The season will commence on Sept. 11 and focus mainly on the work of female artists, with nine of the 11 productions produced by Indigenous women.
Despite being denied US$2.6 million in federal funding, the Indigenous Theatre department of Canada’s National Arts Centre (NAC) has launched its inaugural season with women at the forefront, according to the department's artistic director and award-winning playwright Kevin Loring.
"You go into any band office and they're (women) running the showcases. But I also think it's really important with a lot of conversations that we're having on a national level like the issues of murdered and missing [Indigenous] women and things like that, that we present our matriarchs on this stage here at the NAC," Loring stated.
The season will showcase the stories of Indigenous women's successes and struggles, from the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to an uplifting tale of a young boy whose mother helps his spiritual journey.
The season will commence on Sept. 11 and focus mainly on the work of female artists, with nine of the 11 productions produced by Indigenous women. About US$1.4 million was raised through corporate and private donors to get the project off the ground.
"Our intention is there will be a first season and the productions already planned for... We're trying to be creative about how we're going to make this happen," NAC spokeswoman Annabelle Cloutier emphasized and added that the NAC hopes to forge a partnership with the government for permanent funding in the future.
The organization has an overall annual budget of US$52 million, half of which comes from government funding, and the rest from ticket sales, fundraising, facility rentals and other revenue.
After a spectacular launch yesterday, listen to @KevilorKevin speak with @RobynBresnahan on @OttawaMorning about the inaugural season of Indigenous Theatre. https://t.co/SZAfguqM72. #NACIndigenous pic.twitter.com/kbJz8ijLFo— National Arts Centre (@CanadasNAC) May 1, 2019
The NAC Indigenous Theatre's 2019-20 season will spotlight work based on, performed or created by Indigenous artists, highlighting at least one Indigenous playwright, an Indigenous director or an Indigenous co-production.
"We had a big vision, and now I have to sort of scale that vision back to see what we can do with what we have," Loring pointed out about not receiving funding from the 2019 federal budget which would have facilitated outreach to Indigenous communities and taking productions to remote communities.
"I'm confident that eventually we'll be resourced in the way that we need to be to be a national theatre for Indigenous performing arts," the NAC artistic director said. "The Indigenous theatre is here to stay."
Regardless of the financial setback, the NAC still aims to present a 19-day Indigenous art and community festival featuring artist talks, culinary events and Indigenous arts programming.
"Without ongoing financial support, we will not have the capacity to achieve our vision and full impact," Loring noted and also recalled being initially "tempted to resign in protest at the news of this funding denial," but eventually chose to support the Indigenous storytellers.
"I have now been put in the disturbing position of overseeing a department whose creation and existence is a financial burden to an already stressed institution” on the NAC's 50th anniversary, the artistic director explained.
The stories will be presented in English, French and over 10 Indigenous languages.
"You have to encapsulate an incredibly wide variety of different cultures, perspectives and ways of doing things," the playwright said, adding the stories and creators hail from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the Arctic and even Australia.
"Our work has been... to not be pan-Indigenous but to be specifically Indigenous."
Loring won the 2009 Governor General's Award for English Language Drama for the play Where the Blood Mixes, which examined the intergenerational effects of the residential school system.
The Indigenous theatre’s September-to-May season opens with "The Unnatural and Accidental Women," by Metis-Dene playwright Marie Clements, as a reminder of the missing and murdered Indigenous women.