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July 20, 2017 | Working Together - Spring/Summer 2017

"Huff" production
Cliff Cardinal in Huff. Photo by Akipari, courtesy of Theatre Projects Manitoba.

Theatre Projects Manitoba closed its 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with two plays that emphasized Indigenous issues: Reservations and Huff.

“Our plays [focus on] what is current and relevant not just in the City of Winnipeg or the province of Manitoba, but around the country and also, in a contemporary sense, around the whole world,” says Artistic Director Ardith Boxall.

The first play, Reservations, explored two stories linked through themes of belonging, systemic discrimination, restitution and reconciliation. One story dealt with conflicting views between foster parents and an Indigenous Child and Family Services agency, while the other revolved around a Mennonite farmer’s choice to offer his land to the Siksika First Nation.

Huff, a production of Toronto-based Native Earth Performing Arts, closed Theatre Projects’ most recent season. Written and performed by Indigenous actor and playwright Cliff Cardinal, the play deals with substance abuse and the plight of systemic discrimination, but offers a sense of resilience and hope.

“[Cliff] has a wicked sense of humour, and he’s not afraid to wield that,” says Ms. Boxall. “It takes the audience along with him so that when the dark things happen, they are invested in a very human and connected way with the characters Cliff is portraying on stage.”

Ms. Boxall emphasized the importance of ensuring Indigenous artists have a platform to tell their stories in the way they want to tell them.

“I follow the lead of my Indigenous colleagues,” says Ms. Boxall. “It’s not my place or the place of Theatre Projects Manitoba to say ‘Let’s tell an Indigenous story – let’s go find one about this issue or that issue, or let’s tell it through a lens of hope or through a very dark lens.’”

Although plays like Huff deal with difficult themes, Ms. Boxall understands the need for artists to tell these stories.

“While these kinds of themes – substance abuse, suicide, and sexual abuse – are so, so tough to witness, they must be acknowledged,” says Ms. Boxall. “To paraphrase a line in Cliff’s play, ‘You have to go – it’s the darkness that will lead you through to the light.’”


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