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Play looks at harsh realities
Playwright was inspired by spending time with youth in Pond Inlet

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 10, 2014

It can be hard for people to talk about the bad things that happen - suicide, abuse, addictions, residential school, the relocation of Inuit by the federal government.

To help spearhead these important conversations, Night, a play about the sometimes harsh realities faced by a fictional youth growing up in Pond Inlet, has been travelling the North.

After staging their play in Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, Kugluktuk and Yellowknife, the cast and crew wrapped up their tour in Cape Dorset from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, with a performance on their last day in the hamlet for roughly 50 community members.

"The play, as you know, touches on some subjects that I feel we don't talk about enough in our communities," said Edward Micah, mental health nurse for the hamlet. "Those include suicide, incest, and drug and alcohol abuse."

The mental health branch of the Department of Health spearheaded bringing the play to Cape Dorset, and Micah gave most of the credit to his predecessor, Candace Waddell, who began co-ordinating the event about six months ago.

Due to the sensitive nature of the topics covered, posters were distributed around town, both promoting the play and warning people to be prepared for the subject matter.

Before the show began, Micah took to the stage to make a short announcement about the content of the play, and to remind everyone that support services are available should anyone be affected by it.

Also, only residents over the age of 15 were able to attend unless they were accompanied by a parent.

School principal Mike Soares was quick to point out that the issues explored in the play are not only found in Nunavut communities.

"Although the Arctic is considered by most to be a pretty unique place, there are common themes," he said. "Everybody when they come to your door, they carry baggage. And how they carry their baggage affects how they carry themselves and conduct their lives."

However, some of the issues explored are distinctly Inuit, such as the ongoing impact of the forced relocation of Inuit families in the name of Arctic sovereignty, and the federal government taking away people's names and replacing them with numbers.

Night does not aim to portray life in Nunavut communities in a negative light, said playwright/director Christopher Morris.

"I originally was going to do a play on how the darkness effects people in the winter," said the Toronto-based artist.

After deciding he wanted to create a collaboration with Inuit partners from Canada to Greenland to Iceland, Morris travelled to Pond Inlet for the first time in 2003 to introduce himself and his idea for the play to the community.

"Pond Inlet is a very special place. It's a very traditional and tight-knit community," he said.

He began working with Sheila Akumaliq to reboot the hamlet's defunct theatre company and returned to the hamlet several times during the next few years.

"Through all these times going up, I started beginning to understand the impact southerners are having in the North," he told Nunavut News/North.

"It was very sobering. That had a big impact on me."

During one of those early visits, a young man in the community committed suicide. That event and his work with youth ended up changing the way Morris approached the creation of Night.

He cancelled the Icelandic and Greenland focus of the production and re-focused on the realities faced by the Pond Inlet youth he had gotten to know.

"It made me realize that the issues I should be dealing with are the experience of teenagers," he said. "They have a lot of obstacles they have to push through."

Night focuses on the visit of a well-intentioned but under-informed anthropologist, Daniella, who travels to the hamlet to repatriate the bones of an Inuk man found in a museum archive.

Morris drew particular inspiration from teenage actor Abbie Ootova, who was 10 years old when she started working on the play in 2003. She played Piuyuq, the granddaughter of the man whose bones are being repatriated, in the play's premier at the National Arts Centre in Toronto and when the production travelled to Iqaluit and Pond Inlet earlier this year.

The play has two endings - one intended for when the play is shown to Inuit youth, and another for southern audiences.

The ending shown to Inuit youth ends with a call to action in a monologue by Piuyuq.

"Us teenagers have to be strong. We have to stand up. No one is going to do it for us. Inuit youth, stand up. Wherever you live, whoever you are. Whatever our community tells us, we are beautiful and strong. Don't let anybody put you down.

"... Look! There's light. The future of Nunavut is bright. Inuit youth, stand up."

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