Playwright Explores Identity Through Family

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playwright explores identity through family.jpg“In a

World Created by a Drunken God” made its United States premiere at

Mixed Blood Theater’s “Seconds: A Festival of Readings” on March

15 and 16. The play, written by Canadian playwright, novelist and

filmmaker Drew Hayden Taylor, was nominated for the Governor

General’s Award and was produced in Canada four times since it was

published in 2004.

“This

particular story is a ‘what if’ in my life,” Taylor said. “I grew

up on a reserve with my mother’s family – I’m half Ojibwe. My white

half took off before I was born – I never knew him. So one day, I

thought wouldn’t it be interesting, wouldn’t it be bizarre, if there

was a knock at my door and it was a family member from my father’s

family that I never knew existed or cared about telling me that our

father is dying from chronic renal failure and needs a kidney?”

“In a

World Created by a Drunken God” was directed by Bill Partlan and

starred Jake Waid as Ojibwe character Jason Pierce and Skyler

Nowinski as his white half-brother Harry Dieter. Over the course of

the play, Jason grapples with the dilemma of whether or not he will

give his absent father one of his kidneys. As Harry tries to convince

Jason to give their father the transplant, the two men share stories

about their lives. The play touches on themes of identity, biology

and the complexity of family relationships.

“It’s

basically a discussion about – what are the obligations, if you are

in such a situation?” Taylor said. “Do those few strands of DNA

make you responsible for his life? Or does the fact that he’s a

complete stranger for all intents and purposes mean you have no

obligations? It deals with the moral implications of that.”

As part of

the festival, In a World Created by a Drunken God was put on after

only six days of rehearsal with minimal, set, costume, and lighting

design.

“What

we’re doing now is what I refer to as a showcase production or a

workshop,” the playwright said. “It’s just bare bones production,

basically an opportunity for people to see what it looks like on its

feet.”

“Seconds:

A Festival of Play Readings” features plays that have been produced

at least once before. In addition to “In a World Created by a

Drunken God,” the festival showcased the musical “Cloudlands”

by Octavio Solis and Adam Gwon, “Sheddin’” by Thomas W. Jones, II

and “The Sun Serpent” by Jose Cruz Gonzalez. The festival aims to

introduce these plays to a broader audience, including artistic

directors who may want to make them into full-scale productions in

the future.

According

to a statement by Mixed Blood Theater’s artistic director Jack

Reuler, “so often that world premiere that wasn’t quite done ends

the play’s life after its initial run despite authors who believe

that the best is yet to come. Seconds is our response to that

conundrum: allowing these plays that have had that lone …

production to get that further development, be seen by audiences and

artistic leaders, and get the chance to be tomorrow’s classic.”

Taylor is

interested in sharing his work with American audiences to highlight

the success Native theater has experienced in Canada.

“In

Canada, Native theater is very well-established – it is part of the

mainstream Canadian theater community, whereas in the States, I think

it’s still considered odd, unusual, not really fully understood or

predominant,” Taylor said. “There are many theater companies in

Canada that have the production of one Native play in their mandate.”

The

playwright said that the “contemporary Native theatrical

Renaissance” in Canada began in 1986 with the production of Tomson

Highway’s play “The Rez Sisters.”

“That

basically blew the doors open in the larger Canadian theatrical

community and made it possible for Native people to stand up and tell

their stories,” he said. “It became almost the genre of choice

for expression, because most Native people come from an oral culture,

and theater is using your mind, your body and your voice to tell a

story.”

Taylor

believes that theater is a natural mode of expression for many

Indigenous people because of its link to oral traditions.

“One of

the reasons I think theater is so successful in Canada is that it’s

the next logical progression in oral storytelling,” he said. “I

think it’s just another way of embracing storytelling and taking it

to the next level. We’ve gone from telling stories around the

campfire to telling stories on the stage, the page, and the screen.”

He

believes that the vibrant Native theater movement represents an

evolution in Indigenous modes of storytelling. playwright explores identity through family 2.jpg

“Culture

is constantly evolving – anything that doesn’t evolve stagnates,

dies. So, as Native people, our culture has to evolve and embrace all

the new technologies and all the new ways of expressing and telling

our stories – it’s an organic progression,” Taylor said. “I

remember having a conversation once with a traditional storyteller on

Manitoba Island and she said that we need new stories as much as we

need the old stories.”

Taylor

often doesn’t focus on broad themes or overall take-aways for the

audiences of his plays, but rather focuses on the art of

storytelling.

“My

whole philosophy as a writer is tell an interesting story with

interesting characters that take the audience on an interesting

journey. That is the basis of my entire career,” he said. “When

an audience comes to see my work, I just want them to have a good

time. If it’s a comedy, I want them to laugh and learn to appreciate

the aboriginal sense of humor, because in many cases the dominant

culture seems unaware of Native people in general and the fact that

Native people have a marvelously developed sense of humor.”

Taylor

sees humor as an essential part of what he calls “Indigeneity.”

“I

consider the aboriginal experience to be one that’s a combination of

tragedy and comedy. It’s my firm belief that it’s our sense of humor

that has allowed us to survive 500 years of colonization.”

Aside from

“Seconds: A Festival of Play Readings,” Taylor is currently

working on a musical for the Charlottetown Festival that will merge

science-fiction, fantasy and ecology. In addition to currently

writing several other science-fiction short stories, he is in the

process of editing a book called “Me Artsy,” “about the

aboriginal artistic spirit.”

“It’s a

series of essays by a group of Native artists, everything from

traditional drumming to contemporary installation art, clothing

design, acting and filmmaking,” Taylor said. “They’re writing

about how their aboriginal heritage has influenced the art that

they’re practicing.”

Taylor

anticipates that “Me Artsy” will be published within the coming

year.