Indigenous Contemporary Scene
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Tara Beagan: "Many women leave the show feeling empowered, as will any person equipped with a big heart and strong mettle."
31st July - 1st August (previews)
2nd-4th, 6th-11th, 13th-18th, 20th-24th August
CanadaHub King’s Hall, 2:30 pm, 1 hour 30 mins | Tickets
Deer Woman is a one-woman play about a Blackfoot woman seeking vengeance for the murder of her younger sister and thousands of other Indigenous women recorded as missing or murdered in Canada in recent decades.
Hello Tara, many thanks for talking to TNC, how are you doing?
Thanks for connecting with us! I’m well enough. Hope you are, as well.
Are you looking forward to making your run at Edinburgh Fringe this year?
We’re thrilled to be bringing out hit show to yet another overseas audience of such diversity and daring.
Deer Woman is part of this year’s Indigenous Contemporary Scene how did you get involved in this project?
We have been proud colleagues of AD Émilie Monnet for years, with our first collaboration being at a new works festival in Toronto when I was AD of Native Earth Performing Arts. My partner in ARTICLE 11, Andy Moro, was festival designer that year. Later, Émilie programmed a show of our in her festival ICS in Montreal and we have admired one another ever since.
Do you think more art festivals around Europe should provide this type of unique platform for indigenous Indigenous artists and voices?
We all know some version of the colonial histories in the Americas. Very few Europeans countries have not benefitted from the resources extracted from the Americas back when they were still recognized as Indigenous lands. A big part of how we can reconcile that shared history is to share stories, so yes, we do think Europe should throw the doors wide open to us!
Deer Woman has already had an incredible run during its Premiere at the Sydney Festival, what was that experience like?
Sydney Festival was wonderful, especially given the dynamic leadership of Will Enoch. We built on beautiful relationships with Indigenous cousins in Australia, which began at our premiere in Te Whanganui-A-Tara (Wellington) Aotearoa (New Zealand), at Tawata Productions’ Kia Mau Festival in June of 2018. The international Indigenous theatre community is a tremendous source of strength and inspiration, and leaders like Enoch and Tawata make it all happen in such a good way. They helped us walk in strength in Sydney and Aotearoa, even though we were not on home soil.
Did you expect it would get the reaction it got for your play?
We have seen wonderful films and plays come out of Australia and Aotearoa that we have identified with strongly. It was our hope that our cousins would see themselves in our stories, as well. Still, we were grateful and admittedly a little surprised when Deer Woman was received so raucously by Indigenous and non-Indigenous audience members.
"We also know the immense love we carry and the wicked humour we have to nurture in order to survive."
What was the most surprising compliment you got for Deer Woman during your Sydney Festival run?
Our favourite moment was during celebrations for “Australia Day” which many call “Invasion Day.” Our whole little team was walking around an Indigenous-led celebration of strength and power, and more than one person stopped actor Cherish Blood and asked “Aren’t you Deer Woman?” and asked for a photo with her. That was very soul-warming.
Can you tell me a little bit about Deer Woman, what can we expect?
We bring hard truths with a healthy dose of gallows humour, all performed by a brilliant actor. This is a real storytelling piece rendered in living colour by one of Canada’s most prolific and versatile designer/directors. Many women leave the show feeling empowered, as will any person equipped with a big heart and strong mettle.
What was the inspiration behind this play?
Recently, the government of Canada acknowledged the genocide of Indigenous women and girls in this colonized nation. Those of us who have been directly impacted by these losses have known for generations how unbearable the weight of being Indigenous in Canada can be. We also know the immense love we carry and the wicked humour we have to nurture in order to survive. This play is a celebration of innovative survival.
It is also on offer as an antidote to the plays written about our stolen women and girls by non-Indigenous writers who continue to profit from violence perpetrated against us. Further, it takes all the narratives about victimhood and trounces them.
How did Lila come to life?
Lila’s was one of those voices that spoke directly to me from somewhere greater than this earth. I credit the ancestors when this happens. I wrote much of a draft, and when I came to a halt after several steady days of writing, I did not know where next to go. Fortunately, I was in the mountains at the Banff Playwrights’ Lab, and there were mule deer running around my cabin. The director and I also found a way to cast it that helped guide the script to completion.
What made you want to tell this incredible story as a one-woman show?
The choices that Lila makes leaves her needing isolation. She can’t implicate her loved ones, cherished as they are. What we witness is a woman who treasures love and community, taking an extreme measure because it is the only way she can live with herself. This leaves her alone, yet still standing strong.
Cherish Violet Blood puts in a stunning performance, how did it come about that you wanted to create this show for her?
Our director/designer Andy Moro and I were on a ten-hour road trip, and my writing had come to a halt about ¾ of the way through a first draft. So I pulled up a partial draft on my phone and read it aloud. Andy realized Cherish must play Lila. With that, I was able to complete the draft two days later, concluding my residency at the Banff Playwrights’ lab.
"The challenge of this show comes with the fact that the Canadian hegemony tends to think that Indigenous stories will make them feel guilty, be a downer, or be “too political."
How important, for a production like this, is the collaborative nature for artists?
The play would not have become what it is if I had not had Andy at my side, and able to share the unfinished play with him. His vision for casting and design was so clear, and his existing relationship with Cherish so strong that we were able to elevate the play to its fullness quite rapidly. We were further blessed by the presence of Cherish’s partner, Lacey Hill, who is a magnificent singer/ songwriter. Lacey not only wrote original music for the show, but she was also able to work the script with Cherish outside of rehearsal, allowing her to learn and then fully embody it. On the road, we are two couples and all Indigenous. All dedicated to the cause of this story illuminates. This is a true collaboration, which is especially essential for a solo performer show.
When a show is running will much change or are you able to leave it without tweaking it too much?
I love discovering cuts in the script! As long as the director and actor will accept them, I will find them. Even a word or two – it’s so exciting, it always makes more important things lift.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced bringing Deer Woman to life?
The challenge of this show comes with the fact that the Canadian hegemony tends to think that Indigenous stories will make them feel guilty, be a downer, or be “too political.” The fact that this show has been received to such acclaim away from home will hopefully convince somebody in Canada that great storytelling transcends white privilege, and maybe we’ll have as much fun with it on Turtle Island (North America) one day as we have abroad.
If you could choose three words to describe this play what would they be?
Embrace. Clobber. Laugh.
For any emerging indigenous Indigenous artists out there do you have any advice you could offer them?
Most of the world won’t give you enough credit, so make sure you respect yourself the way everyone else ought to. They may catch up one day, so you have to be ready! You are the culmination of all your ancestors, and that is no accident. (I love you!)
And finally, what do you hope your Edinburgh audiences will take away from this play?
We always hope people leave celebrating the strength in the women they know or are. It’s also great to hear gasps and curse words of amazement during the performance, but that’s just gravy.