder of Guildworks, a multiple awardwinning company known for very large-scale tensile fabric installations. Mar agreed to join the team, and we were on our way. For the benefit of those who are considering putting on their own productions of From the Heart, I had a conversation with Mark about what community project leaders and designers should think about when it comes to creating a labyrinth for their show.
Will Weigler: Let’s start with basic principles. Can you describe what you saw as the guiding vision and philosophy behind the design? Mark Lakeman: Well, no matter what, we wanted to create a space that would be profoundly, compellingly beautiful. Will: This is so fundamental! I tell you what sums it up for me. The British novelist Phillip Pullman once wrote about thanking his mentor for teaching him that “responsibility and delight can co-exist.” That’s what From the Heart is all about. We are dealing with such a seriously daunting topic. For many people, it is fraught with feelings of shame, anger, and emotional distancing, as well as a lack of historical knowledge. Beauty is the key to drawing in a potentially wary audience. By framing these very distressing stories in astonishingly creative ways in an intimate beautiful setting, we encourage the audience and, frankly, the project participants also, to meet this weighty knowledge and these difficult feelings through nothing less than beauty and delight. In your work—and I’m thinking all the way back to the T-Hows—you often consider archetypal imagery and metaphors to guide your designs. How did that figure here? Mark: We wanted the experience to inspire a spirit of inquiry and transcendence. A physical journey into the unknown was an obvious central image for us to draw on. A traveller will approach, enter, pass through transitions along the way, and arrive at a culminating place. So we thought about:
l A connective tissue of interesting pathways that
stimulate the senses and cultivate curiosity.
l Nodes of arrival in which you come into a series
of places where something is happening, each one unique, and each one a contributing element of a greater community experience.
l Special features and surprises analogous to
places one might find in a village, for example a crossroads, little alcoves where people live along the pathways (one of them very tiny), and a large dining hall.
It’s Complicated Room for three small (one-person) tables. This is a singing piece, so acoustic isolation would be ideal. Answerizing This room has the feeling of a coffee shop, with tables and chairs for audience and a table and chairs for two actors where they can be seen by everyone. Needs: Behind the table where the two actors sit is a high screen surface for front projection of their shadows. The screen area could start seven or eight feet off the ground. The audience needs to be able to look up at the images that are created by someone with a flashlight pointing at the two performers. The room needs to be able to be darkened. A Long and Complex Relationship This is a scene with rear-screen shadow projection, so the room needs to be able to be darkened. Space for a semi-circular bench facing a fifteen foot high fabric wall with eight to ten feet of space behind it for rear projection. The bench must accommodate eleven people. 24
later called “Betwixt”
l A portal or gateway that provides an initial
transition into the imaginative realm of the labyrinth.
Antechamber space24 where we give the audience a little talk before they go in. Room for nine people standing in a close circle.
l A mythic form that you approach with a spirit of
Examples of scenic needs sent to Mark and Mar
l A culminating place of arrival—a destination
point—like a village square where community is always found.
The design concept began to take form as a series of experiences—a sequence of environments that were different in shape and size, yet all part of a forward flow. Each place had to facilitate a performance or a pause and then set up the conditions for the next part of the journey that would lead participants to the next experience. We also wanted to enable an intimate, immersive connection between the actors and the observers that would dissolve the usual separation between the seats and the stage in a theatre. Will: That was very much part of what we were doing as we created the performance pieces. We thought about it like a gap we were leaving in the performance so the audience was always a crucial part of the equation. Mark: And you made sure to let us know how you saw the gap happening in each of the different pieces.
Will: Right. In fact, as the cast was finalizing their scenes, I was sending you and Mar updates of the scenic requirements for each of the individual rooms and the order they were going to be in: which one was first, and second, and third, and so on. I was pretty prescriptive. Can you talk about what you did to integrate my needs list with your big vision? Mark: The design of the whole labyrinth and all the individual performance areas had to be responsive to those specific needs, while at the same time we wanted to make it all generative. What I mean by that is you would enter into both the labyrinth itself and each of the spaces within it and sense that, even though you had no idea what it was going to be, something interesting was going to happen there. We wanted to prepare people for the unexpected, to encourage what you might call a productive form of bewilderment. So the design for the spaces needed to be specific enough to elicit the environment of each scene that would take place there, according to what you requested, and still be fluid enough to generate an open-ended quality of possibility and exciting potential. Will: How did you do it? How did you give the places an open-ended, generative quality? Mark: Well, for one, we wanted as many asymmetrical and seemingly random aspects in the design as we could compose, some of which we came up with on the spot as we were assembling it. This asymmetry would help us make sure each experience was unique, because each space was literally a different spatial composition from all of the others. We relied on a pallet of found materials to build with, like doors and windows, building siding, boards, and pieces of plywood, foliage and fabric. Using recycled or cast off building materials grounded the design in a kind of comfortable familiarity, while at the same time these things
can project intense symbolic and metaphorical associations. Depending on their unique features, old doors and windows can appear to have had previous lives that tell stories. Familiar elements can also be made to seem surreal when they become wall planes, especially if they are curving or unusual in some way, if they are stacked on their sides, or upside down, or juxtaposed in a strange relationship to each other and with the geography of the place. By combining these parts in different ways, we could craft a space that felt calm and nurturing where participants would be at ease sitting and resting. Alternately, we could combine the parts to be somewhat jarring or disorienting. Unless we actually needed a conventional space for one of the pieces, we always chose non-square shaped rooms and asymmetrical pathways. The square is a more static form, and it tends to stop the flow of oneâ€™s perception. I certainly believe square spaces make it more difficult to cast the spell of storytelling. Non-square spaces are simply more conducive to the imagination. Will: Leaving a small ecological footprint was very important for us, and it was a challenging goal, given this massive construction. I know this ethic of sustainability is obviously very important to you, too. Can you talk a little about that?
