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Farcical play coming to Nanaimo imagines developers pitching Indigenous theme park

‘The Berlin Blues’ will be staged at the OV Arts Centre from May 25-27
Ali Scott, left to right, Damon Mitchell, Daniel Puglas and Jesse Wilson as they rehearse at the Nanaimo Association for Community Living on May 4 for Reconciliation Theatre’s upcoming production ‘The Berlin Blues’ at the OV Arts Centre, showing May 25-27. (Mandy Moraes/News Bulletin)

An Indigenous-focused theatre company will bring to life the struggle of maintaining cultural identity when faced with people who “just want to help.”

Last summer, Reconciliation Theatre’s inaugural production saw the portrayal of a dysfunctional dynamic between two estranged brothers in Sam Shepard’s True West. This year, the theatre company will confront the practice of profiting off of romanticized Indigenous culture.

While the topic alone is worth lengthy discussion, Drew Hayden Taylor humorously highlights the notion’s absurdity in his play The Berlin Blues, in which a fictional Anishinaabe community is approached by a German consortium that hopes to provide the community with financial self-sufficiency by building an Indigenous-themed amusement park – including a dream catcher made of “interconnected laser beams.”

“It’s just a generally funny concept,” said Daniel Puglas, co-founder of Reconciliation Theatre. “Taylor did his proper research … Germans really do idolize Indigenous culture … They just take it in a really bad way.”

Puglas, who also plays Andrew Kakina in the production, continued to say the idea of “the Indian” is based in sentimentalism propelled by stereotypes seen in television shows and movies.

“It’s fun to see how wild the ideas get… the genuine misconception… For example, two characters have a conversation where they’re talking about birch bark biting as artwork, and one character completely romanticized the fact that the other character goes out and just bites trees for the sake of biting trees,” he said. “And I don’t know… I’ve never just bitten a tree before. Have you bitten a tree?”

“Can’t say that I have,” said Damon Mitchell, who plays the alleged “tree biter,” Trailer.

In playing the German developer Birgit Heinze, Lisa Rokeby said the script also illustrates cultural homogenization by amalgamating “anything and everything to do with any Indigenous culture,” regardless of appropriation.

“Like modern colonialism… these two Germans really believes that if they make the community wealthy, all their problems will go away,” added artistic director and co-founder Tom Rokeby. “There are some things that Birgit does that you could see someone doing 200 years ago. It’s the same mentality.”

Lisa agreed, and said her character is the one most settlers would likely relate to. “We are constantly doing things that Birgit is doing, and thinking that we’re helping and that we’re part of the solution. But it’s creating so much more harm,” she said.

And although the play tackles cross-cultural stereotypes, Puglas said the whole point of Reconciliation Theatre is to present productions through a reconciliation lens, which may make some audience members uneasy.

“Guaranteed, there’s going to be some settlers out there that are either uncomfortable with what we’re doing, or don’t understand what we’re doing,” he said. “And they might try to call us out. And, well, forgive my language, but [expletive] them… If they don’t like it, they don’t like it.”

The artistic director reiterated the importance of understanding that not all Indigenous stories are sad or framed by residential school and intergenerational trauma, and that through farcical storytelling and well-rounded characters, the playwright celebrates the time-honoured tradition of internalized cultural satirization.

“Segregation doesn’t serve art. It really just keeps it boring and stale and stagnant,” he added.

Reconciliation Theatre, which is now a registered society, will bring stagings of The Berlin Blues to Qualicum, Stz’uminus, Quw’utsun and tentatively Snaw-Naw-As First Nations. Rokeby, also a Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustee, said there are plans to bring the show to several secondary schools as well.

Looking to the near future, the theatre company is working on a co-production with Victoria’s Langham Court Theatre for stagings in late June or early July.

“To someone like me who has been reading these plays for years, I know some of Canada’s most amazing playwrights are telling Indigenous stories, and I think mainstream society is starting to pick up on it,” Rokeby said.

The Berlin Blues will show at the OV Arts Centre on Victoria Road from May 25–27 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased online through

Further information on Reconciliation Theatre can be found on the society’s Facebook page.

READ MORE: Indigenous-focused Nanaimo theatre company getting ready to stage ‘True West’

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Mandy Moraes

About the Author: Mandy Moraes

I joined Black Press Media in 2020 as a multimedia reporter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, and transferred to the News Bulletin in 2022
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