2 Authenticity, Ambiguity, & Aboriginality in the Rez Sisters My Way or the Highway?Authenticity, Ambiguity, & Aboriginality in the Rez Sisters
3 Lesson Objectives: To introduce Playwright Tomson Highway To discuss the relationship between language and identity in the Rez SistersTo examine some of the artistic devices used in the play
4 Tomson Highway Born 1951 northern Manitoba Cree is his first language Sent to Residential school in the Pas at age sixHe learned to play piano – music became a form of therapy & escapeHe went on to U of Western Ontario where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in music 1975He then worked for 7 years for Indigenous organizations:children’s recreation programsprison programsfriendship centresIndigenous courtworker programs
5 Trickster, By Any Other Name... “The “Trickster is as pivotal and important a figure in our world as Christ is in the realm of Christian[ity]…[and] goes by many names and guises…essentially a comic…his role is to teach us about the nature and the meaning of existence …he straddles the consciousness of man and that…of the Great Spirit…Without the existence of this being, the core of Indian culture would be gone forever” (XII)Artist: A.J. Ibister, Saskatoon
6 Cree-larious: How Language Shapes Thought The ethos of the Cree Language…[is] hilarious. The central figure in our mythology is a clown…as opposed to …European[s] [whose] central figure is an agonized individual. European mythology says we are here to suffer: our mythology says we are here to have a good time…When you talk Cree, you laugh constantly”
7 Teasing: In Cree social discourse, teasing functions as both a ‘Term of Endearment’& as a ‘Smack-Down’. Often, both are implied simultaneously.Pelajia to Philomena:“You gotta wear pants when you’re doing a man’s job. See? you got your skirt ripped on a nail and now you can see your thighs. People gonna think you just came from Big Joey’s house.” (7)
8 Down to Earth - Literally [Cree is] “very visceral. You talk quite openly about the functions of the body, which in English are taboo. The Trickster was a very sensual character – making love, eating – all those bodily functions, he celebrated them, he lived for them. The Trickster’s most frequent conversational partner was his anus.”
9 In The Rez Sisters, the female body is the locus of an interplay between absorption and elimination - a counterpoint that has both physical and cultural dimensions.Women's bodies in this drama are open, vulnerable to penetration by the male…open to the breaking force of blows; defenseless against the proliferation of cancer cells overthrowing the body's internal boundaries and hierarchies; open to the allure of a culture that offers consumer come - ons like "The Biggest Bingo Game in the World."But this body which can be penetrated can also swallow and - more significantly - eliminate. Void. Defecate." (Rabillard, 1993; emphasis added).
10 Taboo made Tangible“the best, most wonderful, my absolute most favorite part is the toilet bowl itself. First of all, it’s elevated, like on a sort of …pedestal, so that it makes you feel like.. The Queen…sitting on her royal throne, ruling her Queendom with a firm yet gentle hand.” (Philomena,117)
11 Gender(s) Without Borders [in Cree] “there is no gender given to words. By that system of thought the mythological Trickster is neither exclusively male nor female: or is both simultaneously. In the European languages you always have to deal with the male-female hierarchy.”
12 Challenging the Madonna/Whore Complex The Rez Sisters undermines gender conventions in life and in the arts by using:Narrative focus: the story rests almost entirely on a cast of strong, willful, female characters, addresses issues important to women, and is told from various female points of view.Plot development: e.g. The play opens with two women repairing the roof - a man's job; the women confront figures of colonial patriarchy (the chief, the priest, the Bingo Master)Dialogue: e.g. The women use explicit language regarding sex and bodily functions, as well as curse at, threaten – sometimes even physically assault one another.Character development: The characters embody various conventional and counter-conventional aspects of female social and sexual behaviour. e.g. Two-spirited Emily Dictionary is decidedly butch, but displays maternal tenderness for Zaboonigan; Gazelle Nataways is at once a whore & an anti-heroine; Veronique St. Pierre is barren & yet a mother to many
13 Freytag’s Triangle Meets Medicine Wheel In the European convention, a play is usually only one or the other: a comedy or a tragedy.In this sense, comedy does not mean literally"comedic", but instead refers to a plot structurethat has, essentially, a happy ending - or atleast one in which "peace" is restored.A tragedy means literally a tragic ending,usually involving the death of one or moreof the leading characters.
14 Freytag’s Triangle: Mapping Western Theatrical Narratives
15 A Curious HybridFlouting western dramatic conventions, Highway's plays are a mixture of both comedy and tragedy, reflecting a distinctly Cree narrative shape: Indigenous world views tend to be holistic, recognizing and encompassing the entire range of human experience, which includes the positive as well as the negative.
16 Indigenizing the Intersections Like Trickster, Thompson Highway's plays might be said to represent the nexus of varied and layered colonial polemics (e.g. Cree/English, male/female, comedy/tragedy, Indian/White).He claims his workis an attempt to articulate Indigenous histories,myths, experiences,and identities through the formal structure of western-style theatre, reconciling traditional and modern narrative forms.