ARTS

Drew Hay­den Tay­lor talks about Only Drunks and Chil­dren Tell the Truth, and the story of adop­tion now hit­ting head­lines

The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

Drew Hay­den Tay­lor wasn’t think­ing the Six­ties Scoop when he wrote Only Drunks and Chil­dren Tell the Truth, but it’s there.

It’s no mys­tery to Drew Hay­den Tay­lor why Only Drunks and Chil­dren Tell the Truth, first pro­duced in 1998, re­mains the most pop­u­lar of his plays: the story it tells is as rel­e­vant now as ever.

It’s a story of fam­ily. It’s a story of loss. It’s a story of truth, and of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Most in­ti­mately, it’s the story of Jan­ice, an adopted Indige­nous woman who has found eco­nomic suc­cess but not hap­pi­ness in Toronto, and her blood sis­ter Barb, who man­aged to stay with her birth mother in Ot­ter Lake, an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity that bears more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance to Hay­den Tay­lor’s home re­serve. And, most press­ingly, it’s a story about the “’60s scoop”, in which Canada’s pa­ter­nal­is­tic govern­ment re­moved tens of thou­sands of Indige­nous chil­dren from their birth fam­i­lies and gave them to strangers—mostly white strangers—to raise.

Even in Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, the con­se­quences of the scoop are not fully un­der­stood, Hay­den Tay­lor says. “When I wrote the play,” he ex­plains on his cell­phone from Toronto, “I was sur­prised to dis­cover about the scoop-up. I had no real knowl­edge of it, but I had been dat­ing a woman who had been adopted, and I had many friends in the Na­tive com­mu­nity who had been adopted, and I was sort of un­con­sciously aware of a lot of adopted Na­tive peo­ple who I kept run­ning across in my trav­els—dis­pro­por­tion­ately more than in the non-na­tive com­mu­nity.”

Once Hay­den Tay­lor started re­search­ing the play, he soon found out why.

“It as­tounded me,” he says. “I thought ‘Why don’t I know this? Why don’t most peo­ple know this?’ So I thought ‘Maybe I’ll deal with it by writ­ing a short story,’ which was on the front page of the Globe and Mail on Christ­mas 1990. Then I adapted it into a play called Some­day, which was very suc­cess­ful, and then I wrote a se­quel to it called Only Drunks and Chil­dren Tell the Truth.”

In 2005, 400 Kilo­me­tres com­pleted the tril­ogy, but Only Drunks and Chil­dren re­mains Hay­den Tay­lor’s most pro­duced script. This year alone, it’s been staged in Kam­loops and Gananoque, On­tario; a mount­ing has just opened in Thun­der Bay; and the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre’s new ver­sion opens this week. (In­trigu­ingly, Columpa C. Bobb, who played Barb in the Fire­hall’s 1998 pro­duc­tion, is back, this time to di­rect.)

Has Hay­den Tay­lor had to adapt his script to chang­ing times?

“No,” he says, with a mix­ture of pride and re­gret. “The script holds to­gether re­mark­ably well. It doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly dated; it still deals with rel­e­vant is­sues and the emo­tions in­volved. It’s still quite in the now. The only thing I no­ticed when I was watch­ing it re­cently is that I used the word In­dian a bit more fre­quently than I would to­day.

“I mean, things have changed a cer­tain ex­tent,” he says. “There’s the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age that’s be­ing given to some adoptees.…but, still, an apol­ogy and money doesn’t make ev­ery­thing go away. You’re still deal­ing with the in­ter­gen­er­a­tional ef­fects of it. It had much the same ef­fect as the res­i­den­tial schools: you had an en­tire gen­er­a­tion

re­moved from their cul­ture, from their fam­ily, from know­ing who they are and where they came from.”

This was not Hay­den Tay­lor’s ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever. The fairhaired, blue-eyed play­wright of­ten jokes that his mixed Ojibwa and Cau­casian her­itage makes him “an Oc­ca­sion”, but is just as quick to point out that he grew up and still lives on the Curve Lake re­serve, near Peter­bor­ough, On­tario.

“I never knew my fa­ther, who was my white half,” he says. “I was raised by my mother, on the re­serve, sur­rounded by an ab­so­lutely huge ex­tended fam­ily, so for all in­tents and pur­poses I was raised Anishin­abe.”

It’s that sense of com­mu­nity, he adds, not any ex­pe­ri­ence of loss, that made him a writer. “Dur­ing the sum­mer my grand­par­ents would have these huge bon­fires where all our ex­tended fam­ily and friends would come over, and they’d sit around the bon­fire, telling funny sto­ries. And when it was time for me to go to bed, I’d go home and I would go to sleep still hear­ing the funny sto­ries be­ing told—and the laugh­ter per­me­ated my un­con­scious and my sub­con­scious to the point that I found my­self want­ing to share and tell hu­mor­ous, funny sto­ries, from and about the peo­ple I grew up with.

“That was one of the strong­est in­flu­ences I had in my de­vel­op­ment as a writer,” he adds. “I went from be­ing a camp­fire sto­ry­teller to a con­tem­po­rary sto­ry­teller, which in­volves telling sto­ries for the stage, for the screen, and for the page.”

At the mo­ment, Hay­den Tay­lor is “23,000 words into” a First Na­tions hor­ror novel that draws on tra­di­tional Ojibwa sto­ries of a ma­lign for­est mon­ster, the wendigo. The Na­tional Arts Cen­tre has re­cently pre­miered Sir John: Acts of a Gen­tri­fied Ojib­way Re­bel­lion, which ex­am­ines Canada’s first prime min­is­ter, John A. Macdon­ald, from a First Na­tions per­spec­tive. And he’s hard at work on a new play for Toronto’s Tar­ragon The­atre, Cot­tagers and In­di­ans, which looks at set­tler re­sis­tance to the re­plant­ing of the wild rice plants that once fed his an­ces­tors—and an en­tire ecosys­tem.

Se­ri­ous top­ics all, but not so se­ri­ous that, like Only Drunks and Chil­dren Tell the Truth, they don’t tell their hard truths with con­sid­er­able warmth.

“I re­mem­ber hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one from the Blood re­serve in Al­berta who told me that, in his opin­ion, hu­mour is the WD40 of heal­ing,” Hay­den Tay­lor says. “I thought that was so cool it was al­most T-shirt–wor­thy. So that’s sort of be­come my per­sonal mantra: I want to cel­e­brate the Indige­nous sense of hu­mour.”

When they’re not do­ing the cha-cha, lo­cal Latin ball­room mas­ters and Snow­ball Clas­sic com­peti­tors Zika Tra­jkovic and Scar­lett Li­aifer are cram­ming for ex­ams.

When he wrote the play, Drew Hay­den Tay­lor says he was sur­prised to dis­cover the scoop-up of Indige­nous chil­dren and wanted to let peo­ple know about it.

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