Readily available materials, usually easy to obtain and easy to work with: Doors and windows can connote passage, views of other places and other realities, transparency, and portals. Plywood is best if weathered. When new, it tends to be expensive and lacks â€œstory.â€?
Siding and boards are best if used and weathered. They can be easy to obtain, but hard to get in sufficient quantity. They can be time-consuming to de-nail and challenging to deconstruct later without damaging them.
Branches and other natural materials can be very evocative and highly symbolic of many things and places. City maintenance crews regularly trim trees on public land and may be willing to set aside some big pieces if given enough notice. Check to make sure you have a plan for having them chipped and composted or mulched when the show is over. Pieces of fabric can be used to easily create definition. Fabric can be distracting if it has a print design. See below for notes on integrating large pieces of fabric into the labyrinth design.
Mark: Yes indeed, this ethic is the highest ideal. So, right from the start, we intended to use recycled and natural materials, partly for their symbolic qualities as I was just saying, but also because we could borrow them temporarily and then send them back into the re-use stream. Used materials are easier to source as donations, gather, or obtain for very little. The ReBuilding Center in Portland loved the idea of the project and they were very generous, loaning us a huge truckload of used doors, windows and boards for the entire summer for no charge. We were very careful to build them into the labyrinth in such a way that we could disassemble them at the end of the show and return them to the ReBuilding Center, to be used again.
Top and bottom of door gusset plates
Will: We borrowed almost all the set pieces and props from local theatres, including the University of Victoria’s theatre department. The rest of it we made or bought and, when the show was over, we found organizations and schools and individuals to give it all away to. Between the returning of borrowed stuff and the gifting, and the on-site paper and plastic recycling and composting, our dump run at the end of the project was a relatively tiny little pile of broken things. I encourage anyone who does From the Heart to aspire to that goal of living lightly on the earth. You can reach out to used building suppliers in your area, build relationships with second-hand shops, ask to borrow and take good care of the materials you need, then return them in good shape when you’re finished with them. Mark: That’s it exactly. Building a large, complex labyrinth doesn’t necessarily require as much time and energy as you might think. The key to getting it done quickly and efficiently is to design a variable system that uses basic parts that are quick and easy to assemble. You can use all kinds of materials. The more texture that is artfully combined, the more creative it can be. Each material, texture, or color can offer an interesting aspect to the design. At the same time, the connections between the various parts should be simple and require a small amount of effort. Will: So, if you’re advising the team leader for the labyrinth construction crew, what advice do you give? Mark: Combine your parts and pieces in a quick, almost playful fashion. You have lots of wall planes to create and you need to get a lot done with as many volunteers as you have, so keep the connection points between the pieces simple and strong. A couple of screws will do the trick. Extended wall planes can wobble and be unstable. To make a wall self-supporting, don’t go any farther than sixteen feet without integrating some variation to strengthen it. Combine the plane with another element or put a bend in it. Curving walls can obviously be easily selfsupporting. Intersecting walls at right angles will help. Wall planes need to be able to take an impact, to be able to stand up and not fall sideways, so take this into account when
— Build a 2x4 frame — Fill it in with doors and windows, and then stand it up.
Lay doors on the floor to assemble them, and then stand them up to become a wall.
Self-supporting wall of doors (connected at top and bottom with gussets)
you’re guiding volunteers and building. You don’t want the craftsmanship to be sloppy or structurally unstable, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re not building a house. In fact, if you try to make perfect miter joints and finishing joints, and you don’t quite achieve it, people will notice that it’s not perfect. Piecing together the parts just well enough to support the illusion that theatre requires will actually end up contributing to a dream-like quality in the design. The wall planes and overhead support structures can also be attachment points for lighting and other needs. Keep in mind that, as you lay out your pathways and walls, you will be creating in-between spaces that offer you important behind-the-scenes places for laying electric cords and enabling the cast and crew to move about in and out of the labyrinth unseen. Will: It is also important to think about potentially competing sounds within the labyrinth. For instance, when a new group of eight to ten audience members starts the journey through a serpentine corridor, will they wind up at a scene being performed on the other side of a fabric wall from the group that started 20 minutes earlier? It’s hard to plan for this with any accuracy. We got lucky that we never had any close overlaps, but there was some fascinating feedback we got from several audience members during the course of the show’s run. They told us how incredible it was to be watching a scene and hearing in the distance some fragments of sounds and voices they recognized from a scene they’d been at twenty minutes before and also fragments of sounds and voices that were coming from up ahead. They all reported the same thing: that it was like being mindful of the past and the future at the same time. Instead of being distracting, it was electrifying for them.
