Research Trip Report: “Transcultural journeys into Canadian Indigenous and diasporic theatre and performance. Polish Encounters with spectacular Canadian Others.”

Research Trip Regloriawebsterport: “Transcultural journeys into Canadian Indigenous and diasporic theatre and performance. Polish Encounters with spectacular Canadian Others.” 3-24 March, 2012 Vancouver, Vancouver Island University, and Alert Bay.


Report prepared by Kinga Kowalska (B.A.)
Canadian Studies Centre

1. Description of the Project:

Thanks to a Government of Canada Student Mobility Program Grant, won by Dr Eugenia Sojka (director of Canadian Studies Centre, Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia), two M.A. students (Karolina Juroszek and Dorota Sokołowska) and one B.A. student (Kinga Kowalska) had the opportunity to go on a student research trip to Vancouver, Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, and Alert Bay Indian Reserve, which took place from 3 to 24 March, 2012. The students were selected on the basis of their involvement in and dedication to the activities of the Canadian Studies Student Circle, as well as their academic achievement.

The research trip was a continuation of an earlier, successful project conducted in March 2010, and it aimed to promote the students’ understanding of Canadian diversity through the study of Indigenous and diasporic drama, theatre, and performance. In addition, the project endeavored to explore the complex Silesian identity as expressed through the region’s theatrical scene. The comparison between the two was an attempt to establish an intercultural dialogue within the field of drama studies.
2. Main Objectives

Through contact with playwrights, artistic directors, texts, and performances, the students were expected to broaden their knowledge of Indigenous and diasporic theatre, as well as to develop a sensitivity to the problems of Otherness and cross-cultural relations in Canada. The main objective of the project was to explore Indigenous and diasporic approach to making theatre, focusing on the particularities of the creative process, the importance of personal history and identity in writing and performance, as well as differing storytelling techniques. Furthermore, the students were to develop an awareness of the role of traditional and contemporary theatrical practices in Indigenous and diasporic communities.

3. Complete Schedule of Activities

a. Vancouver
The students spent 5 days in Vancouver (3-8 March, 2012), where they participated in the lectures of Prof. Sherrill Grace (Prof. of English and Drama) and Prof. Jerry Wasserman (Prof. of English and Theatre and Head of the Department of Theatre and Film) at the University of British Columbia, and conducted research at the university library. Moreover, they attended a performance of a play entitled Confessions of the Other Woman, written by Valerie Sing Turner and directed by Diane Roberts and Gerry Trentham of Urban Ink Productions, and the accompanying poetry reading of Asian Canadian poets (Evelyn Lau among others). The students interviewed Valerie Sing Turner, Diane Roberts, and Rosemary Georgeson, as well as studied the Urban Ink Productions archives.

b. Nanaimo
On 8 March, the students left Vancouver and travelled to Nanaimo, where they stayed for 14 days. Whilst in Nanaimo, the Polish students participated in classes at the Vancouver Island University, conducted research at the VIU Nanaimo Campus Library, and attended a play performed by students of the VIU Theatre Department. On 15 March, the students presented their multimedia project on Silesian Theatre and Language. During their stay in Nanaimo, the students also visited the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. In Nanaimo, they broadened their awareness of Northwest Coast Indigenous culture. Thanks to Prof. Steve Lane, they had the opportunity to meet Chief Doug White III, the leader of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, and talk to him about various legal and social problems of Indigenous communities. On 9 March, they attended a VIU Arts and Humanities Colloquium presentation by Eliza Gardiner and Laura Cranmer, entitled “The Power of Theatre in Indigenous Communities,” comparing the repression of the Kwakiutl Potlatch by the Canadian authorities to that of the Ancient Greek and Roman theatre by Christianity. They also had a chance to observe the Indigenous way of learning and celebrating by participating in classes held in the First Nations Program, as well as in the program’s Yearend Celebration.

c. Alert Bay
The students arrived in Alert Bay on 21, and left on 23 March, 2012. During their stay they visited U’mista Cultural Centre, the Big House, the ‘Namgis Burial Grounds, as well as the Residential School. They interviewed Gloria Cranmer Webster, linguist, anthropologist, and filmmaker, and Wayne Alfred, member of the Ha?matsa Society and dancer at the Potlatch.

