Wednesday, May 28, 2014

NEPA Returns to HokaHeh; Ryan Goes to Bogotá

Hello NEPA Community! We’ve decided to pay some attention to our overly-neglected blog. We realized my travels as the New Artistic Director would be an exciting place to begin this revitalization of our personal website, and so I am sharing stories from my travels with our Native Earth community.

One of the exciting opportunities that come with being the Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts is travelling to see the work of unfamiliar actors, and to consider scripts and productions for future presentations in Native Earth's space, the Aki Studio Theatre. It’s also one of the best ways to build relationships with other arts organizations and arts leaders.

Here is an excerpt from my recent travels in Bogotá:

This week I am writing from Bogotá, Columbia while I am attending the International Society of the Performing Arts’ annual conference and The Ibero-American Theater Festival of Bogotá. There is a little-known, yet incredible program at Canada Council for the Arts, that supports emerging and mid-career arts leaders travelling to conferences produced by the International Society of the Performing Arts (ISPA), called the Canada Council Legacy Program. Last year I had the extreme honour of being accepted into this program. It was very serendipitous that this should happen at this point in time, since this year NEPA co-produced the second edition of the panamerican ROUTES | RUTAS panamericanas Festival with Aluna Theatre. The panamerican ROUTES | RUTAS panamericanas Festival is an international festival of performing arts which happens every two years and programs Latin and Indigenous artists from across the Americas. We just wrapped up the festival last month with an amazing line-up of artists, and I’d like to thank everyone who came out to the festival.

Upon my arrival to Bogotá, I was really excited to take in the city, so I decided to walk around the hotel, grab something to eat, and gather my first impressions. You don’t necessarily want to do that in every neighborhood in Bogotá, but I was staying in the North area which is quite safe and has tons of people out and about in cafés and patios enjoying the beautiful weather. My cab driver from the airport said the weather is like this all year long (20-29°C during the day)…. the locals call it “eternal spring”. I was surprised by this because Bogotá is at a very high altitude and is surrounded by mountains. But it’s true! I guess because it’s so close to the Equator.

While I was walking around I unexpectedly came across the National Theatre Fanny Mikey, which is the headquarters for the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro, or The Ibero-American Theater Festival of Bogotá. Excellent!!! I went to the ticket booth, purchased a ticket (not knowing what the show was) and waited for show time, which is at 8:30pm in Bogotá . Everything seems to happen a little later here than in Canada.

The show is from the Czech Republic and is called Europeana by Davidlo Na Zabradli. Of course in my North American arrogance I just assumed it would be in English or at least have English subtitles - but no. It was in Czech with Spanish subtitles. Luckily, yo hablo un poquito de español (I speak a little Spanish). The show was incredible.  The acting was completely engaging. Everything took place in an office board room and all eight actors where dressed like they worked in the office. Afterwards, I discovered the show was about the history of Europe in the 20th century and based on the book Europeana by Ourednik Patrick. You can find the full description and trailer for the show on the link above. Some of the show highlights:

  • No theatrical lighting! Just a bank of fluorescents above the stage that actually moved and could be turned off individually.
  • An actor hanging himself from the ceiling. 
  • The entire cast copulating with books.
  • The actors slowly destroying the board room over two acts and each taking turns going out the patio doors on the back wall of the set into what looked like a balcony to smoke. Yes, real smokes!
  • Then at one point nearly the entire cast having a disco party out there with an old school ghetto blaster. And yes, the ghetto blaster played the music, so when they shut the patio door the music was muffled enough to hear the lone actor on stage deliver a passionate monologue to the audience. 
  • A lot of direct address to the audience as they described the events of the 20th century.
After the show, I picked up some empanadas and headed back to my hotel with my midnight snack. A good first eight hours in Bogotá!

The next day I woke up not feeling very well. Bogotá is so high in the mountains that many travellers experience altitude sickness for the first few days and I was definitely suffering through that. It felt like I had the flu, but I pushed through it and met up with some colleagues from previous conferences to do some sight-seeing before the conference started. We visited Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá (the contemporary art museum) and Museo Botero (The Botero Museum named after Fernando Botero). Considered the most recognized and quoted living artist from Latin America, Fernando Botero’s signature style is known as Boertismo.

