How do you create theatre outside of the colonial gaze? The same gaze that keeps stories of violence against Aboriginal women out of news headlines and stages. Some would say with a land acknowledgment. Not good enough. A diverse cast and crew featuring original people? I’m listening.
bug, at the Luminato Festival from June 20-24. Our team has the privilege of entering the rehearsal space. On Queen street, the Theatre Centre, a real classy joint. Good to see were moving up in the world. Lobby area is a gentle tumblresque café. Mostly pale faces. Colonizers. The other writers have already arrived, sippin on decaf whatever. A familiar face let’s us now we go in.
Director Cole Alvis. On first glance another colonizer. He points out the accessibility ramp for another one of the writers. Shay wheels on down to the play area; a multicolored spherical painting on the ground. Splashes of earthly hues against black. Some fancy chairs are setup in a deliberate circle. Can’t get that image out of my head. Even after the run through had ended, and the QA over the vividness of those colors remained.
We take our seats. Slowly the rest of the team trickle in. Across from us sits Yolanda Bonnell. Creator, and sole performer in bug. Bonnell is surprisingly militant. Something about in the introduction of herself. Welcoming us into the space, but urgent in a way that cuts through the bullshit. On whim I break protocol and go for the deep dive. “Why this show, now?”
Brochures for the show are of Bonnell’s limbs twisted and extended supplicating to the world. “heartbreaking” being a recurring word reviews of the show on the web. “Native women are the strongest on earth. We have to be.” Stage manager Ashley Bomberry nods vigorously. They share another look and a laugh.
Right before we started our run, one of the white people in the café told her she “speaks well English.” Then went on to inquire she was, “Native”. After Bomberry confirmed that fact, the white patron commented on how impressive that was. ”speaks, well, that’s not even proper grammar” she snaps. We all laugh.
Bonnell muses on whether or not her size led to her run at Stratford, then dismisses the thought. Reiterates for us, and herself that her talent and acting are what led to her success. Of little girls with shapes like hers coming to her they loved the show.
There’s an open invitation for local Indigenous youth to perform as the show tours. The company runs a free storytelling workshops and incorporates them into the pieces intro. Plus, there’s a discount for those same kids and the otherwise financially inaccessible show.
Fiery eyes, Bonnell leans forward to answer my question. “why now?” I’d actually prefaced it with “this might be an obvious question.” Because I navigate under the white gaze to some degree. The formality of an interview scenario imposing certain guidelines when it comes to telling our stories. Of having to break it down to the level of “so there’s this thing called oppression” when explaining the plight of Indigenous folk.
You see they’re killing Aboriginal women. And nobody seems to care. There is a cyclical nature to the suffering. So many of the scenes to be appear the same violence with different faces; a painful metaphor for how intergenerational these things are.
Growing up where I did, I recognized a lot my neighbors; families who I knew. My colonial bias. For someone else seeing the show they will their actual families.
These two audiences representative of the struggle between colonial theatre vs indigenous storytelling. This is an authentic story, on a big mainstream platform. The creators themselves acknowledging that balancing act.
bug challenging us to consider our complicity in these destructive cycles. About whose stories receive attention. Get that money, stack it. Give it to your people. A standard for how to work; demand for a certain number of people of color.
Healers available for smudging after the how. Material may be triggering to say the leastest. That level of attention to taking care of the audience. As Bonnell put it, “if we put that kind of material out there, we have to be responsible for how it affects people.”
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