Setting attachment points, bamboo rod up in the beams
Overlapping fabric planes anchored on the floor with sandbags
Mark: Everyone who creates a version of this project will inevitably have a different set up. You may have to ask yourself whether the space you are in is made of hard surfaces, like concrete that keeps sound alive and bouncing. Will you need to acoustically muffle it? Depending on your situation, you may have to think about nearby neighbours, whether they are being noisy or they need more quiet conditions. What’s next to the building you’re in? Will they be quiet during your show, or will crowds attending your show be loud when the neighbours need it to be quiet? Will: Let’s talk about fabric. What are some of the options for creating walls from fabric, what are some techniques, and what are the considerations that designers and team construction facilitators need to be mindful of ? Mark: First, when using fabric, you’ll most likely have to deal with fire codes that require fire-retardant kinds of cloth. That’s what we had in our design. That said, for any kind of fabric installation, long and straight or curving and sculptural, you’ll need attachment points for setting and anchoring the fabric. We started with a bolt of stretchable, fire-resistant white cloth that was wide enough to allow us to make many kinds of shapes and was as long as we needed it to be. Tying on to the fabric is easy. You do that by choosing your attachment point along the edge of the material, and then you gather the fabric around a small, tough object, like a nickel or a marble. You lash your connection line around that object, tie it tight, and it distributes the stress on the fabric very well. From there, you simply find your attachment point and then cinch down your line. It takes some trial and error every time, but it’s a very quick and efficient way to create defining wall or ceiling planes. Will: As I watched you leading the building of the labyrinth with all our volunteers, I was so impressed by how the experience seemed like an old-fashioned barn raising. Everyone seemed to be having such a great time, doing their part to contribute with the skills they already had and learning new skills. Talk to me about the approach you take to make this kind of thing happen. Mark: Absolutely. When we actually engage members of a community in the creation of projects, we are building so much more than physical constructions. We’re building a culture. That’s true whether we’re building theatrical installations, community gardens, or even permanent buildings. Through the process, if it is working well, everyone comes to feel a strong sense of co-ownership and community with the project and the people who create it. We want them talking and sharing stories as they build. We want them to have a good time and laugh out loud as they’re working away. Making sure that everyone is well fed, with snacks available and times set aside for food breaks, will help create a happy crew.
Will: What kind of qualities do you look for in a collaborative building project team leader? And what does a team leader need to know? Mark: The building leaders must be the sort of people who love working with people who ask lots of questions, who may not know how to use certain tools, who may need lots of help and guidance, and who will occasionally make poor choices. A good building leader possesses lots of patience and good cheer and is committed not just to getting the job done but also to helping participants connect with each other, talk to each other, and share ideas while they are working. In a project such as this, you will always depend upon not-yet-so-skilled members of your community, especially youth. Therefore, it is very important to bring in some “ringers,” some number of experienced people who are highly skilled, not only in building projects but also skilled in working with a diverse group of participants. Building such temporary but complex structures is a perfect opportunity to learn-by-doing, whether people are getting educational credit for their participation or not. In order to have a successful experience of building community through literally building something, it’s important to have these factors well in place:
Self-supporting wall configurations
l Gather the team. l Have them check in. Volunteers should be
introduced to each other and be given a chance to say a bit about themselves, where they live in the community, and why they want to help.
on-end view; three doors connected with a gusset plate at top and bottom
l Give them an overview of what to expect. l Ask for observations and questions (and give
them a chance to think about it and ask!). l Lead them in a physical warmup of fun stretches
and maybe even games. l Demonstrate some basic ideas and techniques. l THEN start.
Be sure to do what you can to help the process to be fun. The more fun it is, the more inspired the volunteers will be. If they have a good time, then the project will be more successful. You will need clarity. While most volunteers will understand how to work with each other and accomplish the task, some may want to re-design as they go. For them, there can be a good amount of democracy in the details— opportunities for them to make their own choices—if they can be helped to understand how to make creative choices within the overall task that you have set for them. A highly skilled, attentive, very present building facilitator can make this happen.
Overhead stabilizers — making triangles that connect
Make sure the volunteers are properly oriented to their task. They should understand what they are doing and why, what the function of what they are building is, and how their role will contribute to the overall project. They should know what value their work has. It’s very important to help them understand how what they are doing relates to and supports the overall project, as well as the project’s larger purpose. Volunteers should also know who they should turn to if they need to ask questions or get anything that they may need. They should have enough breaks during the process so that they don’t feel unduly worked or simply taken for granted. Ideally, break time can be a time for connecting more deeply with the project and the other volunteers. Volunteers should also be thanked and invited to return. Most of all, volunteers should be treated as welcome guests and valued members of the community. In fact, such people will be a great asset in many respects, including talking up your project and getting the word out about it on a grassroots level. Money can’t supply that kind of buzz. Will: When we produced our show in Victoria, we were very fortunate that the management team at Uptown Mall was so supportive of the project that they gave us a huge, unoccupied retail space as a performance venue. Someone from the audience one night told me he thought it would be a great idea for other communities around Canada to look into producing From the Heart in malls. There are lots of empty spaces in malls across the country and they are places
One of the participants in the core cast was a professional designer and carpenter and she built the ten-person dining table in the scene with the Visitor. That table, along with the hand-painted canvas map of First Nations in pre-contact BC, and several of the large signs were given to different non-profit agencies and schools after the production was finished. It was one way we could continue to embody the gifting culture we tried to invest in every aspect of the show.
