Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Adapting "Le Grand Will" in Wendake: Ex Machina and the Huron-Wendat Nation's la Tempete

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Adapting "Le Grand Will" in Wendake: Ex Machina and the Huron-Wendat Nation's la Tempete

Article excerpt

In 2009, Konrad Sioui, Grand Chief of the Huron-Wendat Nation in Wendake, Quebec, decided that the province's recent 400th anniversary marked the right time to organize an event between First Nations peoples, Quebecois, and Canadians acknowledging the country's colonial past. Initially, he proposed a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the seminal conflict in which British forces defeated French and Indigenous soldiers to conquer New France. Due to threats of violence from extreme separatist groups in Quebec, though, the performance was cancelled. Undeterred, Sioui proposed a symbolic ceremony on the Plains of Abraham; he envisioned a diverse gathering of Canadians to literally bury hatchets and sign friendship treaties (Boivin). Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois responded by calling on Ottawa to surrender the Plains to Quebec (Dougherty) and proposed a debate on the meaning of the historic battle instead. While independent artists eventually organized a twenty-four hour spoken-word festival on the Plains, a separatist doctrine read at the event caused tempers to flare. (2) Ultimately, Sioui's vision of a reconciliatory gathering failed to materialize. Two years later, however, through the pairing of the Huron-Wendat Nation and the Quebecois theatre company Ex Machina, helmed by director Robert Lepage, (3) a French language production of The Tempest recognizing colonialism's repercussions for Indigenous peoples took centre stage at the Wendake amphitheatre. Drawing from my experience attending La Tempete's invited dress rehearsal on 1 July 2011, as well as interviews with members of the production team, reviews and scholarly assessments of the work, this article posits that the Wendake Tempete featured instances of progressive interculturalism.

Inspired by Joseph Legare's painting of the English actor Edmund Kean performing Shakespeare soliloquys in nineteenth-century Wendake and the bond Kean subsequently formed with members of the Huron-Wendat Nation, (4) the Ex Machina/Huron-Wendat production of La Tempete endeavoured to forge an alliance between First Nations people and Quebecois artists (Isabelle). Staged on the Huron-Wendat reserve outside Quebec City, the production brought together Ex Machina's creative team and a group of ten First Nations artists, among them Innu singer Kathia Rock (Ariel), Metis actor Marco Poulin (Caliban) and the Sandokwa Dance Troupe, (5) composed of seven Huron-Wendat adults and children, including the troupe leader Steeve Gros-Louis, who also played Alphonse. (6) This article examines how La Tempete fostered moments of productive interculturalism both on stage and off through what I have termed scenographic dramaturgy. By this I mean Robert Lepage's process of scenic re-"writing" that responds to the evocative potential of individual performer bodies and a production's given physical location to craft a postdramatic adaptation rooted in highly physical and visual performance text. By overwriting The Tempest's island setting with the socio-political context of New France in 1608, La Tempete reconfigured power structures to re-envision Shakespeare's text. I recognize that the production's use of a colonial setting was in no way a trailblazing strategy (7) and that La Tempete did not entirely escape the problematic politics of representation that have marked Ex Machina's past productions. (8) However, my primary focus is on how Lepage responded to his First Nations partners and the surrounding environment to collaboratively craft scenographic dramaturgy that gestured towards recognizing the repercussions of colonialism. In a province where cultural protectionism has led to xenophobic policies, (9) La Tempete's burgeoning yet flawed interculturalism merits investigation.

This essay begins with a brief outline of the central fields driving my analysis: intercultural theory, scenographic dramaturgy, postcolonial theory, and postdramatic adaptation. A survey of early contact-themed Shakespeare productions in Canada will follow, highlighting some of the potential traps of staging postcolonial interpretations, including power imbalances among intercultural collaborators and reductionist portrayals of difference. …

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