Indigenous Contemporary Scene
Edinburgh International Festival 2019
Evalyn Parry’: "Winning the Dora for Outstanding New Play was honestly totally surprising to me – and, as someone who has built a career making formally unconventional work, it made me very hopeful."
KIINALIK: THESE SHARP TOOLS
2-5 | 19:30 August 2019
3-5 | 14:00 August
A dramatic meeting between two extraordinary artists, examining their intertwined histories, colonial legacies and the changing climate we all face.
Hello Laakkuluk & Evalyn, many thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?
Laakkuluk: I’m doing great! The sun is shining, the mosquitoes are biting, the flowers are blooming and we’re all itching to start boating in the beautiful waters outside of Iqaluit.
Evalyn: Good, thanks! I’m writing to from Toronto, where summer has finally arrived, and we just wrapped up our huge annual Pride festival.
Are you looking forward to making your European Premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival this year?
L: I sure am - I know we have stories and thoughts that are important for Scots and Europeans to hear and learn from.
E: Yes! Truly honoured and excited to be included in this world-renowned festival, and also personally I’m thrilled to be performing in Scotland for the first time: the land of my paternal bloodline.
Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools is part of this year's Indigenous Contemporary Scene how did you get involved in this project?
E: Curator Emilie Monet heard about the show (which has been touring and making some waves in Canada) and expressed interest in having Kiinalik as part of her ICS program in Edinburgh.
L: We were honoured to be asked to join
Do you think more art festivals around Europe should provide this type of unique platform for indigenous artists and voices?
L: Absolutely. Indigenous artists have so much to give in general. And specifically, given the amount of genocide, hardship, colonisation, theft of lands and death of languages Indigenous people have faced because of European domination, Europe has much to learn from our voices.
E: Yes, agreed! What Laakkuluk said. As a white, southern Canadian, I have continued to learn through the process of creating and performing Kiinalik, just how important and essential it is to have platforms for Indigenous artists to speak for themselves, to tell their stories in their words, languages, their own way. Part of the project of colonisation has been to take cultural expression away from Indigenous people -- wiping out their languages, spiritual and cultural practices. Stories, mythology, language, song, dance - these are the ways culture, knowledge, the world view is transmitted and continues to grow and be kept alive. As we seek to actively support the resurgence of indigenous culture, it’s vitally important to support and make platforms for artists.
What does it mean to you both to bring your powerful and salient show to Edinburgh?
L: I’m excited for people to learn about our complicated histories and personal stories - for audiences to understand that things cannot always be resolved, but we have great strength in exploring the intricacies of it all. I’m excited to see the reactions of a type of performance that viscerally challenges audiences in ways that are not usually expected in European and Western theatre practices.
E: As this is our first international appearance, I’m really fascinated to see how the themes of Kiinalik resonate in another part of the world, and here in the Scottish context. While Kiinalik explores a particular, Canadian perspective on the impact of colonisation on first peoples, the impact of climate change, so many other nations are grappling with these themes, and have their own version of the divide between North and South….these are obviously global issues.
Personally, I’m also really excited to perform music and stories in Scotland, the home of so much of the musical and storytelling tradition that I was raised with. And also, Scotland has its own history of land-dispossession and language loss, it’s own identity as a Northern nation inside the UK…as well as the particular Scottish connection to colonial exploration in the Canadian Arctic — so there are many reasons that it’s cool to get to present Kiinalik here.
"Kiinalik is not just an intellectual journey, but a musical journey, and embodied journey."
Are there be any nerves ahead of your festival run or will you be able to not let the festival vibe faze you too much?
E: I always get nervous ….but that’s okay, it’s part of my process
L: I’m glad that we will be arriving with time to address jet lag before our run begins; we want to be at full power to give it our all at opening night and every performance thereafter. There are a lot of scatological jokes backstage to help address the inevitable bubbles of nerves and excitement before each show…naturally.
In 2018 Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools won the Dora Award for Outstanding New Play, did you expect to get this type of reaction and response for your work?
E: Winning the Dora for Outstanding New Play was honestly totally surprising to me – and, as someone who has built a career making formally unconventional work, it made me very hopeful. It made me feel like our local theatre community is opening to up to new definitions of plays and playmaking, craving different experiences in the theatre. The response to our show has been so incredible, and so gratifying. It’s such deeply personal work for all of us.
L: I knew that we had created something that was meaningful to our group of collaborators, but I had no idea that it would grow to be so meaningful for so many people. I’m very grateful.
Can you tell me a little bit about Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools, what can we expect?
L: We call Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools “a concert and a conversation.” We tell stories, we talk to each other, we compare and contrast our experiences, we create synergy out of our diverse artistic practises. You can expect asymmetry, moving imagery (pun intended), dissonance and harmony, circumstances that carry you away to another time and place and experiences that rivet you in the very moment at hand. We make sure that the audience participates in the performance, sometimes through conversation, sometimes through improvised, close at hand, interactive dance.
E: All of that! I think you can also expect the unexpected, and to be taken on a very non-linear journey into new territories, to have maps and histories turned around so that you look at them from a new perspective. Kiinalik is not just an intellectual journey, but a musical journey, and embodied journey.
This is our manifesto (created together with our other collaborator / co-creators Erin Brubacher and Elysha Poirier) which guided the making (and the continuing performance) of Kiinalik:
Let it be the beginning of a conversation.
Let it be a meeting place and a reckoning.
Let it live radically in a feminine paradigm.
Let it be complex. Let it be unresolved.
