The Georgia Straight

Morag OWUKECN KU ƒEVKQP [GV it’s rooted in ancestral reality

- By Charlie Smith

There’s a popular PBS show called Finding Your Roots, in which historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps his guests learn about their genealogy through old newspaper clippings, government records, and DNA samples.

Vancouver theatre artist and musician Claire Love Wilson took a different approach. Several years ago, she decided to move to Glasgow to fulfill a personal desire to learn more about her grandmothe­r, whose death had remained a taboo topic within her family.

The result of that voyage of self-discovery is Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, an experiment­al musical performed by Wilson, who cowrote it with director Peter Lorenz. The other cast members are Steve Charles, Rob Thomson, Sally Zori, and Dennis Joseph, with Zori providing musical direction and Thomson overseeing sound design.

“The seed of it is an ancestral search that is based on a true story but lives in a fictional world in the piece,” Love Wilson tells the Straight by phone. “It’s not an autobiogra­phical piece.”

Love Wilson’s lead character, Sam, discovers a love letter from her grandmothe­r Morag, which is comprised of lyrics from Scottish ballads. With a piano that Sam inherited from Morag, she embarks on a musical storytelli­ng journey with the help of an electronic looping device. Along the way, Sam ponders whether Morag had a queer love affair that she remained silent about. And Sam uses her creativity to feel what her grandmothe­r’s life might have been like.

“There’s this energy that Morag has,” Love Wilson continues. “Like, what happens when we sing into those silences? What happens when we imagine into those silences?”

Love Wilson’s queer identity was already well establishe­d before she went to Scotland. And she has often wondered if she had queer ancestors.

“I certainly haven’t been told about any of them,” Love Wilson says.

This story didn’t emerge quickly. She spent five years in discussion with Lorenz, often over long distances, because he’s based in Germany. There were three inperson developmen­t periods, with two of them in Scotland.

Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid touches on serious topics, like mental illness, but Love Wilson emphasizes that the music is often very uplifting. In the past, she was mentored in Scottish balladry by musicians Alasdair Roberts and Rory Comerford, who shares the compositio­ns and arrangemen­ts credit with Love Wilson.

She once attended a workshop led by director, dramaturge, and writer Diane Roberts, where Love Wilson was guided to connect directly with an ancestor through a facilitate­d embodiment process.

Love Wilson is keen to tell the story in a manner that respects Indigenous traditions. This meant bringing on elder Xwechtaal (Dennis Joseph) of the Squamish Nation to offer cultural leadership and expertise on cultural protocols in the final developmen­t process.

She acknowledg­es that Indigenous faculty members at UBC had a profound impact on her worldview as she was studying for a degree in Indigenous studies and creative arts. In particular, she cites Daniel Heath Justice—a member of the Cherokee Nation who focuses on human kinship and Indigenous belonging—for nudging her to look toward her own ancestors. “The whole degree drove home the importance of ancestral knowledge and intergener­ational connection,” Love Wilson says. g

Touchstone Theatre presents the world premiere of Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid from June 9 to 19 at the Russian Hall. The opening takes place on June 10.

 ?? Photo by Sewari Campillo. ?? In Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, Rory Comerford (left) shares compositio­ns and arrangemen­ts credit with Claire Love Wilson; Rob Thomson is the sound designer.
Photo by Sewari Campillo. In Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, Rory Comerford (left) shares compositio­ns and arrangemen­ts credit with Claire Love Wilson; Rob Thomson is the sound designer.

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