Seeing such remarkable art revived me and my afternoon passed quite pleasantly. We travelled to the main square where you can ride llamas, see Casa de Nariño (the presidential palace) and justice buildings. The architecture is hundreds of years old, and originally built by the Spaniards, so the area is very European.

We then took a gondola lift up to the top of the nearest mountain, Monserrate. At the top there is a church and monastery (now just a tourist attraction), shops and restaurants. When you look out over the city there is an amazing view of the bowl shaped valley that the city is situated in. When you look the other way, you see nothing but jungle for as far as you can see. Up this high and not used to the altitude, walking up just a handful of steps made most of us feel weak and out of breath. And I’m not going to lie; travelling up the nearly vertical cable car ride was a little unnerving.

After this full day, and a short rest back at our hotels, we met up with some of the other delegates and had dinner in a large group. It’s extremely inspiring sitting among a group of artists, producers, presenters, festival managers, executives and directors of arts organizations from all over the world. Some of them have known and worked with each other for many decades. This was the first time they had reconnected in months since the last conference. They have all worked in every medium of art you can think of, which made for truly inspiring conversations. One of the main goals and amazing aspects of ISPA is to bring arts leaders from around the world together to network, build partnerships and share arts practices and names of upcoming artists. It’s an amazing and unique opportunity that feeds the global arts community and keeps it moving and evolving.

After a fantastic meal and wonderfully animated conversations, we made our way back to our hotels to get a good rest before the conference the next morning. This was totally necessary, because the conference was jam-packed with panels and presentations starting from 8am to 5 or 6pm in the evening. Then of course it’s off to see shows in the evening. Five days of this does get, admittedly, very tiring, but it is also extremely inspiring!

Thank you for following along... More coming from Native Earth Performing Arts soon!

Photo Credits: Ryan Cunningham (NEPA), Chris Lorway (Soundstreams), Robert Gilder (Robert Gilder and Associates)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Nish @ SummerWorks

Check out our Indigenous colleagues heating up the SummerWorks Theatre Festival this August 8th-18th

Zero Visibility by The Amy Project
New addition to the Animikiig program Cheyenne Scott is a creator/performer in The Amy Project dramaturged by NEPA Interim-Artistic Associate Falen Johnson.
showtimes + tickets

A Side Of Dreams by Jani Lauzon  (pictured above)
Oh you can buy them cheap, authentic Native Dreamcatchers… made in Indonesia. But as one single mother discovers while searching for her cultural identity, the spirit of the Dreamcatcher is awakened with prayer and once awakened, the ancestors you meet in the world of dreams may not be what you expected.
Camila’s Bones by Alejandro Valbuena
In a future, dystopian GTA, Camila, a young foreign-worker escapes from a city’s pig processing labour-camp to become an illegal surrogate mother. Citizenship, class struggles, immigration, and the politics of the human body collide in an unnerving story that will leave you wondering how far away the future really is.

Family Story by Aurora Stewart de Peña of Birdtown & Swanville featuring Cara Gee
The Milkaffers, currently living in the prairies of Manitoba, travel backward, forward and sometimes diagonally through time and space as the youngest Milkaffer daughter tries to figure out why she’s such a loser.
showtimes + tickets

Holy Mothers (Die Präsidentinnen) by Werner Schwab, translated by Meredith Oakes 
Featuring Jani Lauzon’s daughter: emerging actor Tara Renwick!  Meet the HOLY MOTHERS: prudish penny-pinching Erna, man hungry Grete and sublime bare-handed rescuer of clogged toilets Mariedl.  Three aging cleaning ladies attempt to release themselves from their banal existence: conjuring up fantasies of “Polish liver sausage Bishops,” Aryan tuba-playing lotharios, and divinely-clogged toilets… but to what end?

Maria Gets A New Life by Cliff Cardinal featuring Cherish Violet Blood (pictured above) and Lisa Cromarty
Maria Grace the First Nation’s single mom is also a wanted fugitive. After three months on the road, Maria moves her two kids into a vacant house. As the authorities close in, Maria is faced with her last hour with her children. Determined to give her children all the lessons they’ll ever need to survive in a world that is not made for people like them, this is to be the day that Maria Gets A New Life. From the creators of huff and Stitch, and Starring Cherish Violet Blood as Maria.

