Where the Blood Mixes draws on healing power of stories

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For a first-time playwright, Kevin Loring is making quite a splash. The Vancouver actor and writer’s debut full-length script, Where the Blood Mixes, recently won second prize in the Canada-wide Herman Voaden National Playwriting Competition. It will premiere on June 7 at Toronto’s Luminato festival—an international, multidisciplinary event—before coming to Vancouver for a run from June 11 to 14 at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival. But for Loring, the play has already had its most important performance.

“We did it in Lytton, my hometown, and it was the best day ever,” recalls Loring, a member of the Nlaka’pamux First Nation, as he sits in the living room of his Main Street apartment. The Lytton show—a staged reading of an earlier draft of the script—was part of a British Columbian workshop tour this past winter by the play’s producers, the Playhouse Theatre Company and the Savage Society, in conjunction with Western Canadian Theatre in Kamloops.

Lytton was a significant venue for the play, which not only is set there but takes its title from the town’s Nlaka’pamux name, Kumsheen. “The name comes from the name of my village, which is ”˜the place inside the heart where the blood mixes’,” Loring says. “And the play really is about that place.”

Lytton is also a place where two rivers meet, and they’re personified in two old drinking buddies, Floyd and Mooch. Both are Native men who have survived the trauma of the residential-school system, but both are deeply scarred. Floyd lost his wife and daughter, and Mooch is continually stealing his girlfriend’s money to pay for his drinking and gambling. Each man is forced to face the truth about his past in order to move forward.

Loring began writing the piece nine years ago, when he was an acting student at Langara College’s Studio 58. It started out as a solo show, The Ballad of Floyd, but Loring later added more characters, and in 2004 he had the play workshopped in Toronto, at Factory Theatre’s CrossCurrents Festival. One of his cast members was well-known Native actor Gary Farmer.

“Gary Farmer gave me the most useful note I ever got on this play,” Loring recounts. “It was the first day of rehearsal, and he comes in and takes the script and just goes smack!” Loring mimes thwacking a stack of papers onto the table, then quotes Farmer: “ ”˜Twenty-five years in the business and I’m still playing drunk Indians. So what? So what? So what’s next?’ I knew he was right, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I never touched it for two years after that.”

Loring resumed work on the play during a 2006 residency at the Playhouse. He workshopped it here with director Glynis Leyshon and in Calgary with playwright Sharon Pollock. And although the play still begins with a couple of Native men drinking in a bar, Loring has sought to go beyond appearances.

“I’m not afraid of the stereotypes,” Loring says. “They’re useful tools. I don’t mind presenting the stereotype right off the top, and then over the course of the play just stripping it away to reveal the depths behind it.”

One of the ways Loring deepens his characters is by having them tell their stories. Indeed, one of the play’s central themes is the healing power of storytelling. “That whole truth-and-reconciliation [commission] thing is a storytelling endeavour,” observes Loring. “We’re going to tell this painful story about our past, about what was done to us—that’s truth and reconciliation. And so Floyd has to tell this terrible story that is in him, and in telling that story, he’s freed. Mooch has to tell [his] story as well. They have to tell these stories because the stories are living in them already, and if they’re not given voice, they just stay there—nothing grows, they stay dead.”

So, despite the terror and excitement of seeing his play premiere on such a large scale, it was an even bigger thrill for Loring to offer his story to its most crucial audience back home. He remembers that performance in Lytton: “It wasn’t theatre that day, you know what I mean? It was something else. It was real. The people got to see themselves on-stage; they got to see a play about them. They saw their own story for real—for the first time, you know?”

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Linda Burgess
Hi Kevin I know how that was Im 1/2 blood Native American im 60 was treated bad as a child by some of the kids in school Now im a stronger person so I didnt that that break my spirit I cant wait to get your book to read Im An American But i know how the native people was treated congulations on your book peace and blessings Linda ( Whiteshewolf)
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Mavis Underwood
Kevin Loring the play is tremendous. I well understand the comment from Gary Farmer as a veteran actor/playwright/pioneer in the arts but I also appreciate your perspective with respect to the context of this work. You have given powerful expression to much needed subject. The opportunity for mainstream society to gain important insight into the real impact of residential school oppression is critical to bridging mainstream and First Nations. The opportunity for First Nations to be taken through healing as observer is also beneficial as emotional cleansing...I cried, I laughed, felt rage, and great compassion...isn't that great theatre!!
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Stacey Newman
Hey Kevin, I really like your script of the reality of all First Nations.
Although I wasn't thrown into the system, I am a product of residential school..I appreciate how you have produced a play that tells the truth about the Canadian Holocaust...It is about healing and I hope that you will produce more of these plays to reveal the trauma that First Nations people have suffered in our own country and land....Giasixia!
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