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Western Edge Theatre’s New Waves Festival returns with all-Indigenous lineup

Plays to be staged in-person throughout February after going virtual in 2021
Oliver, played by Damon Mitchell, argues with aunt Charlotte and cousin May, played by Susan Warner and Talela Manson (from left), in their motel room following a funeral during rehearsals for ‘Mourning in Rm. 243’ at the OV Arts Centre. The play is one of five featured in Western Edge Theatre’s 2022 New Waves Festival. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)

A Nanaimo theatre festival is back and in-person and offering plays by a quintet of Indigenous playwrights.

Western Edge Theatre’s 2022 New Waves Festival comes to the OV Arts Centre from Feb. 4 to 20. This year’s plays are In a World Created by a Drunken God by Anishinaabe playwright Drew Hayden Taylor, The Unplugging by Algonquin playwright Yvette Nolan, Trying to Keep Up by Nisga’a playwright Castor Angus, Mourning in Rm. 243 by Kwakwaka’wakw playwright Daniel Puglas and Scenes from Nanaimo Indian Hospital by ‘Namgis and Haida playwright Laura Cranmer.

Puglas is also the festival director and an artistic associate with Western Edge. He said the festival is focused on reconciliation.

“Yes, all the plays are definitely written by Indigenous playwrights, but the teams behind everything [are] people who believe in the concept of reconciliation and how we can spread the word about Indigenous culture and storytelling,” he said.

Last year a reading of Puglas’s one-act play, Mourning in Rm. 243, was presented during the New Waves Festival but this is the first time it’s getting a full production. It follows a family returning to its motel room after attending a funeral.

“A lot of unsurfaced feelings start to surface and they start getting into a lot of small arguments and bickering which kind of keeps escalating until it gets to an explosion point,” Puglas said. “I’ve lost a lot of people in my past and this play was kind of my way of trying to deal with the emotions I was feeling at the time.”

Angus is a VIU grad now living in Victoria. His one-act play, Trying to Keep Up, also making its debut, examines the relationship between two young lovers in the past and present. He said he was inspired by his work on a local production of the play Gruesome Playground Injuries, which also followed a couple at different points in their lives.

Angus said it means a lot to be staging the play for the first time, but he added that it will leave him feeling exposed.

“I feel like, as most authors, you put a little bit of yourself into the play, into the characters, into the scenes. So it’s a very vulnerable experience for me usually to see my stuff staged or live,” he said.

Cranmer is presenting a staged reading of her play, Scenes from Nanaimo Indian Hospital. She describes the play as a series of vignettes that focuses on the growing relationship of three little girls at the hospital, who embody and represent the Hul’q’umin’um, NuuChahnulth, and Kwak’wala language groups. The presentation will provide translations via surtitles.

“The play centres primarily on Dorothy, the little girl who is being prepared in the opening scene to be sent to the Nanaimo Indian Hospital,” Cranmer said. “And as the scenes unfold it kind of hints at medical experiments being conducted through the dialogue between the medical authorities and the dialogue between the young patients and staff.”

Cranmer herself attended the hospital when she was six years old and said the play’s eventual production will include a trigger warning for others who share her experience.

“With the imagined reconstruction of the characters, props and settings I give voice to the silences that surrounded the circumstances of my confinement and hereby release the energies that have haunted me all of my life,” she said.

Nolan’s post-apocalyptic play, The Unplugging, will be presented as a “participatory reading,” meaning that audience members will take part in reading the play aloud and the discuss it afterwards. It follows two older women who are banished from their community and turn to traditional knowledge to survive on their own until someone from their community is sent to find them.

“It sounds so bleak but actually it’s quite hopeful and quite funny and it’s about making community,” Nolan said. “To me it was like I had to kind of wipe out most of the world in order to start again in some kind of a hopeful way.”

The theme of returning to traditional knowledge doesn’t only mean Indigenous knowledge. The “unplugging” in the title refers a worldwide power outage that forces people to recall non-technologically reliant ways of living.

“We’ve become so disconnected from what we eat and what we drink and how we heat our houses and this kind of an apocalypse would really force people to focus on the things that are important, like where our food comes from and keeping the water clean,” she said.

Taylor said this is the first time his Governor General’s award-nominated play, In a World Created by a Drunken God, is being staged in B.C. The play is about a man who was raised by his Indigenous mother but never knew his white father. That changes one day when his unknown half-brother arrives asking him to donate a kidney to save their dying father.

Taylor describes it as a discussion about the obligations one has towards one’s family and it’s inspired by his own life. He said “one of the things I do as a writer is frequently I take a page out of my own life and I blow it completely out of proportion.”

“I’m half-native, half-white. I grew up with my mother’s family on the reserve but I have no idea who my father is,” Taylor said. “So I just sort of took that scenario and explored the idea of, what would happen if there was a knock on my door with that social and emotional dilemma?”

WHAT’S ON … Western Edge Theatre’s New Waves Festival comes to the OV Arts Centre, 25 Victoria Rd., from Feb. 4 to 20. For full schedule and to buy tickets, click here.

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