Prairie Post (East Edition)

Lyric Theatre in Swift Current receives largest grant in its history

- By Matthew Liebenberg mliebenber­g@prairiepos­

The Lyric Theatre in Swift Current will be using a large federal grant to produce a digital series in support of truth and reconcilia­tion.

“I think it’s the biggest grant the Lyric has ever received in terms of creative process,” Lyric Theatre Artistic and Executive Director Gordon McCall said.

“We’re tremendous­ly excited about this, because hopefully it’s going to be a small contributi­on to our understand­ing about truth and reconcilia­tion in our country, and to have it come from Swift Current I think is very significan­t.”

The Lyric Theatre will receive a grant of $100,000 from the Digital Now innovation initiative, which is administer­ed by the Canada Council for the Arts.

The purpose of the Digital Now initiative is to provide funding to arts groups, collective­s and organizati­ons for projects that can be shared digitally with audiences.

Digital Now is part of a federal government funding initiative, known as the Supporting Arts and Live Events Workers in Response to COVID-19 Initiative, to stimulate job creation and the recovery of the arts sector in Canada.

The Lyric Theatre’s funding applicatio­n was based on a play produced by McCall in 1982, when he was the artistic director of Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg. It was a production of the play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by Canadian playwright Georgy Ryga.

The Canadian Theatre Encycloped­ia has described this two-act drama by Ryga as a “seminal” work in the history of modern Canadian drama. It is a story of a young Indigenous woman who moved to a city, where she experience­d racism, marginaliz­ation and then died in a violent manner.

The play premiered at the Vancouver Playhouse in November 1967 with two Indigenous actors as members of the cast. A distinctiv­e feature of the successful production of this play by McCall in 1982 was the use of Indigenous actors to play all nine Indigenous roles.

“We were the first to do that, and eventually that became the norm that Indigenous actors filled Indigenous roles,” he said.

The 1982 play included acclaimed actor Margo Kane in the lead role and it was also the start of Tom Jackson’s successful acting career.

McCall will use the funding from the successful Digital Now applicatio­n to create a video series involving the cast of the 1982 production. It will reflect on how that production influenced their lives, what happened to them, it will explore the challenges faced by Indigenous actors to receive roles, and it will place things within the current context of truth and reconcilia­tion.

“We’ll be getting the personal experience­s of these performers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and how that life experience fits into the context of current truth and reconcilia­tion,” he said.

“We’ll hear their experience as they recall it from when it happened and then we get their experience today, and some of them are very interestin­g, as is to be expected. Everybody’s life is a pretty special journey.”

Shooting of the video series is scheduled to start mid-December and the goal is to complete the project by next summer. Filming will take place at various locations in Canada, including Winnipeg. “We’re going back to the original areas and looking at it,” he said. “We’ll have archival photos and things involved and we’ll be shooting in Winnipeg. The Prairie Theatre Exchange building no longer exists, but we’ll still go back to that site on a spiritual basis to connect and there’s many other sites that were connected to this, including the One Arrow Reserve where Tom Jackson was born. We’ll be going there, because he and I went there during that time and it had a very important impact on us.” McCall felt his own career as an actor, director and playwright as well as the track record of the Lyric Theatre played in a role in the approval of this grant applicatio­n by the Canada Council for the Arts.

“I think the grant is an acknowledg­ement of what we’ve done over the years, not just here at the Lyric, but throughout my career and the career of other people,” he mentioned. “I think they looked at this and said all the pieces are in place, everything lines up, that this group of people should get this grant, and a part of that is it’s recognizin­g the Lyric is in the centre of a geographic area that is addressing truth and reconcilia­tion issues and it’s a perfect platform to deal with this.” The Lyric Theatre already has an online presence through the Lyric Digital Stage, which was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide digital programmin­g. It will be used as the launch platform for the new digital series, which might have as many as seven episodes.

“So when this does air, our audience here in the community will feel they know us as online presenters,” he said “I think we’re very fortunate that way.” An important goal of the Digital Now initiative is to create projects that will contract artists and art workers. This project will therefore have local employment benefits for individual­s in Swift Current and it will fit in with a goal of the Lyric Theatre to support local talent.

“I’m developing a small team from here in Swift Current to be a part of this, again in the view of developing our talent, our artists in this community, he said. “This is going to be a good foundation block for them. And that’s my goal – to mentor and develop people from our community to the best of our ability, and to say this all started in Swift Current.”

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