X by Sunny Drake, featuring the production management assistance of NEPA volunteer and apprentice Production Manager Brittany Ryan!
Sex. Booze. Facebook. Carbs… Drunk puppets?! Fess Up: what’s your guilty pleasure? After sold out shows in San Francisco, Australian Sunny Drake presents a magical, whimsical and honest look at addiction, grounded in LGBTQ experiences. Stunning stop motion animation and sharp live performance meld in this fast-paced one-man show.
showtimes + tickets

Also check out:

Salome's Clothes by recent NEPA General Manager Donna-MichelleSt. Bernard
Queen struggles to raise two daughters, sacrificing the family’s integrity in an attempt to secure short term gain. Salome’s Clothes illuminates our instinct to ignore the degradation of others in order to survive: a family saga that speaks to globalized crisis. Are we trading our children’s future for worthless trinkets?

Late Company by Jordan Tannahill and recent NEPA Production Manger Rae Powell’s Suburban Beast
A year after a tragedy, two couples sit down to dinner. But far from finding the closure they seek, the dinner strips bare their good intentions to reveal layers of parental, sexual, and political hypocrisy. Winner of the 2012 Enbridge playRites Award and Uprising National Playwriting Competition.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Erika Iserhoff Dreams Big

Erika Iserhoff as Mary Richards Lipan

Tonight is opening night for Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way. Hours before, Erika Iserhoff, Dora Award-winning co-set designer weighs in on her experiences as part of the artistic team. Playing until Feb 3rd. Advanced tickets:
Tell me about the amazing development involved with this project?
Please note that I’m just touching the tip of the iceberg in regards to the artistic research and development process of the collective’s work on Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milkway by Monique Mojica.

Going to Panama was certainly an amazing experience, one that will continue to influence my work as an artist & designer. I am thankful for having been included in this research phase of the theatre project. We covered so much ground while in Panama City & Guna Yala.
Guna Yala is comprised of large rainforest areas and little coral reef islands. This was also a time when Monique was meeting family members for the first time and retuning to Guna Yala, her Mother’s family place of origin.
I met Monique and Achu in Panama City, who where there a week before me and had travelled to Guna Yala and back. Everywhere we went the Guna people were so welcoming and willing to share their culture with us.

We travelled to the islands via the rainforest road, the only road that goes to Guna Yala from Panama City. We stayed in a cultural retreat with a group of Guna artists from various artistic disciplines. We stayed at the camp for 3 days and much of our conversations were centered on the exchange of artistic processes, Guna art, cultural stories, and history. The artist retreat is located on controlled borders between Guna Yala and Panama by the forest rangers. The Kuna people control there own borders and monitor who goes in and out of their homelands. The Kuna people are known to be fierce warriors and have always stood up for their beliefs, rights and lands. It was during the early 20th century where the Guna people led a revolution  against the Panamanian government, and as a result Guna territory was re-established and cultural practices maintained.

After our stay in the rainforest we continued on the journey to the islands. We travelled around many of the islands in traditional boats. As we moved from island to island, we took every opportunity to learn from cultural keepers, mola artists, and community members. The Guna people continue to live extremely connected to the land and sea. Being there you feel a sense of timelessness, disconnection from the hyper-modern world, and connection to the land. One also feels a sense of vulnerability to the elements because the islands are at sea level.

Has your research on textiles changed the way you view your own craftmanship?

Mola’s are created by the women and two-spirit people in the community. Not just any person can take up the art of mola making. It would take a lifetime to learn and perfect. This is the kind of practice is inherited from the family, and passed down from generation to generation beginning at a young age.  This is what makes it Traditional Guna Art.

Molas are quite complex; images found on them are a reflection of Guna life and beliefs presented in abstract forms. Molas are still worn by women and continue to be used in ceremony. More recently they are created for tourism and the collectors market. The process of making a Mola involves a lot of time and expertise. It combines many layers of trade cloth, and a cut away process is used to form the designs, then the layers are sewn into place revealing layers of cloth with contrasting colours and forms. In the western quilting community, this process is referred to as a reverse appliqué technique.

