Category Archives: 2014/2015 Season

Weesageechak 28

Our Annual Festival of Indigenous Work

November 11-21, 2015
7:30pm | Tickets $15

Aki Studio

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Over two weeks in November, the 28th annual Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival brings together emerging, mid-career and established artists to develop and showcase contemporary Indigenous theatre, dance and interdisciplinary creations for stage.

Save 50% with a Festival Pass!
Limited passes available for just $60. Book your all-access Weesageechak 28 festival pass by telephone at 416-531-1402

Our two-week festival will showcase exciting works by Lara Kramer (Tame), Jani Lauzon (Prophecy Fog), Michelle Thrush (Find Your Own Inner Elder), and Kenneth T. Williams (In Care). In addition to these established artists, Weesageechak will also feature new works by emerging and mid-career artists, such as Yolanda Bonnell, Brian Solomon, and writers from the Animikiig Playwrights’ Program.

The festival provides a platform that fosters mentorship through the exchange of skills and knowledge while simultaneously celebrating contemporary Indigenous performance through readings, workshops and productions. Festival audiences gain insight into the creation process and get a unique glimpse of new Indigenous works from around the world.

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W28 Schedule

See Photos from Weesageechak 27




Evening Tickets $15 available online.
Festival Passes $60 available for purchase by telephone.
Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm.
The Sunday Workshop is Pay-What-You-Can and starts at 12pm.
Purchases made online or by telephone are by credit card only.
At the door payments accepted by cash, debit, VISA and Mastercard.

Box Office Telephone: 416-531-1402 Email: boxoffice[at]

More information on ticket pick-up here.

Weesageechak 28 Press Release

Stitch: Georgina Beaty

Native Earth proudly presents the Culture Storm production of Cliff Cardinal’s Stitch, a dark and raw look at the life of a porn star desperate to have her story heard. This one-woman tour-de-force performance is on now in Aki Studio, closing this Sunday June 14th.

“the story of a woman claiming agency in a system that denies her any power”

Georgina Beaty, Toronto-based actor, Co-Artistic Director of Architect Theatre, and graduate of both the University of Alberta and Studio 58, is at the centre of it all. In Stitch, Beaty plays the role of Kylie Grandview, a single mother and porn star whose plight takes center stage. Stitch is “the story of a woman claiming agency in a system that denies her any power,” describes Beaty. “Kylie is a warped ingénue for dark times.”

But Beaty takes on more than just the ingénue. Demonstrating her incredible versatility, Beaty also brings life a multitude of other characters in Kylie’s world – mother, daughter, agent, laywer – just to name a few. “Cliff has written a piece that is a rare gift for a female performer. Every character is particular, funny (in a dark way), and a delight to inhabit,” says Beaty.

Georgina Beaty
Georgina Beaty; photo by akipari

At the helm of this production has been director, and once Stitch dramaturge, Jovanni Sy, who is joined by award-winning Production Designer Andy Moro, and new Composer Luca Caruso-Moro, who makes his debut with the production.

“I love this team. It’s felt like a really collaborative room,” says Beaty. “Because there is only one performer, Andy Moro’s sound and lights are a complete character within the piece, so it feels like I am very much in dialogue with other elements.”

Though Stitch deals with one woman’s experiences in a particular industry, Beaty believes there is more to take from Cardinal’s script than just the story of a porn star.

“It’s a highly specific story about one woman and her journey through the adult film industry, but it also implicates the audience in their appetite to watch the events onstage,” says Beaty. “As a woman in an industry that is male-dominated, for all of the dark humour of the piece, the ride of the story, and theatrical play, there is a relevant conversation about a society that is deeply inequitable and how that broader system can have devastating effects on an individual.”

Audiences who want a chance to hear more from Georgina Beaty can stay after the 8pm performance on Saturday June 13th for a formal post-show Q & A discussion. Tickets are available online.

Stitch Book Tickets

 UnStitched with Georgina Beaty

What are you reading right now?
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano and
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Where is your favorite place to be?
In the mountains hiking. The coast.

What’s next for you?
Like There’s No Tomorrow at SummerWorks.  It is a piece I am creating with my company, Architect Theatre, inspired by interviews along the route of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline in Northwestern BC. Our team includes Anita Rochon, Paula-Jean Prudat, Jonathan Seinen and myself and we are re-imagining an environmental consultation process for a pipeline, but this one includes a talking fish, sunsets, and maybe even a dance party.