The welcome sign we made for our lobby was gifted to First Met. It now hangs in their church sanctuary. 98
where people gather. Wherever you produce the show, there are going to be logistics issues. Let’s talk about some of them. Mark: There are lots of things to think about: liability and life-safety issues; zoning for public assembly, including approval from the fire department; a temporary building permit for the labyrinth; and accessibility and egress for audiences and project participants. As you are selecting your project site or facility, please be sure to do your logistical and legal diligence. This should include whether power, heat, water, and toilets are already available, or if they can easily be added. Finding a venue is one thing, and making sure that it meets all of your needs is another matter. It may seem big enough and have all the right aesthetic qualities, but there are also several other legal requirements that will most likely need to be met, in order to be sure that it is the right space for you. Here are a few things to think about and make sure you resolve before you commit to a site or space. Zoning codes in most municipalities will require that the occupancy designation of the building meets the requirements of your project. For instance, you may want to use a warehouse, but few warehouses are designated for public assembly and large numbers of people. On the other hand, most warehouses can get assembly permits, with some limitations, so that limited numbers of events can be held in them. Be sure to ask questions and get clear answers about this. Fire-Life-Safety codes will require that the venue has enough exits, light, ventilation, fire extinguishers, and, potentially, sprinklers to ensure that people are safe and able to escape, in case of an emergency. Please be sure to ask the right questions and get solid answers concerning these matters too. Accessibility for alter-abled people is a huge consideration. This is very often a requirement for public assembly within buildings, but not every community effort can afford to secure the kinds of modern facilities that are up to compliance with accessibility codes, with access and egress ramps, doorways, and code-compliant restrooms. On the other hand, you can also legally stage events in older buildings that don’t provide for these aspects and, instead, improvise ways to make the event spaces as accessible as possible. Either way, it will help to partner with local government, businesses, or other organizations in order to secure an event space as soon as you can. You should be able to get the space at a very low cost, or perhaps even as a donation. Permits may or may not be required for what you are planning to do. You may need a stamp on your event plans from a registered professional architect or engineer. With effort, you should be able to find a community-spirited professional who will be excited and glad to help with this part of the project. The sooner you get them involved, the smoother the process of your legal considerations may be.
A note from our BC architect
Many volunteers pitched in to build the labyrinth. Artists Katrina Brown and Loreena Sandor (below) spent many hours creating the detailed scenic elements in the different rooms.
Because the pilot production of From the Heart brought in out-of-province designers for the labyrinth, it was necessary to involve a local architect. We ensured that the fire and life safety systems within the tenant space complied with local regulations, provided and submitted stamped plans, and coordinated approvals for installation. Both the municipality and the local fire department were required to review and sign off on the temporary permit. The building had several attributes that were conducive to sign off, such as a non-combustible, high volume, fully sprinklered, large exit capacity space with access to washroom facilities, basic ventilation, and lighting. The labyrinth installation featured multiple exit points throughout, a high level of transparency to points of egress, and a generally open-to-above approach (eight foot ceilings would not have been suitable). We were required to provide documentation that the fabrics used in the labyrinth complied with specifications for flame retardant treatment. A core strategy in gaining approval was to have a representative from the fire department walk through the completed installation, fully informed of the experience and the nature of the environments in each area. Meeting the requirements in any jurisdiction can be a daunting task for arts organizations. As a professional, it was a privilege to facilitate the vision of this project and to play a supporting role in demystifying the process, enabling the artists to focus on their creativity. In a small way, it presented a way to contribute to the community and enable an important experience to be shared with the guests and patrons who attended. Speaking personally, as an audience member, the experience was extraordinary. The journey was transformative, with each of the performance pieces affording a small, potent vignette that, over the course of the whole experience, accumulated into a powerful insight into our collective history. Quite simply, I was blown away. Warm regards and a thank you for being offered the opportunity to support your work!
Christine Lintott AIBC, SAA, MRAIC, LEED AP 99
Shadow Theatre It is possible to create extraordinarily evocative images using a variety of shadow theatre techniques that are relatively easy to manage. A high lumen LED Flashlight with a single bulb can be modified for use as an excellent light source for shadow projection. Remove the reflector dish and paint it black. Then reinsert it and leave the plastic protector lens off. By blackening the reflector and removing the lens, the light source doesnâ€™t bounce in multiple directionsâ€”it casts a single beam. Anything placed along its focal path will create a sharp, clean image against a sheet. An object or person positioned close to the light source will make a large shadow; the image will become smaller when the object moves closer to the screen. We made use of both people in silhouette and also objects, such as dolls purchased at a thrift store. Integrating coloured gels, reflective mylar, and lacy or netted fabrics adds more dimension. Another effective technique involves old-school overhead transparency projectors. This technique works well when you start with monochromatic images (think woodcut or linograph) that will project a clean image of light areas and dark areas. Any image can be photocopied onto a transparency sheet and used in this way. I am indebted to Victoria-based puppeteer Tim Gosley, who has generously shared with me his extensive knowledge of contemporary shadow theatre techniques.
From the Heart with young people
Top: Arrival of Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz in Poland, summer 1944. Bottom: Wall display of prisoner identification photos by the SS in Nazi-occupied Poland of 1943.
For several years in a row on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, teachers Carolin McDonnell, Janice Paquette, and Aimee Lampard and their students at North Saanich Middle School worked on something very similar to From the Heart. In their Humanities, Language Arts, and Social Studies classes, students spent the better part of the year researching stories about the lives and the deaths of children, teens, and adults during the Holocaust. In much the same way that our ensemble worked from prompts and delved into research that would generate more questions and deepen our understanding of history, these young people looked for and engaged with stories that resonated for them. At the end of the year, they created a labyrinth in the school building itself, Teachers developed transforming it with fabric an innovative curriculum and theatre flats into passageways turning left for their students to learn and right, around corners about and address stories into rooms and out of the Holocaust through into other rooms. Some students took on the theatre.Â role of ushers or guides, leading groups of ten people at a time through the route, where they would encounter scenes, storytellers and poets, visual installations, and even computer-based interactive learning stations. The audience was made up of peers, parents, teachers, and the general public who ordered their free tickets online and came to wait their turn to enter the labyrinth. These three teachers at North Saanich developed an innovative curriculum for their students to learn about and address stories of the Holocaust through theatre. From the Heart can be a valuable learning opportunity for young people, not just as audience members, but as creators and performers. We invite high school or middle school teachers to adapt the process we used to create From the Heart into a year-long or half-year-long curriculum for their students, leading to their own production of the show in their school building.
