Seven days: that’s all Reneltta Arluk is hoping it will take to inspire storytellers, actors, writers and theatre enthusiasts in the NWT to start exercising their voices when it comes to what’s being written about the North.
The NWT-born stage actor and playwright is in Yellowknife this week with her company Akpik Theatre’s latest project, the Northern Play Reading Series, aimed at putting Northern work on stage while also allowing a NWT audience the chance to vet southern playwrights’ depictions of the North.
Between Feb. 9 and 15, a mix of local and southern actors will spend each night acting out different plays at the Yellowknife Artist Run Community Centre (ARCC), followed by a frank discussion on the works and a chance for the audience to vote on which play was their favourite.
Arluk said the inspiration behind the series came from her complicated experience working as a “creative migrant” in the south, and is designed to create a dialogue on how the North is being represented in theatre and what can be done to make those stories more authentic.
“For the most part I like what I’m a part of, but sometimes I wish the stories that the North are inspiring could be heard by the people that live in the North,” Arluk told The Journal last week.
While that has been possible on some occasions, as when Arluk and frequent collaborator Tiffany Ayalik of Yellowknife were able to perform Christopher Morris’ Night last year, most of the time Arluk said she is the only Northern, indigenous person in the room. That role can sometimes be daunting.
“When I travel I feel like a bit of an ambassador, and I talk from my perspective, but I know that we all have a different perspective. So with these stories, I have my personal opinions about some of these plays, but I’m not the be-all, end-all,” Arluk said.
“The Arctic has always been a focus for Canada, and I just think we need to start having a collective consciousness about that, and who’s telling our stories and how those stories are being told, and how we can start representing ourselves in the art that has to do with the North.”
The plays profiled in the series were selected by Arluk and dramaturg/director Joanna Garfinkel, and showcase a broad range of themes explored by theatrical pieces from the 1930s to the present.
“I’m bringing in really good actors and hiring really wonderful local actors to really showcase the quality of the work, so it isn’t just people reading the plays, it’s people interpreting the texts of the plays and presenting them,” Arluk said.
Each night deals with a different theme, starting with the “conquering of the North” and covering other tropes like isolation, mysticism and violence among plays on the stark realities of climate change and uranium mining.
“We tried to choose the best plays that really touch on the themes the North inhabits and strong writing to make it interesting to listen to,” Arluk said.
Audience members will have a chance to talk about the plays and vote for their favourites, and Arluk has committed to turning the top pick into a production her company will bring back to the NWT.
But aside from crowdsourcing for her next big production, Arluk hopes the series will inspire Northerners to start telling their own stories, whether that be through theatre or other forums.
“I would love nothing more,” she said. “Everything I do is really for that purpose.”
The Northern Play Reading Series will be held at the Yk ARCC Feb. 9-15 at 7 p.m.; 4 p.m. on Saturday. Entry is by donation.