Audiences have until Sunday June 14th to see Beaty’s remarkable performance in Cliff Cardinal’s Stitch. Tickets are available online.

A Message About Stitch from Native Earth

Native Earth is pleased to present the Culture Storm production of Stitch by Cliff Cardinal. Since 2013, Culture Storm and Cliff Cardinal have been developing this production in order to bring the talents of Cliff Cardinal, considered one of Canada’s brightest emerging talents, to the stage. When Culture Storm approached Native Earth for support with venue, box office, tech and marketing we were thrilled to support their production. By helping to support like-minded community organizations in their initiatives we are able to share our space through in-kind support with organizations to create a platform for Indigenous writers. Through these types of partnerships we are able to expand our audiences and create cross-culture platforms to expand the visibility of Indigenous talent, like Cliff Cardinal, across Canada.

This is a one-woman play by an Indigenous playwright, where the main character’s ethnicity is unspecified. This presentation was planned and cast before our recent co-production of The Unplugging and the issues raised by the casting of that play. The dialogue about The Unplugging has prompted considerable reflection by the Native Earth management and Board of Directors, resulting in the recent statement, posted on this website, which is our clear intention going forward. In light of that, we wrestled with the potential contradiction that might be seen in our role presenting Stitch, given the script and casting. The most honorable course is to keep our commitment, to proceed with this presentation as planned, and to support all the artists who are part of this production. Native Earth renews our commitment to cast only Indigenous actors in Indigenous roles going forward.

Ryan Cunningham                                    Isaac Thomas
Artistic Director                                         Managing Director


Statement by Heather Haynes, Culture Storm

Artistic Statement by Cliff Cardinal, Playwright

God and The Indian: Renae Morriseau

For our cross-nation partnership with Firehall Arts Centre, we’re bringing Toronto and Vancouver audiences Drew Hayden Taylor’s God and The Indian, in Aki Studio May 2 – 17, 2015. Following the Toronto premiere, the production returns to Vancouver where it runs May 20 – 30, 2015.

After directing the world premiere of God and The Indian in Vancouver in 2013, Renae Morriseau (Cree) returns to bring audiences the Toronto premiere, currently playing in Native Earth’s Aki Studio.

“In our traditional ways the audience is then witnesses to share the story about this dark history about Canadian policy and legislation.”

Originally from Manitoba, Renae is based now in Vancouver where she works to cultivate social justice, inclusiveness and community-building through her work in theatre.  It’s these motivations that inspire Renae to help tell this heartbreaking story about Canada’s residential schools.

“It’s a story that needs to be told,” says Morriseau. “In our traditional ways the audience is then witnesses to share the story about this dark history about Canadian policy and legislation.

Morriseau hopes audiences from all backgrounds will come to see the production. “I think it’s important for all Canadians to see – Native or non-Native. People need to understand the impact that residential schools have had on my people – “my” meaning all the different Nations across Turtle Island which is now called Canada,” Morriseau explains. “We’re talking seven generations of my people that have been impacted. With residential school survivors today, these stories help support the survivors to acknowledge the pain and loss of family and community.”

Morriseau is not the only member of the original Vancouver production working on the Toronto premiere; both designers (Lauchlin Johnston, Alex Denard) also returned to revisit the play.

Listen Renae Morriseau on our
Podcast: gaganoonidiwag

However, this is anything but a remount, as Morriseau has had an opportunity to explore the work with a completely new cast, whom she describes as “talented, intuitive, adaptable and creative.”  The Toronto premiere stars Toronto-based Thomas Hauff as Assistant Bishop George King, and Vancouver-based Lisa C. Ravensbergen (Ojibwe/Swampy Cree) as Johnny.

Audiences interested in a discussion about the issues addressed in the play are invited to check here for a list of pre- and post-show talks with the creative team.

God and The Indian runs in Toronto May 2 – 17, and moves to Vancouver May 20 – 30, 2015.

GI - Book Tickets

Tidbits About Renae Morriseau

What advice would you give to someone
who wants to do what you do?
Be curious. Start with your curiosity of what your passion creatively is. What are the stories that resonate in your heart and your mind and in what manner to do you want to develop your creative source.

