JUMBLIES THEATRE, TORONTO
Treaties are a contentious topic. Talking Treaties, a participatory performance project made by Ange Loft, together with Jumblies Theatre, the Nagamo Collective and First Story Toronto, takes on the subject through an embodied and collaborative process, using interviews, audio responses and symbolic references to connect the dots. Loft describes it as a “humongous installation that moves the way a giant puppet show would, with promenade-style staging.” “This project is an experiment in getting people to talk about treaty without having to have all the words,” says Loft, who works alongside communities in her non-standard theatre-making practice.
Talking Treaties uses audio interviews as a base to get people to participate in quick-creation performance workshops. To prepare these interviews, the team worked with First Story Toronto, an Aboriginal organization and app. They interviewed seven (mostly Indigenous) artists and academics about overarching themes in treaty and their understanding of such themes. Audio artists—including Alaska B, Adrienne Marcus Raja and the band Lal—went through the collected interviews to make four five-minutelong audio galleries. Loft then collected a second set of interviews with former Toronto mayor David Miller and the Mississaugas of the New Credit, who were involved in a 2010 land-claims settlement.
Loft says that a treaty can be a “pre-contact verbal agreement with some sort of mnemonic device” or, “thinking of the Treaty of Niagara and the Royal Proclamation, it can be an attempt by an English general to bring some Indigenous practice into sharing a proclamation from the Crown.” She explains, “We’re spinning something from English language into symbols, with the understanding that we have to come back to polish this chain.”
The four audio pieces have been touring academic institutions. “Every word and image we get back in response to these audio pieces,” says Loft, “become active parts in the continuation of process. We string together narratives from interview audio and those feed into the scripts for the next group.”
This iterative research feeds into the many theatrical workshops, which, in turn, will culminate in a massive spectacle—with live performers and puppets—set to premiere at Historic Fort York in late June. Loft admits that it took more than three years before she herself was comfortable voicing some of the project’s short narratives. Of her aims for Talking Treaties she says, “I am not helping people be literate in
treaty. What I am doing is providing them another platform for speaking about these things. We are edging people in through soft-response activities, using little ways to start from your own position, not from assuming someone else’s position, then working out from there to address uncomfortable issues.” —MOE CLARK
Audio gallery at George Brown College as part of Ange Loft’s Talking Treaties, 2015 COURTESY JUMBLIES THEATRE PHOTO LIAM COO