Tonight I witnessed the first of the three performances of Encounters at the “Edge of the Woods” being presented at Hart House Theatre, a Storyweaving project in association with Hart House’s 100th Anniversary. This is a worthy vehicle to commemorate a site that is arguably the cradle of Canadian theatre, a place pre-dating Stratford or Shaw, as noted by Professor Jill Carter in the talkback session afterwards.
It’s both a collective creation and a pedagogical experience for the participants.
I found myself bemused by the recognition that this was theatre when it was also clearly a kind of testimony, each person bringing their own life-stories to be honed & assembled by their Professor Jill Carter: their instructor, director, curator and perhaps also mentor.
Last week I was in Stratford for one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, yet that was unmistakeably theatre, as we watched actors moving, their wheels turning in their heads as they prepared to deliver a line. It was a piece of art.
This was not freighted with that virtuoso polish, and as a result what we got was much more genuine. Often the delivery was leavened with irony & humour, but sometimes we were in the realm of the confession.
This was 100% authentic and real.
If you’ve been observing the ongoing conversation around reconciliation with our Indigenous populations, you’ll be aware of such things as the recent controversy about the use of the word ”genocide” in the report following the national inquiry into missing & murdered Indigenous women & girls; I wonder if you share my discomfort at this response? surely the word is used correctly. Quibbling over the word adds insult to injury. When we talk about the residential schools, I hope there’s no controversy in calling it cultural genocide, when we remember that children were forcibly taken from their families and force-fed another culture while stripping away their own languages. That “G” word reared its controversial head again tonight. The sadness & anger that we glimpsed were balanced by other feelings, including celebration, appreciation, and some gentle ceremonial moments. I can’t claim to be average, but I believe that for those of us who think of ourselves as allies, an experience like the one I had tonight is very inspiring, very cathartic. I was thinking of how even if one goes to church one doesn’t expect salvation from one trip, but rather from a lifetime of prayer & practice, of thoughtful reflection and careful action. Perhaps works like this can also serve that ritual function, to take us through darkness towards something like reconciliation.
Let me set the content question aside, to properly acknowledge what Jill accomplished with her team of students & collaborators. There were no performances that did not persuade me, indeed they didn’t seem like performances at all. This felt genuine rather than artificial, like a celebration. My admiration for what Jill achieved increased after I heard about the process in the talk-back session. It was a very passionate exchange, with Jill at times so moved as to be unable to speak as she expressed her gratitude. And indeed many of us were tearing up as we listened to her.
I won’t mention any performers except to remark upon the excellence of what we saw, the commitment & the vulnerability. As a regular observer & participant in student theatre over decades, I was blown away tonight by what I saw.
There are two more performances on Saturday September 7th. For further information or for tickets click here.