We encourage our audiences to allow themselves to feel unsettled, the way we ourselves are unsettled by creating and performing this work.
"We create the energy of our descendants, just as our ancestors gave breath for our lives today - there are whole teams of spirits and blood surrounding us, willing us to learn more every day."
Though there is science, protest and evidence of climate change causing irreversible damage how do you explore climate change within the context of your play?
E: The show explores - both directly and indirectly- the way that climate change is inextricably connected to colonisation and capitalism. There are blocks of real ice on the front face of our stage, melting in real-time as we perform, as a constant visual reminder that we can’t disconnect ourselves - our stories, our personal and political choices - from climate change.
L: We hold climate change the way we hold our bodies, the way language falls from our mouths. We talk about it, we show it symbolically and we embody it.
Because of the loud voices from the climate change deniers have you experiences any negative reactions to Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools?
How did you both meet?
L & E: We met on a beautiful, complicated journey by ship through the ice-clogged waters off the coast of Baffin Island and western Greenland. We were both artists in residence on an environmental education expedition with over 100 international youth; the other adults on board were mostly climate scientists and politicians. We recognized each other as feminist artists with kindred politics. As the journey went on, the need grew for us to unpack the issues we faced of gender, sexuality, colonialism, racism, Inuit history and contemporary life, and seeing how these all linked to the climate change we were witness to as our ship sailed through Inuit homelands. As we got to know each other and began to unpack these issues, we saw that our unique artistic practices had symbiotic energy; a combination that allowed us to compare and contrast the lives and experiences of a white and an Inuk woman living in Canada.
When did you realise you wanted to create something like Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools?
L: Evalyn asked me to make a show with her. It was a huge risk - she was given the opportunity to create a show when she was first hired as Artistic Director at Buddies in Bad Times and she booked a run for the show at her theatre before we had even created anything. Her great intuition!
E: When I first saw Laakkuluk perform uaajeerneq (on the ship), it kind of blew my mind. It became a bit of a dream of mine to collaborate with her. And when I got the job at Buddies and suddenly had the chance to program and commission work, I knew I wanted to introduce her to the Buddies / Toronto audience. But to be honest, I really didn’t know what it was we were going to create - there was no real road map for what we were making. I think the final form that emerged was at once a very natural evolution of our collaboration (me and Laakkuluk, and also with Erin our director and Elysha our video artist and musician Cris Derksen…as well as our set designer Kaitlyn Hickey and lighting designer Rebecca Picherack) and also kind of a surprise to all of us.
Did you have any apprehensions about bringing this play to the stage?
E: To be honest, I was very apprehensive about the premiere for a number of reasons. I mean, I had commissioned and programmed it for my theatre, and I was also performing in it and the show is super personal, so I felt very vulnerable. Also formally the show really doesn’t fit any mould, so it was difficult to compare it or explain it to anyone, and I really had no idea what the audience response would be. It’s certainly been extremely gratifying to have those apprehensions relieved.
L: We were constrained by great distances between us and therefore constrained by time when we could afford to be together in the creation process. That was difficult, but we surmounted that.
E: Yes - Our time creating in a room together was very precious and very brief. It’s a testament to the ingenuity and talents of our whole creative team that we were able to make something so rich and integrated under very real-time and resource constraints. When I think back on how raw all the material was when we premiered the show in 2017, I kind of can’t believe it.
How important, for a production like this, is the collaborative nature for artists?
L: It is essential. As a group of intersectional feminists, the equality and egalitarianism of our creation is the glue that keeps it all together.
E: It’s foundational to the work. And we are fortunate to work with such a generous group of artists who have all been willing to go on the wild journey that is collaborative creation. My career has been steeped in queer culture, feminist performance, collaborative and collective-making methodologies, working with personal narratives as the impetus for theatrical creation, devising new performance and working across disciplines. So all of this background influenced the creation of Kiinalik: from content to the process of creation.
In exploring your individual histories and the legacy of colonial rule, did you discover anything new or surprising that you had not given much thought or time to before?
L: I have discovered that audiences are gaining a lot of new knowledge that is actually my daily lived experiences.
E: I don’t even know where to start with that ...I feel like the whole show is basically my answer to that question. The process of creating this - and continuing to perform and evolve the show - has been a process of thinking through so many connections, discovering connections, continuing to uncover new and deeper layers of both personal and political history.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced bringing Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools to life?
L: The distances between our homes. It is the distance between Edinburgh and Warsaw, but because of colonised policies, corporate monopolies and great differences in geography, there are no roads that connect us, great expenses in air travel (you can travel between Toronto and Edinburgh 6 times for the price of a ticket between Iqaluit and Toronto) and lives that are worlds apart between us.
If you could choose three words to describe this play what would they be?
E: Okay..so mine are a paradox, embodiment and melting.
For any emerging indigenous artists out there do you have any advice you could offer them?
L: Find the very best way to express yourself in your own words and in your own way and then practise for as long as possible. Do not be afraid to make mistakes nor to ask questions. We create the energy of our descendants, just as our ancestors gave breath for our lives today - there are whole teams of spirits and blood surrounding us, willing us to learn more every day.
And finally, what do you hope your Edinburgh audiences will take away from this play?
L: I hope that Edinburgh audiences feel compelled to ask more questions of themselves, their own histories and implicated stories. I hope that they do more learning and reflection and research after they go home from the theatre.
E: To allow yourself to be unsettled. We ourselves have been unsettled, over and over in the making of this work, and we are inviting the audience on that journey as well To be unsettled is the first step in remaking our world.