During his interviews, Rob encouraged cast members to speak freely about any aspect of the project when offering advice to others who are considering doing a production of From the Heart. When I decided to share their useful insights in this book, I chose to keep their suggestions and comments anonymous to honour their candour.
Recognize that this project isn’t a solution — it’s one step There is something Brenda Ireland told us during her workshop. It was about just getting on the path and starting to walk. And I remember how that just summed up a lot for me. We can hope for some major change while at the same time understanding that our position is to be one little part of it. I would encourage people who want to do this show to keep that wisdom in mind.
Make the effort to bring together a culturally and generationally diverse group of participants I believe it was because of having people of different ages, across nationalities collaborating together that it worked so well. Keep as many doors open as you can. Invite all ages, all racial and cultural backgrounds, all walks of life, all levels of knowledge about history and relationships between Non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. I had a lot of memorable experiences from working on the show. Some were really special just because of shared moments with my fellow cast members. Many of them come from different backgrounds than I do and are also different ages, which is great because there really are not many opportunities in everyday life to have those connections. 102
Trust that participants will have the expertise they need I think it’s important for potential producers to know that community members will have the intelligence and the awareness and the capacity to engage with difficult material in a creative way and present it to others.
Consider producing the show with young people I think that would be very powerful to involve children in a project like From the Heart.
Give some thought to putting on a closing ceremony for the cast and crew After the final performance, after the labyrinth was dismantled, I hosted a final gathering for the cast. As a closing ritual that evening we created a mandala made from many delicate fragments that had come from the show. There were dried petals of flowers that had been donated to us to fill the tearoom/heart chamber each week. There were all of the pictures of the little girl that the Visitor had cut out of the mother and daughter painting in the scene “At Table” (we saved them after each show, six shows a night for twenty nights). There were the leaves and booklets with messages left on the wish tree by the audience members. Under the stars, standing in a big circle around the garden, we shared food, reminisced, joined hands and sang together.
Ensure there are emotional support systems in place for participants and audiences To do unsettling work means doing emotional work, it means examining yourself. Some of what people brought to the scenarios was very vulnerable and raw. I think there might have been an expectation that people would just take care of themselves, but was everybody able to? Even with Krystal there to support, did everybody have the strength? Future groups should anticipate putting into place additional levels of support. Anticipating the need for self-care is vital. Make sure there is adequate funding and personnel to keep the volunteers nurtured and engaged throughout the process. Hold regular potlucks or other social events to honour the volunteers. I believe that other communities doing this project would benefit from having a dedicated person to address group process—someone who does check-ins, asks for feedback, and assesses how everything is going with the group. I could never say enough about sitting in a circle at the end of a workshop and really reflecting on how everyone is doing and what they took away from that session. When you ask people to open their hearts to tell and work on their stories, it becomes dangerous if you don’t know how to deal with it, so I think it is important to have people who know what they are doing leading the project. Krystal understood the power of story, how to bring the story forward, how the story has to be respected and how people’s stories are valuable. Will taught us techniques for how to turn stories into theatre, how to find different ways of telling your story. Bisia helped to people access their bodies and get out of their heads. She has a way of teaching how to stay centred, and we need to stay centred when we’re doing this kind of work every night.
Assemble cast members who are prepared to stick with it I would just say go for it. Do a production of From the Heart. Not everyone will be able to participate because it is quite a heavy commitment, but it was an important experience for me so if you have the time, it’s absolutely worthwhile. It takes a certain adventurous spirit and commitment to the topic for people to be able to stay with this. It wasn’t for everybody. While there were certain frustrating elements to it, I certainly think that it was a worthwhile process because it’s a really great way to be introduced to a topic that in other contexts would be anger provoking or less fun. This was a very gentle and a very safe way to explore this stuff. I can imagine other projects where I wouldn’t have felt as safe. You could argue that safe isn’t always good, but I think with this context if you don’t feel safe then there’s a lot more potential for resistance.
Reach out to spiritual communities when recruiting participants and promoting the performances Given that I’m a member of the United Church and that the United Church had, in Port Alberni, probably one of the worst Residential Schools in Canada, I would like to get lots of people from the churches involved as participants and to come out and see it. Get church leaders behind it so they can support it and encourage others.
When we were writing and putting the pieces together and then when we were delivering them, I was pretty raw. It’s just difficult to be with all the time and not want to close down and put the blinkers back on. The work that Bisia did around moving energy during the workshops—and also when we did some singing together before the shows—was so helpful. I already knew that’s what works in my life, but it was good to be reminded of it at critical moments. Have people in the heart of the labyrinth tearoom who have some knowledge and skill to be able to talk about these issues with audience members as they come out of the show. When audience members emerge at the end, they may be raw, stunned, unsettled. If they want to talk, you need to have qualified people on hand to help them process what they’ve just seen. Make sure that people who see the show know that there is maybe an email or phone number where they can contact someone later to follow-up if their distress stays with them after leaving the show.