What ability would you like to steal from another artist?
Lisa C. Ravensbergen’s acting and tenacity.
Tom Hauff’s uncanny ability to read between the lines.

Where is your favorite place to be?
With my grandson at a lacrosse game.

What’s your favourite dessert?
I make a great pumpkin cheesecake.

Favorite childhood toy?
Burnt bannock used as a hockey puck.

What’s next?
Returning to Vancouver to work with Vancouver Moving Theatre on Tracks: 7th Canadian Community Play and Arts Symposium.

Renae Morriseau: Since the early 1980s, Renae has worked in the arts in Canada, United States and most recently, internationally with her singing group, M’Girl. In theatre, she produced, wrote, directed and acted in a variety of Aboriginal stories contributing her music, dramaturgy, and teaching theatre to the next generation of thespians. In film she produced, wrote, directed and acted in a variety of television dramas, feature films, music videos, and documentary productions with her music licensed to diverse film and television productions. See: Down2Earth

God and The Indian: Lisa C. Ravensbergen

For our cross-nation partnership with Firehall Arts Centre, we’re bringing Toronto and Vancouver audiences Drew Hayden Taylor’s God and The Indian, in Aki Studio May 2 – 17, 2015. Following the Toronto premiere, the production returns to Vancouver where it runs May 20 – 30, 2015.

Lisa C. Ravensbergen joins Thomas Hauff in Taylor’s two-hander, directed by Renae Morriseau. Based out of Vancouver, Ravensbergen, takes on the role of Johnny, a Cree woman, panhandling on the streets who recognizes Anglican Assistant Bishop George King outside a coffee shop. Johnny follows King to his office, where she confronts him about the abuse she suffered as a child in a residential school.

The challenge offered by this role excites the multi-hyphenate and Jessie Award-nominated actor, who describes herself as a tawny mix of Ojibwe/Swampy Cree and English/Irish.1

“I feel privileged and honoured to attempt to bring these voices to life…”

“I feel privileged and honoured to attempt to bring these voices to life and to negotiate with keen-minded collaborators,” says Ravensbergen. “It’s always exciting to work with new people. All three of us have overlapping artistic languages and different languages, as well. It’s fascinating.”

This is not the first time Ravensbergen has worked with Director Renae Morriseau; they previously performed together in George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. 2 “She’s Cree and I’m Ojibwe/Cree. It’s great to have someone else in the room that shares your culture and can speak to the world view that is implicit in the script, whether Drew meant for it to be there or not. It’s nice to have someone else in the room that can see the cultural resonances.”

“They are tenacious about getting what they want – not just for themselves but from the other person.”

This marks the first time Ravensbergen is working with Hauff, and the two are finding the characters to be quite demanding. “It’s a pretty relentless room; there is no joy for these two characters. They are tenacious about getting what they want – not just for themselves but from the other person,” says Ravensbergen. “Tom is a fierce competitor and comrade and there is no room for me to be off my A-game.”

Though it’s been a number of years, Ravensbergen is no stranger to Native Earth audiences. “I have a long history here and I am really happy and pleased and blushy with honour to be able to be on stage with Native Earth again,” says Ravensbergen. “The last time I was on stage with Native Earth was the 2004 production of The Unnatural and Accidental Women by Marie Clements. It feels nice to return.

Audiences looking to have a discussion about the issues addressed in the play are invited to check here for a list of pre- and post-show talks with the creative team.

God and The Indian runs in Toronto May 2 – 17, and moves to Vancouver May 20 – 30, 2015.

GI - Book Tickets

Tidbits About Lisa C. Ravensbergen

What’s next for you?
A new multi-disc. collaboration with BLAM Collective (with Billy Marchenski and Michael Greyeyes) called The World is The World.

What was your first professional job?
As Rose in the premiere of Marie Clement’s Burning Vision, a
co-pro with urban ink and Rumble Productions.

Where is your favorite place to be?
Under trees, beside water under a big sky. Mountains help.

Who is one of your heroes?
My son, Nodin. I’m learning how to see the world through eyes that are clean and heart-driven and spirit-connected. I find it really humbling and inspiring to give witness to his journey.

What’s your favourite dessert?
Thanks to a slew of allergies, the closest I ever get
to real people dessert is in Fantasy Land.

Favorite childhood toy?
A bright yellow ball that I stole from K-Mart when I was a kid.

