June 18, 2019

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CARVING SPACE FOR INDIGENOUS, BLACK, AND 2-SPIRITS IN THEATRE CLASSIC: LILIES: OR THE REVIVAL OF A ROMANTIC DRAMA

CARVING SPACE FOR INDIGENOUS, BLACK, AND 2-SPIRITS IN THEATRE CLASSIC: LILIES: OR THE REVIVAL OF A ROMANTIC DRAMA

Indrit Kasapi, Mark Cassius, Joseph Zita, Tsholo Khalema, Ryan G. Hinds, Troy Emery Twigg, Walter Borden, and Alexander Chapman | Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh

Lilies: or The Revival of a Romantic Drama is an exploration of two-spiritedness and queerness while highlighting the disproportionate rate of incarcerated Indigenous and Black folks. The play is a Canadian classic co-produced by Lemon Tree Creations, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and Why Not Theatre. Métis Director, Cole Alvis adds an Indigenous lens to Lilies, set in a prison where inmate, Simon Doucet stages a play for a local bishop, Bilodeau; a man who played a role in his unjust incarceration. Before the debut of Lilies: or The Revival of a Romantic Drama, director Cole Alvis, and actor, Waawaate Fobister sat down with MUSKRAT Arts Reporter, Erica Commanda to talk about the production:

MM: Cole, as the Artistic Director, why did Lemontree Creations chose to stage this play?

CA: I think it’s a queer Canadian classic. It’s a play that a lot of queer artists are excited to get to do. Predominantly it’s a story told with white bodies. Lemontree has brought recent classics back before, but when we do that we prefer to find it’s relevance and why it should happen today. Indigenous folks make up 4% of Canada’s population and 26% of the incarcerated population. Similarly black folks make up 3% Canada’s population and over 8% of who is incarcerated. I wanted to see these communities at the centre of a show and to be able to have the opportunity to play quintessential characters that are usually reserved for white actors. I wanted to centre Indigenous and Black artists and present a Canadian classic in a way that audiences will come away thinking about who is overly incarcerated and how they might benefit from that.

MM: Sometimes actors use life experiences to propel them into their roles. Have you ever had any experiences with that?

WF: Within the role, I’m bringing part of my family’s history into the character. It’s set in the 50’s. I’ve been consulting with my father, who is also a language carrier, and works a lot with Nish communities back home. I was on the phone with them the day before, just asking them for guidance, and advice to help me shape this character I’m developing. I remember reading this play when I was in theatre school. I really liked this play, but it wasn’t written for me – a brown Indigenous two-spirit body. They are usually written for pretty white boys. I was so happy I even bought it! It’s in my library.

MM: Waawaate, Can you tell me a bit more about your part in the play?

WF: I play Vallier, he is one of the lovers of Simon. Cole wanted us to focus on the play within the play and the cellmates who put on the play. When we developed our characters and backstories, I gave him my dad’s name. Coming from my perspective and me as a two-spirited performer I bring a lot of myself into the role. It’s my Anishinaabe worldview, while bringing in Marc’s words and Cole’s vision.

MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the production?

WF: What we are trying to bring to the table is to have these conversations about these topics that we are talking about – the high incarceration with the Black and Indigenous populations, and two-spirit perspectives. We are always pushing for that because it was taken away. I’m always pushing it, carving it and making space for it. I’m so happy Cole is providing a platform that is shifting and moving and scratching our way in. I love doing that type of work.

Waawaate Fobister and Tsholo Khalema | Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh

CA: Alexander Chapman is the black actor from the film, who has joined our cast. He’s playing the Bishop. The Bishop represents both Christianity and colonialism and the authority and entitlement that comes from that place. One of the things I’m excited about is for Simon’s character in relationship with Waawaate’s and Troy Emery Twigg’s character who spent this 40 years being incarcerated, really Eldering up, and learning about two-spirit culture. He spent this time learning about his Indigenous heritage and has crafted this play to present to his old school friend, his friend who spent his whole life assimilating. Here is an opportunity to show another perspective and another way of being on these lands and waterways that upholds two spirit culture instead of feeling shame.

MM: This play centres people of colour and queerness. Other than that, how is this different from working on other plays in terms of vibe and creativity?

WF: My lover in real life is a trans male. One night I put away the script and we had a really awesome conversation where we talked about our bodies and what we were going to be doing. We both came to the conclusion that we are both vessels. Our two-spirited people that worked before us made it so that we are here right now. We are a vessel living and breathing and doing the best job that we possibly can so that generations to come after us have something to grasp. We found a common ground in that. This cast has a lot of people coming from different places with a common goal. There is a lot of love in this cast, we respect each other. I’m so grateful to be involved in this project with amazing artists, people, thinkers, movers and shakers.

Lilies plays at Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander St., through May 26.

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About The Author

Erica Commanda

Born in Toronto, Erica Commanda (Algonquin/Ojibwe) grew up in the small community of Pikwakanagan. From there she moved across Canada living in Ottawa, Vancouver and now Toronto, working in the bar/hospitality industry, mastering the art of listening to stories from her regulars while slinging and spilling drinks (at them or to them). And now through a series of random decisions and events in life she is on a journey discovering and mastering her own knack for storytelling as a Staff Writer for MUSKRAT Magazine.

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