Billy McPherson: “a true story of identity”

Our annual festival of Indigenous works aims to provide a platform to unite Indigenous voices from around the world. Weesageechak Begins to Dance exists to strengthen the Indigenous presence in the arts community, and in addition to the Canadian voice, this year’s festival includes work from the USA and Australia.

Billy McPherson in rehearsals at Weesageechak

Making his  debut at Native Earth’s Weesageechak festival is Kamillaroi filmmaker, actor and writer Billy McPherson with his play Cuz, directed by Frederick Copperwaite of Australia’s Moogahlin Performing Arts.

Wishing to expose the realities of the Australian Indigenous experience, McPherson’s Cuz is an autobiographical play that tackles themes of identity and shadeism.

“This is a true story of identity, of my dear cousin and myself over 45 years growing up from little kids (gunnadoos) to the present,” explains McPherson. “I wanted to share… what it is like for Aboriginal people in Australia to have to deal with not being identified as an Aboriginal person, because of my cousin’s fair skin complexion.”

Before now, McPherson worked primarily as a filmmaker – his film Nalingu was screened at Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival -and Cuz marks McPherson’s first attempt at playwriting.

Driven to create work that can be shared with First Nations people around the world, McPherson describes Cuz as a play “about identity and being proud – not giving up hope as an Aboriginal, and believing in yourself regardless of the struggles we encounter everyday in our lives.”

L-R: Billy McPherson, Joelle Peters, Cliff Cardinal, Frederick Copperwaite, Ryan Cunningham in rehearsals for Cuz

Although this will be McPherson’s first time visiting Canada, he shares Native Earth’s vision behind the festival – to further the Indigenous voice on the world stage.

“We are the original storytellers,” says McPherson, and Indigenous theatre and dance is “to record our history and to tell our stories to the wider audiences. I am now very thankful to Native Earth and Ryan Cunningham for inviting Cuz for reading at Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival.”

McPherson’s Cuz will be presented on Wednesday November 16th at 7:30 pm in the Aki Studio, with performances by Cliff Cardinal, Joelle Peters, and Native Earth’s Artistic Director Ryan Cunningham.

Something more from Billy McPherson

What piece are you looking forward
to seeing at Weesageechak 29?

It’s my first time to Canada so definitely meeting
and greeting First Nations art and people.

Who is an Indigenous role model of yours?
How do they inspire you?
I was inspired by many great Aboriginal artists and creators from my early rise in the theatre world back in 1988, especially from a original pioneer with Aunty Oogeroo Noonuccul nee (Kath Walker).
She was instrumental to myself with telling me in believing in myself, to be proud of who I am and to record our history to pass onto the next generation. Also Kevin Smith a famous Aboriginal actor from Sydney, New South Wales, who had taken me under his wings to guide and assist me with my craft. I am forever thankful to these two dear friends and peers. Both are now in the dreamtime.

What are your thoughts on addressing
political topics through Indigenous art?
Art is politics and politics is arts, so I have many questions needing answering. But in meantime, I will continue to tell our Indigenous stories from Australia.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Record your black history and never give up.
Learning everyday in my life.
Also to take it as it comes everyday.

What superpower would you like to have? Why?
I would like to have a magic boomerang… and be the hero for our Indigenous people so that every time the world is in crisis I can throw my boomerang and it freezes other people around the world in time… Just imagine turning back time and…  turning away the Captain Cook invasion in Australia in 1770.

What is your favourite pastime?
Boxing training and sparring sessions with mates I enjoy,
and going to the theatre and listening to Indigenous music.

What are you craving right now?
I’m nervous and excited and craving for actors reading my play Cuz.  Also, meeting new friends from Canada and from around the world. (Oh and a can of lemonade too…)

What is coming up next for you?
I’m in rehearsals for a new play, Home Country, with
Urban Theatre Projects as part of the Sydney Festival
program that opens in January 2017.

To me, art is:
Art is intimating life and telling our stories.

See Billy McPherson’s Cuz on
Wednesday, November 16th @ 7:30pm