1Performance highlights include: Where the Blood Mixes (Theatre North West); The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (Firehall Arts Centre; Western Canada Theatre/National Arts Centre); Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout (Western Canada Theatre), The Unnatural and Accidental Women (Native Earth Performing Arts); Burning Vision (Western Canada Theatre/Rumble Productions).

New theatre/ dance works currently in development: The Seventh Fire; The World is The World (BLAM Collective); The Art of Peace (Pounds per Square Inch).

2 Western Canada Theatre Company (Kamloops) / NAC English Theatre Company co-production.

God and The Indian: Thomas Hauff

For our cross-nation partnership with Firehall Arts Centre, we’re bringing Toronto and Vancouver audiences Drew Hayden Taylor’s God and The Indian, in Aki Studio May 2 – 17, 2015. Following the Toronto premiere, the production returns to Vancouver where it runs May 20 – 30, 2015.

In Taylor’s two-hander, directed by Renae MorriseauToronto-based actor Thomas Hauff takes on the role of Assistant Bishop George King. King is caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of Johnny (played by Lisa C. Ravensbergen), a Cree woman who follows him after recognizing King from her childhood in a residential school.

He’s confronted by someone who believes something about himself that he’s doesn’t believe to be true…

Thomas Hauff has worked professionally as an actor for most of his life,  appearing on stages across Canada and in film, television and commercials.1  He previously performed in Weesageechak Begins to Dance workshops for Yvette Nolan’s Annie Mae’s Movement and Stretching Hide by Dale Lakevold.

In preparing for his role in God and The Indian, Hauff found himself excited by the doubt presented in the script. “[Assistant Bishop King] is a man who is caught in a difficult situation. He’s confronted by someone who believes something about himself that he’s doesn’t believe to be true and he has to convince her otherwise.”

Though the last of the residential schools closed in 1996, Taylor’s God and The Indian brings attention to the issues still affecting Indigenous people in Canada today. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada indicates there are still an estimated 80,000 former students who are living and dealing with the impact of a childhood spent in an institution that sought to eliminate Indigenous culture.

Anything that starts the conversation about this situation and the effects on people of the residential schools is great.

The rehearsal process has been illuminating for Hauff. “It’s been exiting and challenging to explore with everyone. Lisa and Renae both bring a perspective that I don’t have,” he says. “It’s really interesting to sit back and listen to them discuss their ideas of the show. I’m learning from the experience.”

And that is exactly what Hauff hopes audiences will get from the show. “I hope they ask questions. Anything that starts the conversation about this situation and the effects on people of the residential schools is great.”

Audiences looking to have a discussion about the issues addressed in the play are invited to stay after the preview matinee on Sunday May 3rd for a post-show talk with Elder-in-training Christine Gijig and Director of Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice, Anglican Church of Canada, Henriette Thompson.

God and The Indian runs in Toronto May 2 – 17, and moves to Vancouver May 20 – 30, 2015. More Information on Talks

GI - Book Tickets

Tidbits About Thomas Hauff

What advice would you give to someone
who wants to do what you do?
Explore it and find out if you NEED to do it.

First professional role?
As Slightly Soiled, one of the Lost Boys,
in Peter Pan for the Vancouver International Festival.

What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
Getting work and doing it well.

Where is your favorite place to be?
I like to go home and relax after the show.

What ability would you like to steal from another artist?

Do you speak any other languages?
I can speak German.

1 Favourite theatre roles: Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Stratford Festival of Canada), James Tyrone in Moon for the Misbegotten (Theatre New Brunswick), Matthew Cuthbert in Anne (Blyth Festival, Theatre Calgary), James Donnelly in Sticks and Stones (Blyth Festival), both Angus and Morgan in different productions of The Drawer Boy (Theatre Passe Muraille, Waterloo Stage Company), Alfred in Stretching Hide (Manitoba Theatre Projects), and The Haushofmeister in Ariadne Auf Naxos (Canadian Opera Company).

Film: Adoration, Away From Her, Who Has Seen the Wind.

Television: The Listener, Universal Soldier, Sue Thomas F.B. Eye, A Season on the Brink, 9B, Friday the 13th, Top Cops’and Night Heat.

From Artistic Director, Ryan Cunningham

As the Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts it is my role to take responsibility for the artistic decisions made by the company.