Now when I see a Mola, I see the people and culture behind it. Mola makers are true artist and are responsible for the transmission and continuation of the art form within their community. The mola artists we met have shown me that artistic work involves a commitment to your community, to your practice, and perseverance no matter how long it will take to complete. And continually creating work eventually leads to the development of good craftsmanship.
What is involved with making a show like this? What is your process as designer?
The development of Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky has been a long process. The project has involved many artists and people from diverse backgrounds. For this piece, Monique has taken the process of creating a mola to create a Kuna theatrical framework, and this is used as the foundation to develop this work. The stories being told are presented in layers like a mola, and the stories are then abstracted, this process of abstraction is also used in mola making and is for the purpose of cultural protection. The process of mola making is also closely related to story weaving; the process of combining many stories and then weaving/assembling together to create a form. Monique grew up with the story weaving process, since she is from the Spiderwoman Theatre family. They gave name and birthed this form of indigenous theatre that breaks the western theatre paradigm.
It was a difficult project to process at certain times in the development stages. In the play, Monique and Gloria play a combination of different characters. The challenge was how does the designer represent all these characters in one costume. There was little time for quick changes for both actors since they never leave the stage. One also needs to work with the set and lighting designers so that all the design elements work together and that the designs are aligned with the process put in place and with Kuna beliefs and cosmology.


Thursday, January 17, 2013


Cafe Daughter by Kenneth T. Williams, a Gwaandak Theatre Production and Native Earth presentation at the Aki Studio Theatre is up and running, through to Sunday, January 20.

Director Yvette Nolan on Linda Leon's set.

Actor PJ Prudat at the feast, with Nolan and "Loud Lady" and masterful marketer  
Catherine Hernandez in back

Opening Night, with the Honourable Senator Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck in attendance with the Honourable Dr.  Carolyn Bennett, P.C. M.P. speaking with Gwaandak Theatre Board President and Cafe Daughter Apprentice Actor Melaina Sheldon.

PJ Prudat, Senator Quan Dyck (the inspiration for Cafe Daughter), 
playwright Kenneth T. Williams and director Yvette Nolan

Opening Night hosted a bright and warm group of family and icons.
Thanks all, for coming, and thanks to those who have already booked tickets.
 Call 1-800-204-0855 to book your tickets NOW!

Monday, November 26, 2012

of displacement

Wednesday night we hosted a wonderful evening of performance in our Aki Studio Theatre. Unearthing So(u)los was a collection of three works in progress exploring themes of decolonization with an eye to building bridges. Each piece was unique, immersive, thoughtful, and beautiful. In the spirit of development an informal talk back was held at the end of the night by the artists: nishaahuja, Victoria Mata and Rehana Tejpar.

In this talk back an important question was asked by an audience member. They were interested to know how the decision to perform in Daniels Spectrum, a shiny new beacon of the Regent Park redevelopment, could have been made considering the themes within their pieces and their own relationship with communities of displaced people. The question didn’t go unanswered: nisha stated that they considered ‘Daniels Spectrum’ the name on the outside of the building and spoke to her relationship with Native Earth. Victoria referenced the lack of affordable performance space in the city where one could put on such a showcase. In the end it was clear that the question had spurred a conversation, and that the conversation was not over.

nisha working on a Keith Barker play at Weesageechak 24. Photo by Scott Benesiinaabandan
Native Earth recognizes the responsibility that goes hand in hand with managing any venue. We acknowledge that this venue in particular comes with a deeper need to connect with our community and the community of Regent Park. Frankly, this excites and invigorates us. We often speak together about decolonizing the process of creation in theatre, and taking down ruling hierarchical systems in our work. Now we get to really do that, make our own rules, and invite others to do the same.

So, let’s chat.

-          Rae

“Unearthing” was a presentation of three solo works in progress including “Un-settling” by nisha ahuja, “Arterias” by Victoria Mata and “Love Flows Down” by Rehana Tejpar

nisha ahuja will be performing with “The Besetting of Reena Virk with the Subtle Vigilance Collective on Dec 1st at 8 PM and Dec 2nd at 2 PM in the Aki Studio Theatre. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Song For Tomorrow

(l to r) Jeff Yung and Jasmine Chen. Photograph by Gein Wong.

An honouring of our parents’ journeys. An affirmation of hard choices. An elegy that’s told in reverse time. New Harlem Productions partnered with Eventual Ashes to stage Christina Wong’s play, A Song For Tomorrow, at Theatre Passe Muraille for the 2012 SummerWorks Festival.

