Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Saying goodbye to King Lear: The dream is over but the memories will never die

Prior to the start of rehearsals for King Lear at the NAC, I found myself downplaying the adjectives; “revolutionary”, “ground-breaking” even “historical”. I am tired of being the mandate, the spectacle on display. And besides, it really wasn’t a first. There have been all-Aboriginal Shakespeare productions. Well, 1 or 2 maybe…over the last 100 years.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I was blessed to be in the show, to be playing not only Cordelia but also the Fool. Wow. Pinch. We are at the stage that August Schellenberg dreamed we would be, we have the talent to pull it off, several times over, so I thanked the grandmothers and grandfathers every day for the opportunity. But I resisted the hype.

I wanted the audience to come because the cast was in command of the language, the direction superb and the show beautifully lit, staged and costumed. I wanted it to be spectacular yet common, a show that could be in any given city, theatre season, year.

But that kind of luxury is reserved for a different type of production and the experience in King Lear reminded me that I am not that kind of actor. This was not just another show, another gig.

First there was an opportunity to work with one of the most generous actors I have met, August Schellenberg, not to mention how great it was to hang with his amazing wife Joan. (Please write that book Joan, I can’t wait to hear more stories!) There was the beautiful resonance of Billy and Tantoo’s Cree accents owning the text and Lorne Cardinal leading us in prayer circle. I witnessed the exponential growth of Jeremy Proulx as an actor, heard the spine-tingling voice of Meegwun Fairbrother night after night and wept each time Gordon White said, “My name is Edgar”. That was especially hard because I came on stage seconds later supposedly dead in the arms of Lear, hiding the small tear running down my cheek. 
I marveled at Kevin Loring’s eloquence with the text, had fun as the Fool playing off Monique’s Goneril (easily done from our years of working together as Turtle Gals) and tried my best to keep up with Ryan Cunningham in the King Lear push-up club. The hearts of Keith Barker and Craig Lauzon were so large they burst onto the stage, smilingly. Equally inspiring was the inclusion of the Four Nations Exchange with Suzanne Keeptwo at the helm. These dedicated, generous, community members filled the stage with their love and the King Lear FB page with pictures. The group included the Hendricks family (Keith, Theresa and their 2 beautiful girls), who exemplified what a family unit can be. (Jordyn, I will never forget our not-so-secret handshake).

Cast of King Lear - photograph by Fred Cattroll

These are the memories that make it difficult to say goodbye, evident as we stood in a circle on the stage prior to our last show. We filled the theatre with sage, prayers and tears. There were 51 one of us: Lear and his 50 followers. This was ground-breaking, revolutionary and historical, not because we can or can’t do Shakespeare, but because we worked as a community in a commercial venue, we brought our prayers and discussions about culture to Canada’s National stage, we reclaimed the territory by placing our footsteps in the halls of the NAC and most importantly because no one knows if this will happen again any time soon. 

- Jani Lauzon

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