For as long as Native Earth has been a company, we’ve been trailblazers. Sometimes our choices are celebrated. Sometimes our choices are called into question.

Our community never fails to tell us how it feels, and for this I am grateful. I particularly appreciate the emails I have received; the conversations in-person and by telephone I have had with many in the community. This is productive.

I am listening to the discussion that is going on now. I hear the disappointment our community is expressing in the casting choices for this co-production and I appreciate the feedback. I will commit to take this feedback forward.

I heard you when you let us know how you felt at this past Weesageechak festival. The festival and community alike were electric with positivity and warmth. I knew from your overwhelmingly positive response that we’re on the right track with Weesageechak, and those responses are helping us to continue to move in the right direction with this annual festival. Some of you voiced to me your criticisms of the festival, particularly regarding how it was organized. I heard that too, and we will use the feedback to improve our upcoming festival.

Native Earth entered into this co-production with Factory and two accomplished artistic leaders, respected artists who have unquestionably supported Indigenous and culturally diverse artists for years. The impact they have had on our community cannot be eradicated with one production.

However, with any experience there are lessons to be learned. We have heard our community and in moving forward your voices will inform our choices for the future.

This is a complex discussion. We intend to take the time necessary to reflect and connect with our community on a personal level. We wish to hear the many perspectives on this issue before we come together in a public forum. We will then to put together a schedule of events that will allow us as a community to have this conversation face-to-face and move forward in a good way.

The community forum scheduled for Tuesday March 31st in Aki Studio is postponed to a later date. In the meantime, know that our doors are open. You are welcome to stop by, talk with us, phone or email us.

Native Earth was created to support Indigenous artists and share our Indigenous stories. Our community can count on us to continue to do this, to take risks, push boundaries, and trail-blaze in the name of supporting Indigenous art.

Ryan Cunningham
Artistic Director

Inside The Unplugging: Allegra Fulton

We’ve partnered up with Factory to bring audiences the Toronto debut of The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan (March 14 – April 5, 2015), and here we get to know a little more about the key players in this production and partnership.

L-R: Diana Belshaw, Allegra Fulton; photo by Akipari

Along with Diana Belshaw, and Umed Amin, today we round out the cast of three with theatre veteran Allegra Fulton. Multiple award-winning actor,1 best known for her Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning performance in the one-woman tour-de-force Frida K., Fulton says she is excited to work on Yvette Nolan’s play about “love and loss and crafty survival”.

“I’m always drawn to first and foremost the story, the story, the story, that is being told. The Unplugging has been a very interesting exploration because of the nature of the story,” she explains. “To imagine the end of the world, which of course we all had to do each day of the rehearsal period and to deal with the kinds of thoughts, fears, needs, desires, simple survival skills that we would or would not have in such circumstances. Projecting yourself into that kind of difficulty and end-of-the-world scenario each day has made for some very challenging moments.”

“If we all carry seeds of everyone inside us – if we are all one – then Bern is in me in all the facets of her that I drawn on.”

And though she says the circumstances of the play are different from her own experiences (They are “surviving an apocalypse and that is very different from anything I’ve had to endure, thankfully.”), Fulton saw something in Bernadette that compelled her to take on this role.  “I certainly relate to her clown, her artist, her lover, her large spirit. If we all carry seeds of everyone inside us – if we are all one – then Bern is in me in all the facets of her that I drawn on.”

Nolan’s The Unplugging tells the story of two very different aging Indigenous women cast out of their community because of one thing they share – the inability to bear children. But it is their differences in response to these shared circumstances that make for two contrasting, but equally interesting, characters.

L-R: Allegra Fulton, Umed Amin; Photo by Akipari

“Bernadette is a fascinating character. She has no family, is rootless, disconnected. She longs for love and connection and community. She is self-taught and very smart but doesn’t really believe it. She doesn’t have a lot of confidence in who and what she is and yet she is spirited, generous, funny, willing, loyal. She sees the best in people even when their worst sides are forward,” says Fulton.

“I have no idea what parts of me would emerge in such a dire circumstance. I think we all hope the best, but no doubt the worst parts of ourselves would also be on full display. Yet I always have such faith in the triumph of the glorious human spirit. We are such divine and complicated creatures.”

