WEATHER ALERT

The good fight Winnipeg playwright takes personal look at Indigenous people’s struggles and successes

Darla Contois’ first major theatre production is a deeply personal mediation on what it means to be Indigenous in this country.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2021 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Darla Contois’ first major theatre production is a deeply personal mediation on what it means to be Indigenous in this country.

Theatre preview

The War Being Waged
● Prairie Theatre Exchange
● Nov. 3-21 (live); Dec. 2-21 (digital)
● Tickets $45 (live), $20 (digital) at pte.mb.ca

“Being alive as an Indigenous person in Canada today is very complicated,” says the Cree-Saulteaux playwright from Winnipeg. “Every single day you have to wake up and ask, am I fighting for myself? Am I fighting for my family? Am I fighting for my people? Am I fighting for Canada?”

SUPPLIED Darla Contois

The War Being Waged takes stock of those dynamics through the story of three generations of Indigenous women: a grandmother who raises a child with love in community, a mother who becomes an activist and a granddaughter who finds her voice amid turmoil. The show is presented as part monologue, part poetry and part dance.

The play makes its world première at Prairie Theatre Exchange on Nov. 3 and is the first live production hosted at the downtown venue in 603 days, since the start of the pandemic. For Contois — who got her start at Manitoba Theatre for Young People as a teenager and is a graduate of the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto — returning to the stage is a precious homecoming.

“It kind of feels like when you haven’t seen your best friends in a long time and you finally get to embrace each other,” she says. “It feels so good.”

Sitting in PTE’s sunlit atrium during a rehearsal break, Contois is wearing a college hoodie and sipping from a large Thermos. On top of writing and producing a full-length play, she’s in school part-time studying business administration. She’s also a new mother.

“Thankfully, I had a really chill newborn,” says Contois with a laugh. She wrote much of the play amid the pandemic while her daughter, who is now 14 months old, napped. “My boyfriend… he is a really big help and a really big support; I don’t think I could’ve done this without him.”

Starring Tracey Nepinak as the grandmother character, Tantoo Cardinal as the mother and Emily Solstice Tait as the granddaughter, The War Being Waged deals with a wide range of difficult subject matter.

The production includes a trigger warning for descriptions of violence, suicide, anti-Indigenous racism, intergenerational trauma, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit people, incarceration, and alcohol consumption. The story is at once personal and universal.

“It’s sort of a path or a journey that I imagined my own life would take, had I made the decisions that Tracey’s character makes,” says Contois, who was the Liberal candidate in the Thompson riding in the 2019 provincial election. “It’s heavily based on my own experiences and how I imagined they would play out, in like a worst-case scenario.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Tracey Nepinak plays the grandmother in Prairie Theatre Exchange’s The War Being Waged.

Focusing on three generations of the same family allowed her to tie together the trickle-down repercussions of the past with the present and future.

Contois’ writing is supported by set, costume and lighting design from Andy Moro, a multi-disciplinary artist from Calgary who has been involved in the planning for the better part of a year.

“In a standard situation, we’re doing it in three weeks of rehearsal,” Moro says of the design. “The more (time) you invest, the greater your dividends are — it’s really that simple.”

He took inspiration from a kaleidoscope to create a raised, translucent set with walls that open and close to the beat of the narrative.

“We knew we were going to be in a lot of different places in her story, so we had to be able to shift effortlessly,” he says. “And we really tried to bring the idea of colonialism forward with this (set), you know, barriers that you can see through but can’t cross.”

This isn’t Moro’s first time working with Contois. He was one of her instructors at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and says it’s an honour to reconnect at this point in her career — which he describes as an “amazing explosion of output.”

“I think the mark of truly great art is when it reaches backwards and forwards at the same time. She has done that… to create this very engaging story,” Moro says. “It’s quite something — you don’t see writers burst forth like that so fully formed. It’s pretty rare.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Emily Solstice Tait plays the granddauther.

Contois was the first person PTE artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones gave a commission to after arriving at the company in 2018 (she also starred in his PTE directorial debut, Happy Place). That commission became The War Being Waged, which Jones is now directing.

The play is a poignant return to live theatre for the company in more ways than one.

“There’s Darla as an Indigenous women and all these Indigneous artists that are on the project and then there’s a historically non-Indigenous company helping it come to life. It’s really exciting, but it also takes a lot of trust on everyone’s part,” Jones says.

“Darla’s voice, from this place, in this place, at this time, is essential for… all audiences to see this story as a reflection of the world that we live in.”

Contois doesn’t necessarily want audiences to take anything away from the production, “Moreso, I hope that they leave a lot of things in the theatre,” she says. “Preconceived notions, ideas that they had — I just hope that they come in with an open mind and open heart and are ready to listen.”

While Contois will be focusing on school for the time being, she’s looking forward to future iterations of her play, “I don’t think it’s going to end here. This is just the first stop,” she says.

The War Being Waged runs Nov. 3-21 with a digital run available Dec. 2-21.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Tracey Nepinak (top) and Emily Solstice Tait deal with a wide range of difficult subject matter.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

 

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Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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