Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Indigenous History and Climate Change Explored in Stratford's 'The Breathing Hole'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Indigenous History and Climate Change Explored in Stratford's 'The Breathing Hole'

Article excerpt

Indigenous history explored in 'The Breathing Hole'


STRATFORD, Ont. - Reneltta Arluk wanted to acknowledge the origins of the story told in her Stratford Festival production "The Breathing Hole," so the director took the project to the North.

Consultations and workshops were held with Qaggiavuut, a Nunavut-based performing arts society, to ensure the play was inclusive and reflective of the Inuit community.

"It was tough, to be honest, because it was reconciliation," said Arluk. "(Colleen Murphy) has written this play with all of these Inuit people in it. And how do you navigate what is authenticity and what is not? And that's what we went up there to do. ... That land has to hear the stories that inspired it.

"When you put Indigenous people onstage, Indigenous people sit in the audience, too," she added. "And if they feel like something isn't ringing true it takes them out of the story."

"The Breathing Hole" centres on the 500-year saga of a polar bear named Angu'juaq, which translates to "a big man" in Inuktitut. Audiences follow Angu'juaq from birth in an Inuit community in 1534 to an encounter in 1832 with English explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew.

The journey continues through to the 21st century, looking at the lives of a biologist and security guard working for an oil company, and a future devastated by global warming.

While Angu'juaq is a focal point, Arluk said both she and Murphy wanted to emphasize the toll drastic environmental change has on individuals.

"One of things that Colleen talks about is that people don't connect the Arctic to people," she said.

"It is Inuit that is feeling the impact of climate change because of the gases, chemicals that go up, because of how pollutants travel to the North. But people will get behind the endangered species of a polar bear rather than really look at how a whole society or a whole community are affected by climate change."

Inuk actor Johnny Issaluk valued the opportunity to give voice to his community in his theatrical debut. …

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