The Unplugging is on stage now until April 5th, after which audiences can see Fulton in the title role in Susanna Fournier’s adaptation of Medea, and also in the upcoming Julius Caesar and Comedy of Errors in the Dream in High Park.


Getting Unplugged with Allegra

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Do it all. Never give up. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers.

Who inspires you?
All the artists in the world who continue
to fight for freedom of expression.

What was your first job in theatre?
John Van Burek gave me a role in Les Temps Sauvages
when I was 11 years old. I was acting with grown ups,
on a real stage, and I was in heaven!!!!

What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
The dearth of good writing for people over 40 yrs old.
Especially women.

What ability would you like to steal from another artist?
David Ferry’s superpower of being able to work
on three things at the same time.

What are you reading right now?
Joel Thomas Hynes’ Straight Razor Days,
Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman,
and my script.

What’s your favorite line from a book,
or play, or favourite lyric from a song?
“like a bird on a a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried in my way to be free” – Leonard Cohen
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato
“A poet is a time mechanic, not an embalmer” Jack Spicer

Where is your favorite place to be?
In bed with my favourite lover… or in nature, mountains,
oceans, cliffs, rolling green hills by the ocean.

What is one of your pet peeves?

Who is one of your heroes?
Malala Yousefsy. She continues to fight for the rights of children to have education, despite being a teenager, a female, and having been shot in the head for her insistence on going to school.

The one word your best friend would use to describe you?

What’s your favourite dessert?
Tracy Pritchards Rose and Raspbetty Meringue

 List of Awards

Recent Theatre Credits: The Carousel (Nightwood Theatre), The List (Nightwood Theatre), Tout Comme Elle (Luminato/Necessary Angel), Night of The Iguana, The Gentleman Caller (Hart House Theatre), King Lear (Antaeus Classical Rep/L.A.), The Taming of The Shrew (A Noise Within, L.A.), Geometry in Venice (Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre), Scorched (Tarragon Theatre).

Recent Film & TV credits: Cronenberg’s Map To The Stars, Fargo, Desgrassi: The Next Generation, Against The Wall, King.


A visual artist I respect tremendously called me in the middle of the day on Saturday, two days after my play The Unplugging opened on the Factory Mainstage, a co-production between Factory and Native Earth. My colleague, whom I will call Maskihkiwiskwe, is in Saskatchewan. She had been dragged into the debate about the casting of the play in Toronto, and she was calling me to ask me what was up.

I thanked Maskihkiwiskwe for calling. She is the first person who has actually called me. We are not friends, though I have seen her work, I have heard her speak, I have worked in the room around her, on projects she has headed. When her number popped up on my phone, I did not know who it was.

I told her I had heard about the discussion on The Facebook, although I am not on The Facebook; people had clipped and sent comments to me. I told her that I had been warned to be careful of my personal safety, that I should watch my back. Maskihkiwiskwe told me that I needed to say something, that the whole thing was raging around me, around my play, and that I needed to speak. But no one has spoken to me, I said.

But you know what is being said, Maskihkiwiskwe said. People are waiting to hear from you. While I find that hard to believe, since no one has asked me, Maskihkiwiskwe says I must say something.

The Unplugging has three roles: two “women of a certain age” and a young man. The women, Bern and Elena, have been banished from a community that only wants “women of child-bearing age”. In order to survive, the women have to dig down inside themselves and remember what they know, what they have learned from their elders. Elena in her mid-sixties, remembers snippets of her language (Anishinaabemowin), how to make a snare and trap rabbit. Bern, the younger at 50-something, is a former party-girl who is completely disconnected from her history, her roots: “So much I don’t know about where I come from”. The knowledge she remembers is the cabin in the north to which she leads them where they might be safe and have a hope of surviving.

I have heard that someone actually said that there are “hundreds of aboriginal actresses” who could have done these roles. There are not. When Nina and I sat down a year or so ago to talk about the play, we made a list of the women who could possibly play the roles. That list included Indigenous actors, and actors from the larger multicultural theatre community. It is not a long list.