Allow enough time and resources to ensure artistic quality Organizations thinking about doing this would benefit from ensuring time and personnel are available to allow a good number of hours of actual rehearsal time (actors and director working together) to heighten the theatricality of pieces and add nuance and polish. This means that there needs to be a producer and a director in separate roles, not one person dividing time between two jobs.
Involve Indigenous people Have local First Nations people involved in some way. Krystal’s involvement was a really crucial for me and also having [Lekwungen Elder] Butch Dick with us on the first day blessing the work that was about to take place on the land, that was important to me. The books [by Indigenous authors that we used in the script development process] are great but I think we needed more voices, more living voices. I think at a subtle level we were not unsettled nearly enough as a group. I don’t think we were uncomfortable enough. We spoke of Krystal’s work with the group as being feel-good. I think that’s great. I think for this stuff to take hold it needs to be feel-good and feel-bad, wildly funny and tearproducing. Krystal embodies a loving sensibility, which is an enormous First Nations strength. It’s crucial for both First Nations and non-First Nations to share strengths and vulnerabilities, open-heartedness and our limitations. That’s when we have the chance to be real with each other. And for sure, we need to hope that loving sensibility, deep truth and raucous wildness arises on both sides. It comes to me that that’s a bit of what was lacking in From the Heart—that unexpected humour which is so much a part of time spent in First Nations communities. One of the lessons for me as a cast member has been the reminder that the past is not in the past and will always be a part of Settler-Indigenous relationships. I also learned that if I am not following Indigenous guidance, my ignorance can allow me to learn at Indigenous peoples’ expense. The cornerstone of any decolonizing action is Indigenous consultation and collaboration.
The heart of the labyrinth tearoom is important I think the tearoom is a brilliant conclusion to this whole experience for people. People who came by themselves or with others got a chance to just stay with it for a little while longer and feel the impact of it. 104
Anticipate how to continue the momentum after the production This can’t just be an interesting theatrical piece, to be wrapped up and then nothing happens. Action has to come from it because if nothing happens, we don’t change anything. The status quo is still there. We can go to our heart and still not change. It may be useful for other communities to do some imagining about what will come after—what will the follow up be? What would participants like to see happen? That began to happen organically here, but I think other communities might benefit from thinking about it a bit more deliberately and consciously. There are so many issues and topics that one could do in this way, and then beyond. Groups could continue and study and develop and so forth, always linked to action in the community. There was something missing in our production around the next step. Is the goal only to unsettle and send home, or was the goal to unsettle and have them go away and do something differently? Does it mean having something on site for people to really get their teeth into? I don’t have any immediate suggestions about what that might be. I became a lot more confident in telling a story that is important to me, matching my passion for decolonization with some action. I would say it has helped to give me courage and confidence to connect with others in the community to explore topics such as this or take this topic further.
Other thoughts This is the future of reconciliation. I saw the impact on my family because my older daughter joined the cast in the second half of the run, and my husband came and did a small part too. I also saw the impact on my younger daughter—it’s inspired her to know more about First Nations issues and inspired her about theatre. Six out of the ten people in my book club group came to see the show and we’ve planned a meeting to discuss it. I sometimes feel very alone at work, but this work helped me realize that I am not alone as a white person, or as an immigrant to Canada. I gave a presentation to my colleagues and the response was powerful. My networks have been expanded. I now have a group of people who I can see are more supportive. I’m just trying to step into ally work, because I’ve been noticing all my life that in terms of feminism and violence against women, what was missing was that the men in my life weren’t really stepping up. Not that they were violent—they just weren’t acting as allies, and so that got me really interested in the whole ally thing. When this project came up it seemed like a perfect opportunity to be an ally.
Be as clear as possible with participants about the plan and the process I would have appreciated knowing from the start what was going to happen and how we were going to go about the exploration.
I didn’t see myself as being a performer but I’m over 50 now and I’m thinking, what the heck, it’s going to be way to develop another part of who I am. I absolutely would recommend this way of working as very valuable in a community. It’s authentic, and a way that people can work together to explore through a theatrical form the issues that are important to them. o in with an open heart. Like Paulette Regan says: humility and open G heartedness.
Invite local businesses, service providers and tradespeople to participate in whatever way they can It’s a lot of work so you have to have a lot of people who are willing to do what needs to be done to pull it together. Look at all the different donors who brought money and materials and supplies and expertise, flowers, and tea. So many people gave and that’s the key to these things. If enough people participate, it’s fantastic.
From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation Name Telephone (s) E-mail How did you hear about the project?
What is it about the project that interests you? (continue on the back of the page if you like)
Tell us about some of the experiences, skills or perspectives that you’ll be bringing to our work together. (continue on the back of the page if you like)
Is there anything else you’d like to mention? (continue on the back of the page if you like)
Please mark on the scale where your personal comfort level is as a performer. I----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I I don’t see myself I’m at ease telling a I’m at ease talking I’m at ease as a performer joke or a story to friends to large groups performing on stage My scheduling preference is: ☐ Thursdays and Saturdays (Team A)
☐ Tuesdays and Saturdays (Team B)
☐ I don’t have a preference—either Tuesdays or Thursdays would be fine I won’t be available on the following days: ________________________________________________ ☐ I would appreciate having bus tickets for the days of the workshops and performances ☐ I would appreciate having childcare subsidy for the days of the workshops and performances I am interested in: ☐ being a member of the core ensemble: script development in Jan – March, rehearsals in May, and some performances in June – July ☐ being a member of the core ensemble: script development in Jan – March, rehearsals in May, and maybe some performances in June – July ☐ joining the cast during rehearsals in May and some performances in June – July ☐ contributing to the project in other ways ☐ scenic work (helping to put up the labyrinth; sign-making; props; costumes) ☐ working on the crew backstage or up front welcoming the audience ☐ hosting in the “heart” chamber in the labyrinth (welcoming people, serving tea; monitoring the room) ☐ other contributions: (such as…)
A participant sheet for potential participants to fill out at the initial presentation gives you valuable information about each person’s availability and particular interests.
