in­dige­nous take on shake­spearean clas­sic on ed­mon­ton stage

StarMetro Edmonton - - Front Page - Kashmala Fida

A new adap­ta­tion of Mac­beth com­bines Cree cul­ture and the Shake­spearean clas­sic into Pawâkan Mac­beth: A Cree Tragedy.

Set in 1870s Plains Cree ter­ri­tory “in a time of great un­cer­tainty, time of war­fare, time of hunger,” where Maciko­sisân (Mac­beth) gets con­sumed by the can­ni­bal spirit Wi­htiko. He then plots with Kâwani­hot Iskwew (Lady Mac­beth) to kill their Chief — who also hap­pens to be his cousin.

Co-di­rected by Mark Hen­der­son, from Ed­mon­ton-based The­atre Pros­pero, and Berry Bilin­sky from Akpik The­atre, the play is writ­ten by Inu­vialuit, Cree and Dene play­wright Reneltta Ar­luk.

It was in­spired by a teacher at Chief Napeweaw Com­pre­hen­sive School in Frog Lake First Na­tion, who told Hen­der­son how his class drew par­al­lels from Mac­beth and an evil leg­end called Witchito, a can­ni­bal spirit which gets hun­grier the more it eats.

“It’s fas­ci­nat­ing that there are many places in it where it’s very much like the Shake­speare play,” Hen­der­son said. “Then some places where it di­verges in terms of what hap­pens but not in terms of the images, not in terms of the es­sen­tials.”

Hen­der­son said the Lady Mac­beth fig­ure is more com­plex in this adap­ta­tion than the Shake­speare orig­i­nal. Other dif­fer­ences in­clude the re­place­ment of witches with trick­sters. The lan­guage is part Shake­spearean, part Cree.

“It takes it away from be­ing just an­other ren­di­tion of this play,” said Bilin­sky. “Look­ing at it from a Cree lens or in that world and ac­tu­ally putting it into the hands of Cree artists and In­dige­nous artists, I think that’s a big shift in the way we have been do­ing it.”

The ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in­volved in the play are In­dige­nous, Cree, Metis or Dene. The 12 per­form­ers are all In­dige­nous.

Hen­der­son said they also in­vited elders to tell them sto­ries of Witchito to in­cor­po­rate into the play.

“The ex­pe­ri­ence was very in­spir­ing,” he said. “Given that that’s what those In­dige­nous stu­dents and that In­dige­nous school wanted to do, given that the elders there were in sup­port of it. We em­braced it and we went for­ward with it.”

Bilin­sky said through­out the en­tire play, from talk­ing to elders to hav­ing an all-In­dige­nous cast, they have been look­ing at do­ing things ap­pro­pri­ately for this play.

“I think that is a huge el­e­ment in look­ing at how we can move for­ward do­ing In­dige­nous work.”

The play opens at the ATB Fi­nan­cial Arts Barns the­atre on Nov. 23 and runs till Nov. 26.

Putting it into the hands of Cree artists ... i think that’s a big shift in the way we have been do­ing it. Berry Bilin­sky

KashMala Fida/MEtro

Pawâkan Mac­beth: A Cree Tragedy, where Kâwani­hot Iskwew (Lady Mac­beth) is sum­mon­ing the Wi­htiko for her husband Maciko­sisân (Mac­beth).

Kashmala Fida/metro

A scene from Pawâkan Mac­beth: A Cree Tragedy with Maciko­sisân (Mac­beth) with Kâwani­hot iskwew (Lady Mac­beth).

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