Here is a thing. There are so few roles for women, of any age, that it is something of a miracle that there are any women still in the business in their fifties and sixties. Many quit, frustrated by roles or lack of them. Many move into other arenas – film and television, scholarship and the Academy. Over the course of the development of The Unplugging, many fine actresses have read the roles of Elena and Bern. Michaela Washburn and Tara Beagan were the very first Elena and Bern I ever heard; they were both too young by decades. The first reading at Weesageechak featured Patti Shaughnessy and Maev Beatty, both too young. Along the way, Val Pearson, Elinor Holt, Marie Clements, Margo Kane, Tina Cook, Erina Daniels, Colleen Gosgrove and Lisa O’Hara read the roles. With the exception of Margo Kane, all the actors have been too young for the roles. When Margo agreed to play Elena in the premiere of The Unplugging at the Arts Club in Vancouver in 2012, we were all aware of how lucky we were to have her.

(Even when you think you have the secured the perfect cast, there are no guarantees; a third production of The Unplugging by North Road Theatre, directed by Bill Lane, lost its first Indigenous Elena, postponed the show to recast, and then lost its second Elena. Bill Lane recast with Jan Kudelka, and the show just closed to packed house at Debajehmujig Storyteller’s Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre in Manitowaning, after short runs in Sudbury and North Bay.)

Many of the names on our not-long list were not available. I suppose the benefit of lasting into your middle-age as an actor is that you become a rare and precious gift. Many of the names on our list are working, not just in Indigenous plays, but in classics, world and Canadian, in new visions of old plays, or in new plays that imagine this old place in a new way. Similarly, the Indigenous artists on the creative side whose numbers are even smaller than the actors were either unavailable or withdrew for other opportunities. We were fortunate to have the Indigenous scholar Liza-Mare Syron with us in the room throughout the process until the first audience.

Many things play into the casting of a production: availability, ability, desire, resources. Can the theatre afford to bring in actors, if they are even available? I have heard it said if Factory could not cast the roles with Indigenous players, then it should not produce my play.


This is problematic for me, since I am mostly a playwright since I left Native Earth in 2011. During my time at Native Earth, I often found myself reaching across community to cast, since the pool of actors who were available, and affordable (i.e. local), was limited. Large cast plays often stretched our resources to the breaking point: for The Unnatural and Accidental Women, we brought in Lisa C. Ravensbergen, Trish Collins, and the magnificent Muriel Miguel for the role of Aunt Shadie, who was a woman of a certain age. For readings of Larry Guno’s Bunk # 7, about his residential school experience, we plumped our ranks actors from the fu-GEN community, like Byron Abalos and David Yee. We cast across community because the work needed to be done, the authors needed to hear their words onstage, the stories needed to be told.

Which brings me back to The Unplugging.

I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students on Friday night after the show, with Nina. We sat on Camie Koo’s beautiful set, under Michelle Ramsay’s suns, and took questions from the 40 odd students and their teachers. They were smart and curious. They asked about how Nina directed the play, they asked about the casting, they asked about the inspiration for the play. Nina and I talked about how theatre is all relational, about how our long relationship informs the play. Nina talked about the values embedded in the play, and how she and the design team all learned from the text. We talked about our long relationships with these designers, Camie Koo who has designed for both Nina at fu-GEN and Cahoots and for Native Earth, and how Ramsay is my lighting designer when I direct. I talked about Velma Wallis’s telling of the Athabaskan story of Two Old Women, which inspired my 21st century version. I talked about becoming a woman of a certain age, and becoming invisible and how my mother died at 63, impecunious and undervalued, because she was perceived as past her usefulness, and how I had to dig down and remember what I had learned from her in order to go on.

I also spoke about how John Ralston Saul’s book A Fair Country had inspired the play. Saul’s theory is that this country is built on Aboriginal values, that before the British arrived, the first people and the first arrivals were living here together in a good way, intermarrying, practicing egalitarianism, consensus-building, community over individual. I want everyone who lives here to adopt an Indigenous worldview, one that springs from the land on which we all live. My elders have told me “learn the language where you are, Yvette”. I offered that to the students. It behooves us to know where we are living, who was here before us. You can learn the language of the land on which you stand. Elena remembers what she knows and she teaches it to Bern who in turn teaches it to Seamus who, it is hoped, will teach it to the community that has banished the two old women.

Nina has said that everyone on this show has depended on the text to show them the way forward. The play is about generosity, and building community, and understanding how we are all connected, backwards and forwards through time, to those who came before us, and those who are yet to come, and to each other, all of us who are living here now, trying to find a good way forward.