Core ensemble Script Facilitation professional artistic team Will Weigler Krystal Cook Bisia Belina Rob Wipond Margot Johnston
Core script creation ensemble Aigul Kukolj Anke van Leeuwen Anna Tran Carter MacDonald Christine Shue Dorothy Field Elysia Tessler Grace Atkinson Hanum Yoon-Henderson Kailee Gow Laurie Harding Lina de Guevara Medhi Hashemi Mice Albano Nathalie Down Nicola Ferdinando Odette Laramee Patty Bluemel Paulina Grainger Penny Joy Saul Arbes Shirley Langer Soshin McMurchy Stephanie Tiede Susan Belford Tasha Diament Valeria Cortes
From the Heart cast by scene Betwixt Will Weigler Itâ€™s Complicated Bisia Belina Audrey Shaw Anita Marshall Thea Nation Derek Wilson Lisa Taylor Marianne van der Meije Mary Lou Hess Elizabeth Marshall Susan Belford Nicole Makin Kim Goodliffe Julia Albano Crocker Sue Hallet Answerizing Lisi Tessler Sahar Sam Steve Parr Laura Buchan Gerald McNeil Lisa Taylor Blair Moro Sashi Harrouchi RenĂŠe Livernoche Romina Miranda Liz Bean April Parchoma Patience of the Seasons Stephanie Tiede Meesh Beam Julia Albano Crocker Julie Froekjaer Zi Yuan
A Long and Complex Relationship Lina de Guevara Penny Joy Saul Arbess Javier Monsalve Jazelin Maskos Mice Albano Allyn Point Danda Humphreys Doug McGinnes Jose Albis Ayana Hanaczewska Chris Smith Bill Eastman Robert Yayahkeekoot Head To Heart Patty Blumel Odette Laramee Meesh Beam Fred Jamin Robin Tosczak Roland Kerr Katelyn Clark Trudy Pauluth-Penner Jazelin Maskos At Table Lynne Crawshaw Janet Gray Margot Johnston Julie Froekjaer Sue Hallat Will Weigler Ayana Hanaczewska Hannah Miles Marianne van der Meije Nima Khadem Mohtaram Our Own Back Yard/Erasure Laurie Harding Nathalie Down Brian Walker Susan Belford
Production Entangled Nicola Ferdinando Jeff Shultis Cai Dong Too Big To Touch Kailee Gow Christine Sheu Anna Tran Lisa Taylor Lindsay Beal Katelyn Clark Iria Heredia Joelle Thurston Courtenay Moher Shannon Stewart Brian Alonzo Matthew Cook Tom McCabe Imagine Lynn Thomson Katelyn Clark Geli Bartlett Emmy Marshall-Hill Nima Khadem Mohtaram Thule van dem Dam Zi Yuan Xi Zhang Jazelin Maskos Born Complicit Soshin McMurchey Tasha Diamant Sherry Morgan Mary Parry Laurie Harding Susan Belford Anke van Leeuwen Chris Smith Geli Barlett Barb Clerihue Katherine McGinnis Lynn Thomson Sister Brenda Jenner
Stories That Must Be Told Aigul Kukolj Mice Albano Anke van Leeuwen Medhi Hashemi Sahar Sam Gabriela Rivera Nima Khadem Mohtaram Hiroko Noro Zi Yuan Xi Zhang Thule van dem Dam Malika Kurbanova Laura Kaufman Weisbord Sashi Harrouchi
The Heart of the Labyrinth and On Deck (lobby)
Paula Jardine Shylene Schlackl Caroline Knight Charlene Simon Lillian Jones Kim Good Mary Parry Lynne Crawshaw Lilaine Galway Alison Brophey Valeria Cortes Ann McLaren Anne Cirillo April Parchoma Chris Smith Grace Atkinson Joelle Thurston Kate Nonesuch Evelyn Battell Charlene Simon Sister Brenda Jenner Rhiannon Snaith
Production Manager Courtenay Moher
Technical Director/ scenic construction Katrina Brown
Assistant Technical Director/ scenic construction Loreena Sandor
Technical support Jenny Bain Courtenay Moher
Production Scheduling Robin Adams Matthew Lowe Alia Tulloch Dale Breese Melody Harrison George Spelvin
Labyrinth Designed by Mark Lakeman with Mar Ricketts
Labyrinth Construction supervised by Mark Lakeman, Jonah Lee and Mike Thayer
Labyrinth built by cast/crew and by volunteers from O.U.R. Ecovillage, Shawnigan Lake, BC
Director/Producer Will Weigler
Thank You From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation was a project of
VIDEA In partnership with the Inter-cultural Association of Greater Victoria
Brandy Gallagher and the community of O.U.R. Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake
Sincere thanks to Roberta Ferguson and the management team at Uptown Mall for hosting our theatre labyrinth, and to Minister Allan Saunders and First Metropolitan United Church for hosting our script development workshops. Financial support was provided by
The Community Unity Project Society/CUPS
All the many volunteers who came to lend a hand building and dismantling the labyrinth
District of Saanich Building Department
Mark Litwin and Mark Krupa of Royal Lepage Coast Capital Realty
Clive Townley of Pemberton Holmes
Marg Rose Loans of props and scenic material for the labyrinth
e ReBuilding Center, a project Th of Our United Villages in Portland Oregon
UVic Department of Theatre and Phoenix Theatre
BC Arts Council, An Agency of the Province of British Columbia
In-kind donations of professional services
The Capital Regional District (CRD)
Guildworks, Architects of the Air
The Hamber Foundation
Christine Lintott Architect
Geahk Burchill and CastIron Carousel Marionette Troupe of Portland, Oregon for the generous loan of his beautiful marionettes
Kit Maloney Graphic Design
Pacific Opera Victoria
Bayshore Home Health
Cook Street Castle Building Centre
Vera and Robin Rosenbluth
iD2 Communications, Inc.
