In Your Eyes Projects, a Sault Ste. Marie based theatrical company has partnered with Algoma University to present Erin Shields Governor-General’s Award-winning play, “If We Were Birds”.
The play opens on February 21st, 2020, in the Shingwauk Auditorium. It retells the ancient tale of the dramatic unfolding of the lives of Philomela and Procne, daughters of the King of Athens, Pandion, and Tereus, the King of Thrace. The play employs “Metamorphoses”, one of the best-known Roman narrative poems written by Ovid, to shine a light on the all too real contemporary horrors of the unspeakable systemic sexual abuse of women arising out of modern conflict. A chorus of five survivors from the massacres of Nanking, Berlin, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda weave their stories into the fabric of the play in a manner that can be identified, not for the specificity of the conflict, but for the tragic and recurrent universality of the narrative.
Underlying the plot of violence and revenge are the hopeful themes of the healing power of art and the resilience of the human spirit. The play also implores us not to turn our backs on violence but to speak up and resist it and it offers a unique opportunity to engage our community in a constructive conversation about a topic that has far-reaching implications, locally and globally.
By presenting this play in partnership with Algoma University we recognize the special mission of the institution which is to foster an environment that cultivates cross-cultural learning between Aboriginal communities and other communities. Violence towards women is rooted in cultural and economic conflict, colonialism and patriarchy, themes that recur throughout the play. These are themes that have left a dark legacy that can only be mitigated by dialogue and action.
Directed by Loretta Durat and Joseph Lauzon, the play has attracted a dedicated and talented group of actors, all from Sault Ste. Marie. Anna Gartshore and Tova Arbus play Philomela and Procne, the daughters of Pandion, King of Athens, played by Bob Cooper. According to Arbus, “This is the type of play that makes us confront deep-rooted, age-old issues in our society, meet them head-on, and find a way to talk about them, heal from them, and find a path forward. We mostly hear the stories of those who are silenced; women who are silenced by atrocities of war who are vilified and persecuted for their beliefs, their religion or culture, for the simple fact of being a woman.” Dan Nystedt is making his debut appearance as Tereus, the warrior King of Thrace. He had this to say about the script, “If We Were Birds speaks to the uncomfortable, if not disturbing truths spanning human rights, class systems and war-mongering, woven into one of civilization’s oldest stories. That these tales are as current as ever is the real tragedy.” All four actors carry the narrative that closely follows Ovid’s original story, providing the dramatic framework for the modern-day chorus of survivors to tell their stories.
The chorus narrates the ancient story in the tradition of classical Greek drama, but in doing so, their timeless personal stories of survival emerge, entangled with the ancient myth. Ava Nori plays “The Young One”; Heather Janser “The Bleeding One”; Krissy Stickland “The Pregnant One”; Maria Kahtava, “The Pious One” and Carol McLean “The One With Dwindling Dignity”. For McLean, “If We Were Birds” is an opportunity, to tell the truth, and honour the words of the survivors. It is a privilege to be part of the production-to honour these women-to tell their stories”.
All the actors bring an emotional intensity to the production. It is a demanding yet rewarding journey into darkness and light, suffering and redemption. Maria Kahtava sums up her experience candidly, “This has taken me far outside my comfort zone and literally scared the snot out of me. Can I do this? Will I do my character justice? Am I truly capable of bringing my character to life…I wasn’t prepared for the emotional effect this would have on me, but I am embracing the change it has made in me.”
Renowned local artist Michael Burtch wears three different hats as producer, set designer, and sound designer together with Frank Deresti. The creative team includes technical director Rob Rock, costume designer Lisa Kozak-Dinel, make-up artist Emma Dingle, and pottery designer Gord Burke.
Performance Details: February 21st, 22nd, 27th, 28th, and 29th at 8 pm. February 23rd at 2 pm. Special pricing for students, seniors, and groups.
This play contains strong language and mature themes and is not suitable for children. Tickets available at the Station Mall Box office, at the door, or online here.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women:
Workshop February 24th 2020, Shingwauk Auditorium, Algoma University, 7:30 PM- 9:00 PM, conducted by Shirley Horn; Special Advisor; In Your Eyes Projects production of “If We Were Birds”. Chancellor, Algoma University
I was invited to participate with this production to continue to bring awareness to the same issues as portrayed in the play, of violence toward women through physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse of Aboriginal women today.
The disappearance of our girls and women continues to happen in this modern-day and age. We are working on many fronts to combat this assault on our women who continue to be taken from communities and their families and very often ending in the total disappearance of individuals and murder.
There is a need for more information to be shared within our own communities and the public at large if we are ever to be successful in healing from these atrocities aimed at our girls and women.
We need help to raise our women warriors to make the changes that will lead to the healing of whole communities in the spirit of sincerity and compassion.
This is a huge challenge, and we all have an opportunity to be a part of the change. It takes courage, understanding, compassion and a willingness to make a difference by refusing to allow the continuance of this brutality in our country. It will take all of us together.
We will have a dialogue together and a Q&A following the workshop.
The Artist as Set Designer:
Workshop February 25th 2020, Shingwauk Auditorium, Algoma University, 7:30 PM- 9:00 PMconducted by Michael Burtch; Scenic Designer; In Your Eyes Projects production of “If We Were Birds”.
Artists throughout the centuries have designed sets for the stage, whether for drama, opera or dance.
This workshop will, by way of introduction, highlight three artists from the 20th century, Kasimir Malevitch, Alberto Giacometti and Isamu Noguchi, whose work influenced set design. The relationship between the set design for “If We Were Birds” and the content and context of the play will be the main focus of the session. An emphasis will be placed on the creative evolution from the initial interpretation of the play to the final execution of the set as both an artistic statement and a practical setting that can help create an emotive environment for the actors and audience alike.