– Yvette Nolan

Inside The Unplugging: Ryan Cunningham

For the first time ever, Native Earth partnered up with Factory to co-produce the work of an Indigenous playwright. For this landmark partnership, the companies chose to bring to audiences the Toronto debut of The Unplugging by Yvette Nolan.

For his first production at the helm of Native Earth, Métis (Cree) Artistic Director Ryan Cunningham was excited to produce a play by Algonquin playwright Yvette Nolan. “I was a really excited to support the work of a personal mentor of mine, Yvette Nolan.” Nolan served as Artistic Director of Native Earth for eight years (2003-2011). “During that time Yvette influenced me as an artist and an artistic leader.

Allegra Fulton, Diana Belshaw
Allegra Fulton, Diana Belshaw; photo by Akipari

“She gave me my first job at Native Earth in a workshop, and provided me with opportunities to keep working as an Indigenous actor.”  It was Nolan’s encouragement that motivated Cunningham to start his own Indigenous theatre company in Edmonton, Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts, which paved the way to his current position as the artistic leader of Native Earth.

“Being in a position to return that support by producing her work is an honour.”

“For us to survive as a species we need that knowledge in our contemporary life and it must inform how we move forward as a society. “

It’s not just supporting the playwright that made this production so important; it was also the story it tells. “What I love about The Unplugging is that it talks to the importance of Indigenous knowledge. It’s so rooted in the land. It’s lessons that have been learned  from the land,” says Cunningham. “For us to survive as a species we need that knowledge in our contemporary life and it must inform how we move forward as a society. ”

Umed Amin, Allegra Fulton
Umed Amin, Allegra Fulton; photo by Akipari

Native Earth wasn’t the only company interested in producing The Unplugging. Factory Artistic Director Nina Lee Aquino was in conversation with Nolan to direct the show. “A partnership between our companies just made sense,” says Cunningham. “I trust in the connection that Yvette and Nina have as a creative team which stems back to our working together at Native Earth – Yvette as Artistic Director, Nina as Marketing Manager, and I as an emerging actor.”

In approaching the casting of this production there were many factors to consider. To best support the work of this Indigenous artist, Native Earth and Factory aimed to put together a cohesive and collaborative creative team.

“We put together what we believe is a strong, talented cast who have great chemistry.”

“Every artist has their ideal team and we wanted to honour the working process the best we could. We didn’t have the budget to go outside of Toronto, and Indigenous artists we would have loved to have worked with were unavailable. So we put together what we believe is a strong, talented cast who have great chemistry.”


Cunningham supported Aquino’s desire to work with her dream design team on this production. “Camellia Koo (Set Design) and Michelle Ramsay (Lighting Designer) have brought to life numerous Native Earth productions over the years. They are a significant part of Native Earth’s history, and we’re honoured that  they, Joanna Yu and Romeo Candido all came together to create a world in which to tell Yvette’s story.

“Everyone involved in this production is working to support the voice of an Indigenous artist, sharing an Indigenous story about valuing those stories and the knowledge passed on through generations,” says Cunningham. “And that’s what Native Earth is about.”

The Unplugging opens Thursday March 19 and runs through to Sunday April 5.



Getting Unplugged with Ryan

What advice would you give to someone
who wants to do what you do?
Take very opportunity your offered and get as much experience as you can doing the things you love… whether that’s practicing in the arts or in your other interests. What continues to amaze me in my role is the importance of the skills that I have learned outside of working in the arts and how they add and inform my artistic practice.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When things get stressed or tense, remember; No one’s going to die or lose a limb when someone makes a mistake in our line of work.
We can always do better the next chance we get.

Who or what inspires you?
Narcisse Blood, Tantoo Cardinal, Michael Green,
Kevin Loring and Marie Clements… and the land in Alberta.

What was your first job in theatre?
1995 at Citadel Theatre, Oh What a Lovely War by Joan Littlewood,
the last year Robin Phillips was Artistic Director.

What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
Stephen Harper;
dwindling ticket sales;
how to be relevant, honest and necessary.

What ability would you like to steal from another artist?
Cliff Cardinal’s brain and Brian Solomon’s legs.

What are you reading right now?
7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga by David Alexander Robertson

Where is your favorite place to be?
With friends, in Nature, away from the city.

What is one of your pet peeves?
Noisy eaters and sippers.

Who is one of your heroes?
Tomson Highway

The one word your best friend would use to describe you?

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