By Theresa Hendricks, MNO Finance Officer

The Hendricks family in costume for the first
all-Aboriginal production of Shakespeare’s
King Lear. (Left to right) Marissa, Theresa,
Keith and Jordyn Hendricks.
The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa recently staged the first-ever all-Aboriginal production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The Play ran from May 8-31 and was set in 17th Century Canada, amidst the pressure of early contact and confrontation, with a cast of Aboriginal actors from across the country, including the renowned August Schellenberg as Lear. In this powerful family conflict, an aging father—dividing his kingdom—demands proof of love from his daughters, thereby unleashing a tempestuous tragedy that even a king can’t control. More information on this production click here.

The NAC made a call for Aboriginal people to volunteer to play non-speaking roles in the performance and MNO Finance Officer Theresa Hendricks and her family responded to the call and were selected to participate.

On November 24, 2011, the Métis Nation of Ontario forwarded an email to all staff indicating that the National Arts Centre (NAC) was reaching out to the aboriginal community here in Ottawa. They were looking for volunteers to participate in the upcoming production of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

After I read the e-mail I forwarded it to my husband saying this would be a great opportunity for our girls, especially since our eldest daughter would be taking Drama in high school next fall. We decided to go to the information session to see what it was all about.

The training sessions began on January 8, 2012. The group of volunteers was called the Four Nations Exchange. To try to put into words what our experience was like would not do it justice. We worked closely with Suzanne Keeptwo, Aboriginal Advisor and Community Liaison, and Peter Hinton, Director. Getting together every Sunday was something the four of us looked forward to every week. Many hours were spent getting to know each other and Suzanne always brought traditional teachings to our workshops.

Before we knew it we moved onto Phase Two of our training. We were now meeting on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Getting together with the Four Nations Exchange was wonderful. What an excellent group of people we had the pleasure of meeting. Each and every one of them became part of our family.

On April 2 we met the entire cast!! We sat through the first script reading! What an incredible experience. I tried to read the script when we were first sent it. I couldn’t imagine having to memorize all those lines! The words didn’t even make sense. When the actors read their lines I was in awe of their talent. I was also terrified knowing we would be sharing the stage with such an amazing group of professional actors. I did not feel worthy.

Many hours were spent in rehearsal. There were a few very long days. I remember how exciting it was the first time we had a live audience! WOW…the rush quickly became addictive!

Talk backs were held after some of the performances. That’s when the actors volunteer to stay after the show and answer questions from the audience. One question that kept coming up was “Where is the play going next?” I was so disappointed to hear that the only theater that picked up this production was the NAC. As a Canadian I was embarrassed. As an aboriginal I was hurt.

The first performances started at the beginning of May. The month flew by in a blur and it was quickly time for our last show, the 21st performance. Just before our very last show the entire cast and crew were asked to gather onstage. Lorne Cardinal, who played Duke of Albany, led us in a final smudge to celebrate our last performance together. Once Meegwun Fairbrother, who played Duke of Burgandy, began to sing and drum I could not hold back any longer. Almost the entire circle was in tears. It was such a moving experience. I was so incredibly sad and was not ready to say good bye to my new friends.

The vision of doing an all aboriginal King Lear has been a dream of August Shellenberg for over 40 years. It felt great to be part of history in the making. Kevin Loring, who played Edmond, wrote this amazing blog post that says it all!

Click here
to read the blog.