4. Blog

During the trip, the students wrote a blog detailing their activities. The blog was advertized on the website of the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia, and had a wide readership.

5. Results of the Trip

a. Indigenous and Diasporic Drama, Theatre, and Performance

The students had the chance to meet various playwrights, artistic directors, and performers of Indigenous and diasporic backgrounds, as well as observe the methods and techniques employed in their theatrical work. The experience allowed them to develop an awareness of different approaches to making theatre based on the concepts of personal history and Indigenous forms of storytelling. The students learned how drama helps to express the complex identity of Indigenous and diasporic artists, and what role it plays in contemporary First Nations communities, as shown through Urban Ink activities such as “The Squaw Hall” project among the Indigenous youth of Galiano Island, as well as the “Personal Legacy” workshops intended for cross-cultural playwrights and directors. Furthermore, the students conducted an extensive study of the Potlatch and its history and role in traditional and contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw society. Through contact with Laura Cranmer and Gloria Webster Cranmer, they learned about the 1885 Potlatch ban and its repercussions for the community. Thanks to their interview with Wayne Alfred, they realized the spiritual power behind the Ha’matsa dance and its significance to the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.

b. Students’ Presentation at VIU

“Silesian Drama. Theatrical Scene of Upper Silesia in Context.”
The students completed a project on Silesian drama and theatre, which culminated in a multimedia presentation at the Theatre Department of Vancouver Island University. They discussed plays and theatrical movements of Upper Silesia in context with the region?s history, as well as Silesian identity and language. The presentation was well-attended by both students and faculty, and prompted an intercultural dialogue about the role of theatre in expressing troubled national and ethnic identities.

c. Interviews

Valerie Sing Turner – Chinese Canadian playwright, author of well-received play Confessions of the Other Woman, produced by Urban Ink Productions.
Diane Roberts – Urban Ink’s Artistic Director, author of the Arrivals Project and Personal Legacy workshops propagating the role of ancestry in the works of cross-cultural artists.
Rosemary Georgeson – Aboriginal Community Director, author of numerous projects (The Squaw Hall, Women in Fish).
Laura Cranmer – Kwakwaka’wakw playwright, VIU lecturer in the First Nations Program.
Chief Doug White III – Chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nations, Nanaimo, BC.
Gloria Cranmer Webster – Kwakwaka’wakw linguist, anthropologist, and filmmaker.
Wayne Alfred – member of the Ha’matsa Society and dancer at Potlatch.

During the interviews the students sought answers to questions about the Indigenous and diasporic creative process, storytelling techniques, and the role of ancestry and personal history in making Indigenous and diasporic drama. They learned about the crucial role of contemporary and traditional performance in Indigenous communities, and about the spiritual and ritualistic aspects of Potlatch.

d. Museum Visits
Victoria – Royal BC Museum and its First Peoples Gallery.
Alert Bay – U’mista Cultural Centre.

e. Plays

Confessions of the Other Woman – script: Valerie Sing Turner, directors: Diane Roberts, Gerry Trentham, Urban Ink Productions.

f. Library Research
Vancouver – Walter C. Koerner Library, University of British Columbia. Nanaimo- Nanaimo Campus Library, Vancouver Island University. g. Other Activities

The students came in contact with many Indigenous and diasporic students, and participated in a number of cultural and social activities which helped them develop a more profound awareness of Canadian multiculturalism with its advantages and drawbacks.

6. Results of the Trip in Poland

The students are expected to present their research in the form of multimedia presentations at the Day of Canadian Culture scheduled on 9 May, 2012, which will coincide with a planned photo exhibition. They will also participate in the Canadian Studies Centre outreach program at two high schools ? they will have presentations for high school students and will conduct a workshop on Potlatch. Materials gathered during the study trip will be used in the process of writing their MA and BA theses.