Garratt, Carmichael discuss 'Ipperwash' at museum - July 27, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The Blyth Festival production of Ipperwash was the topic of discussion Monday night at a special event hosted by the Huron County Museum in Goderich.
Artistic Director Gil Garratt and Jessica Carmichael, co-playwright and director of the show, were at the head of an event that attracted dozens to the museum to hear more about the research that has gone into the project.
Carmichael told those in attendance that she felt Ipperwash was a “very compelling project” as soon as Garratt proposed it to her. She, like Garratt, was surprised that the Festival had never before produced a play about the Indigenous community or that an Indigenous author had ever written a play for the Festival before Garratt took on the job of artistic director.
She also said that she was instantly intrigued by the Blyth Festival, as a theatre company that’s very connected to “the land” and its own community, which was a way of producing theatre with which she felt she could relate.
The event, moderated by Elizabeth French-Gibson of the museum, consisted of a number of questions asked by French-Gibson and then an open question-and-answer period from those in the audience.
Garratt said he wanted to put a First Nations story on the Blyth Festival stage and he knew that rather early on in his tenure. With the Kettle and Stony Point First Nations communities being the closest to Blyth, he said that trying to connect with that community made the most sense.
Telling the complete story of that community, however, he said, would prove to be an impossible task. He also said that a re-telling of the Dudley George shooting and the occupation that led to the stand-off isn’t something that’s needed either.
Carmichael agreed, saying that the George story has been told, in many cases badly, and that while George will be “present” in the production, he certainly won’t be its focal point. Rather, the communities of Kettle and Stony Point and the people of those communities will be the focus of Ipperwash.
The play, she said, will take place in 2015, but historical points of the production will reach back to the 1940s and 1950s at times in order to tell a well-rounded story of the community.
When the Department of National Defence appropriated the land on the reserve, Carmichael said, residents’ homes were literally moved to another part of the community while many were overseas fighting for Canada. Not only did this cause animosity between the department and the community, but it resulted in tension between the two communities, which were forced to settle together – some having their farms split to accommodate those who were displaced – as a result of the appropriation of land.
Very early in the writing process, Carmichael and co-playwright Falen Johnson knew they needed to be present in the Kettle and Stony Point communities, so they went there and met with some of the locals.
After a seven-hour drive from Toronto – lengthened due to several instances of getting lost – the two were on the reserve and met a woman who ran a fish and chips stand there, who had proven to be an invaluable contact and liaison between the playwrights and members of the community.
As the months went on, Johnson and Carmichael were brought into inner circles of the community and met more and more residents who have helped them with the project along the way.
There has already been on cast and crew trip to the reserve and another is planned for this week, she said. Furthermore, a bus has been arranged to bring members of the Kettle and Stony Point communities to the show when it opens and, while nothing has been finalized, there has been discussion about a full-scale production of Ipperwash on the reserve at some point this summer – potentially in the reserve’s amphitheatre where the community holds its pow wows.
The consultation process, Carmichael says, has been very important to her and Johnson, and to the production and connecting with the community has meant everything to the project.
Ipperwash is set to hold its world premiere on Friday, Aug. 18.