Storyweaving brings the urban aboriginal experience to the stage
Some stories demand to be told—and retold, as author and playwright Rosemary Georgeson has discovered.
Georgeson was one of the writers on Vancouver Moving Theatre’s In the Heart of a City, back in 2000. The interdisciplinary community play examined life in the Downtown Eastside, with one of its key threads involving the urban aboriginals who have come to the city from reserves all across Canada. As a member of the Coast Salish nation, Georgeson felt drawn to their histories—and to the idea of giving them a larger presence on-stage. The result, Storyweaving, is a collaboration between writers Georgeson, Renae Morriseau, and VMT cofounder Savannah Walling.
“There was just more to share with these characters,” Georgeson explains, on the line from her Delta home. “And it’s interesting how their stories kind of fed right into the Storyweaving project.”
Storyweaving sees the return of several figures from In the Heart of a City, including a young girl from Bella Bella who’s searching for her missing mother, and the Old One, an elder who’s witnessed sharp and shocking changes in the land his ancestors called home for millennia. But Storyweaving, as its title suggests, is more than just an expansion of themes raised in the earlier piece. It’s an innovative fusion of theatricalized experience and nonactors recounting real incidents from their lives, leavened with striking movement from the Git Hayetsk Dancers’ Mike Dangeli and Mique’l Askren.
“You know what? I didn’t feel like I was really a writer, because the stories I brought to it were real,” Georgeson explains. “So it’s not like other projects that I’ve written on, where I was working to bring a story to life. These were stories that were very much a part of me.”
Some of her stories—including one about being ejected from a Vancouver restaurant as a small child in the early 1960s, simply for being Native—will be shocking to nonaboriginals. But as Georgeson’s cocreator Morriseau notes, it’s important to present the bad along with the good when it comes to showing what First Nations people have experienced in the urban environment.
“Our hope is to allow people to witness some of the changes that urban aboriginal people have experienced living, in this case, in Vancouver,” Morriseau says in a separate telephone interview. The actor-filmmaker cites two key issues behind aboriginal flight to the city: the residential-school system, which broke down family bonds, and the loss of traditional territory and food sources.
“The play is basically just that: it’s real stories from people that have experienced residential schools, that have experienced the dislocation to land and water, specifically the fisheries,” she says. But Morriseau adds that while these are issues of specific concern to First Nations people, there are few Vancouver residents who haven’t had to face dislocation, loneliness, and stress. Storyweaving uses First Nations concepts of theatre and ceremony, but it is not for Natives alone.
“We’re using the language of theatre to be able to begin a discussion,” she says. “You know, we’re all on the same path here, whether we’re Native or non-Native. We all want to be happy. We all want to have good families. We all want to have a way of looking at the future that’s bright for our grandchildren.”
“I’ve thought about that a bit,” Georgeson says, “and I hope that what they [nonaboriginals] take away is a better understanding of our history, of who we are, and that we’re in a strong place of recovery now. We’re at a place where we’re starting to make changes, and our hope is to be the strong people we once were.
“I believe that’s a line in the play,” she adds, “and I’m hoping that’s the path we’re taking.”
Storyweaving runs at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre from Friday to Sunday (May 11 to 13) and May 18 to 20.