The experience of the healing power of story is the greater gift within the script. There are moments of silence—cleverly built into the script—that open you up.
Four years ago Kevin Loring’s Governor General award winning play Where The Blood Mixes debuted at Victoria, British Columbia’s Belfry Theatre—and continued on to be presented in the National Arts Centre with numerous glowing revues in between. Where the Blood Mixes tells the story of the effects of the residential school experience. Kevin Loring creatively conveys the depths of damage residential schools had and continue to have on individuals, families, communities, and nations. The story is powerfully portrayed, leaving an undeniable impact on its audience. The play revisited Vancouver Island as a paired down theatrical reading at the Malaspina Theatre in Nanaimo in November of 2014. So the obvious question is: why present a stage reading of a play that has been so widely successful as a full stage production?
Nlaka’panux playwright Kevin Loring explains:
“We wanted to take it out to more audiences, to as many people as we can. This is a quickie way to hear the words—and that has its own value—because a full production can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to tour will cost even more.”
Due to the Indigenous storyline, this play has also celebrated many great Native acting talents with multiple names filling four of the five roles. For example, Lorne Cardinal, Craig Lauzon, Ben Cardinal, Billy Merasty, and Sam Bob all played lead male roles as Floyd and Mooch. The roles of Christine and June have starred strong female actors such as Tantoo Cardinal, Margo Kane, Kim Harvey, and most recently Cease Wyss. There are two more elements to this play, which I consider to be star roles as well. The script, using the theatrical touchstones of comedy and tragedy to their fullest, and the musical score, played live on stage in both the full production and theatrical readings—and composed and performed by Cree musician Jason Burnstick. These two inanimate characters are definitely part of the ensemble’s success.
Kevin Loring, Mike Wasko, and Jason Burnstick
Another unseen star of this play is the residential school itself. In Lytton British Columbia, St. George’s Residential School operated between 1902 and 1979. The building then burned to the ground in 1982. When asked, “Whose story are you telling?” Kevin grapples a bit before concluding, “That’s a very good question. Because it is the story of the legacy of residential school, everybody back home [Lytton, BC] thinks the story is about them. It’s for survivors and for people who have no idea about that history. It’s for them to encounter what it’s like to be on the inside of the experience.” The experience of the healing power of story is the greater gift within the script. There are moments of silence—cleverly built into the script—that open you up. Those silent beats kick you out of the caravan onto the side of the road, where you are left alone to look at yourself and to see where you are, metaphorically and realistically, in this story. Self-reflection is inevitable here.
The fact that Where the Blood Mixes has been presented in various incarnations throughout the years provides the opportunity for the words themselves to be revisited and revised. Loring does not consider his work to be so precious that it cannot be improved upon. He admits to tweaking certain words, like changing Christine’s line when she asks for a “Ginger Ale” to asking for a “Perrier” because it’s more funny. He also allows a certain amount of actor interpretation of the lines, which makes room for a more authentic experience for both actors and audiences.
Kevin admits to whispers of a national University tour of Where the Blood Mixes being planned. He adds, “This is a pilot run. We’re charging ten dollars (five dollars for seniors and students) at the door. We’re not making any money. A stage reading is still an expensive endeavor. At the affordable ticket price, everyone can manage to get educated and entertained and gift themselves with the healing power of this story.
Where the Blood Mixes is available in print through Talonbooks
Where the Blood Mixes, the musical score can be purchased through cdbaby
Keep your ears open for future tour dates at a university theatre near you.
Kevin Loring is a member of the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) First Nation in Lytton, British Columbia. His first play, Where the Blood Mixes, won the Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Original Script; the Sydney J. Risk Prize for Outstanding Original Script by an Emerging Playwright; and the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama.