Shakespeare meets Indigenous cultures in Pawâkan Macbeth

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PREVIEW
Pawâkan Macbeth: A Cree Tragedy
Akpik Theatre and Theatre Prospero Production
Nov. 23 to 26
ATB Financial Arts Barns
Westbury Theatre
10330 – 84 Ave.
Tickets: $25 adults, $14 students. Call 780-409-1910  or visit http://www.tickets.fringetheatre.ca

Shakespeare’s plays are some of the most malleable on the planet, easily adapted to every era and culture. Written by the first Indigenous woman to direct at Stratford Festival, Pawâkan Macbeth features a cast of 11 Cree actors including Theron Auigbelle from Alexander Reserve.

Playwright Reneltta Arluk, artistic director of Akpik Theatre, in a co-production with Theatre Prospero, mounts the Edmonton premiere of this ground-breaking production at the ATB Financial Arts Barns for a short four-day run from Nov. 23 to 26.

Two years ago Arluk,  an Inuvialuit, Cree and Dene playwright, was the artist-in-residence at Theatre Prospero, an Edmonton-based company that performs classical theatre. As part of the residency program Arluk was asked to go to Frog Lake and adapt The Tempest for audiences.

“The drama teacher at Frog Lake said students couldn’t connect with The Tempest. But they could connect with Macbeth – the idea of greed. Macbeth was very greedy, his hunger for power, his hunger to be king,” said Arluk, now the newly appointed Director of Indigenous Arts at Banff Centre.

Set throughout the 1870s in Plains Cree territory, Pawâkan MacBeth takes place before the First Nation reserve system was established. It was a time of upheaval that involves the Cree, Nakoda and Blackfoot nations warring against each other as well as with the Canadian government over territory, food and trade.

“Indian agents were coming to take control. There had been a smallpox epidemic, but the buffalo were still here,” said Arluk.

Arluk discovered similarities between the old Scottish warrior clans and the Cree-Blackfoot battles over a century-long war for the same turf. As in Macbeth, Arluk used the harsh environment created by fear and starvation to dramatize the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition and self-seeking power struggles.

Inspired by stories from elders at Frog Lake, Arluk positions the Cree and Nakoda against the Blackfoot Macikosisân (Macbeth), a great warrior who is consumed by the fear-mongering cannibal spirit Wihitko.

Eaten up by ambition Macikosisân plots with Kâwanihot Iskwew (Lady Macbeth), to murder Chief Okimâw Wîpâstim (King Duncan). Pawâkan Macbeth takes audiences on an odyssey through love, greed, honour and betrayal.

Although the script follows the original Macbeth’s structure, there are also differences. In Pawâkan Macbeth, the three witches are replaced by coyote howlers which hold the power that Macikosisân desires.

However, a sense of unification is at the heart of this production.

“This is at a time of reconciliation. We should be telling our own stories, but I am also curious to converge our stories with Shakespeare. It creates discussion as two communities work together. It creates conversation. We can’t move forward if we don’t start talking together. We have to ask, ‘What do we do now? Where do we go next?'”

 

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Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.