Royal Oak Burial Park
Rod and Corrine Jerke
Shylene Schlackl and the Community Unity Project Society
Mary Fry and Kipp Bajaj
The Victoria Times Colonist
Donations of food, flowers and tea
Silk Road Tea
Mia Weinberg, Art Consulting Vancouver
Infuse Herbal Tea
Kenmar Flower Farm
Van Isle Floral Wholesale
Iain Barnes, Applied Engineering Solutions Ltd.
City Service Plumbing and Heating
Andy Chong, Integral Group
Good advice, good counsel, and support
The Greater Victoria Public Library
Victor and Joyce Underwood
Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South
Thrifty Foods at Hillside
Mount Doug Springs
Wild Fire Organic Bakery and Cafe
fol epi organic bread and pastry
Thanks to all the Canadian publishers who generously donated books to the project. Our cast learned so much from reading them and we encourage you to take a moment to check out these books: www. from-the-heart.ca/resources/book-list
Photograph and image credits Photos Ilya Stavitsky iv [about this book], 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 34, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 (left), 50, 51, 54, 55, 56 (bottom), 59, 60, 61 (bottom), 62, 63, 64 (right), 67 (left top; left bottom; right bottom), 70, 71, 72 (left), 73, 74 (top), 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 98, 99,100. 101 (background), 102, 103, 104, 105 Darren Stone (photo courtesy of the Victoria Times Colonist) 2 Photo courtesy of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba HBCA 9 Mark Kozlowski 13 (left) Rainey Hopewell 13 (centre) Tony Bounsall 13 (right) Mia Weinberg 52, 69 (right top) Kelly Seaman 64 (left) Image via Wikimedia Commons. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ de/deed.en)] 101 (Top) Image taken by Skyliber in Auschwitz concentration camp in 2004. 101 (bottom) Nik Willie 112 Screen captures of video recordings by Peter C. Campbell, Gumboot Productions 19, 20, 38, 48 (right), 49, 53, 56 (top), 57, 58, 61 (top), 65, 72 (right), 74 (bottom), 94 Illustrations Kit Maloney Cover design Melanie Mikecz “Composition in Red and Brown” 113, details from “Kaleidoscope” throughout Stephan Jacob 38 (labyrinth map) and illustrated icons from the map in “Through the Labyrinth.” Mark Lakeman 91 (axonometric view of the labyrinth) 91 and architectural sketches 94-97
In the summer of 2013, one hundred Canadians in Victoria, British Columbia
used theatre as a way to consider what it will take to reshape our country’s relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation was a show performed in a vast indoor labyrinth built from salvaged doors and windows, trees, and hundreds of metres of fabric, all lit by paper lanterns. Six times a night for twenty nights, an audience of eight people at a time journeyed through the alcoves and chambers of the labyrinth. Along the way, they encountered a culturally diverse, inter-generational cast of community performers presenting songs, scenes, and art installations, all inspired by stories that had deepened their personal understanding of the lived experience of Indigenous people in Canada and the legacy of colonization. Director Will Weigler explains, “We invited audiences to be witness to stories from the performers’ own experience and from our country’s past that had moved them—stories that were very present and alive for us right now, as non-Native people in the 21st century.” This book tells the story of how the show was developed and what it was like in performance, with detailed explanations of each step of the process. For those with an interest in reconciliation, it offers a gripping example of how theatre can contribute to public dialogue in a creative and vital way. Community groups will be able to use this book as a model to create their own unique production of the show. “Theatre is a powerful medium that can encourage understanding of what is necessary to create good relationships with Aboriginal peoples. This compelling book tells the stories of a group of Canadians who opened their hearts to make a theatre performance based on what reconciliation means to them, including why it matters and what they did to make a difference. You and We can make a difference.” — Chief Robert Joseph, Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and member of the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council.
About the author Will Weigler is a community-based theatre director, playwright, teacher, and producer. Both his award-winning book Strategies for Playbuilding: Helping Groups Translate Issues into Theatre and his doctoral dissertation Engaging the Power of the Theatrical Event address practical ways that professional theatre artists can work collaboratively with community members to co-author memorable plays about the issues that matter to them.
About the publisher VIDEA has been inspiring thought and action on global issues since 1977. We facilitate communication, cooperation and strategic networking among Canadian groups working for global justice, peace, and sustainable development. VIDEA strives to create opportunities to link Indigenous peoples with projects that support the creative sharing of knowledge and experience.
How 100 Canadians created an unconventional theatre performance about reconciliation