The pride I feel at producing this moving script is made all the more satisfying because the play was supported by NEPA through OAC’s Creator’s Reserve program and developed with dramaturge Philip Adams (another NEPA stalwart). The team is rounded out by NEPA favourites including a starkly suggestive set by Jackie Chau, striking lighting by David DeGrow and the superior wrangling skills of production manager, Rae Powell.

I can’t hardly wait for you all to see some elegant performances by Jasmine Chen and Jeff Yung, who have been working it out in rehearsal space generously provided by Obsidian Theatre but have also been sighted in character at the T&T night market.

It’s all pulled together by director Gein Wong, whose work we’ve seen recently in Intent City at Mayworks, and will see again when she co-directs the premiere of her own play, Hiding Words (For You), at Enwave in the fall. Check it all the way out!

- Donna-Michelle St. Bernard 

Sat. August 11, 2:00 PM
Thurs. August 16, 7:00 PM
Sun. August 19, 11:30 AM
Sun. August 12, 7:00 PM
Fri. August 17, 2:00 PM
Mon. August 13, 9:30 PM
Sat. August 18, 4:30 PM

For tickets click here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Tawaw.  It means welcome in Cree, and I have picked up quite a bit of Cree out here in Saskatchewan, over the course of a nine-month residency at the Saskatoon Public Library.  (I used to feel bad that I had more te reo Māori than my own language, Anishinaabemowin, but one of my elders told me to learn the language wherever I was, it all helps).  And I did feel truly welcomed to this community of readers and writers and learners.

From September to the end of May, I had over 170 appointments with more than sixty individual writers in my office at the Library. I saw poets, fiction writers, science fiction writers, playwrights, non-fiction writers, memoirists, first time writers and published authors.  On the days I was not available to the community, I was writing. In my nine months, I wrote an adaptation of The Birds (Aristophanes, not Hitchcock) and several papers about Aboriginal theatre in Canada, which magically transform themselves into chapters in this book about Native theatre. I have spoken about Turtle Gals’ work The Only Good Indian, The Scrubbing Project, The Triple Truth – about Marie ClementsTombs of the Vanishing Indian, The Unnatural and Accidental Women – about Daniel David MosesAlmighty Voice and His Wife and Brebeuf’s Ghost, about Melanie J Murrays’ A Very Polite Genocide and Native Earth’s Death of a Chief.

I also had occasion to go into classrooms and hospitals and other community spaces to talk about the power of putting the words in the right order.  In a school library, I learned the word tawaw, from a small group of students. 
Photo of Yvette Nolan courtesy of Saskatoon Public Library

The teacher-librarian had assembled grade 6’s and 7’s to hear me talk about being the Writer in Residence, and to encourage literacy.  “A special class will be joining us,” the teacher librarian explained, “called Tawaw.”   The boys of Tawaw have, for whatever reason, not succeeded in the mainstream, and Tawaw was built to support them, to give them tools to achieve.

I had prepared a writing exercise, very simple. Introduce yourself, but in the third person. Tell us something about yourself, in the third person. Tell us something about your dreams – what are you going to be when you grow up. All in the third person.

The students wrote for ten minutes or so, and then we shared.  “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please allow me to introduce Alicia!  Alicia loves Justin Bieber, and she is going to be a veterinarian when she grows up!”  Wildly thunderous applause. That kind of thing.  I kept returning to the Tawaw table to see if one of the boys would share. Uh uh. No way.

When most of the class had shared their introductions and ambitions, some fanciful, some prosaic, I was starting to wrap up the class, and one of the boys from the Tawaw group raised his hand.  “I’ll go.”

He stood up and read his words.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Clifton. Clifton is a good friend to his sister Savannah and his best friend Clayton. Clifton is going to be a stonemason, and a hockey player, and a husband and a father. “

He read straight to me, and behind me I could feel his teachers swelling with joy and pride and hope.  I breathed to keep the tears from appearing. Clifton (the student I am calling Clifton) had imagined himself into an adult, into a trade, into healthy relationships. Into a future. He had put the words together and put the idea they expressed into the air.  From his lips to the Creator’s ear.

Tawaw. Welcome, Come in. There’s room.