shalan joudry, left, and Matthew Lumley perform in joudry’s fireside play Elapultiek, commissioned by Two Planks and a Passion Theatre, first staged at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, now touring Nova Scotia. (Macky Schwartz)
Being non-indigenous, the experience of seeing the Mi’kmaw play Elapultiek is both illuminating and warming.
That’s not just because it’s told around a blazing fire with the croaking ravens, the wind, the trees and the stars echoing the play’s messages about land, culture and ecology.
It’s because playwright shalan joudry gives her audience a rare and true insight into Mi’kmaw culture as she portrays Nat, a young M’kmaw drum singer in conflict with Bill, a biologist counting endangered Chimney Swifts on disputed land.
As they meet on count nights, the two try to forge the vast cultural divide between the Mi’kmaw and Nova Scotia’s European descendants.
joudry’s quiet passion is clear in both her words and her acting as Nat, who is feisty but falters when the odds are stacked against her.
Matthew Lumley is endearing as the baffled and stodgy but kind Bill. The biologist has dedicated his whole life to species conservation and cannot believe he’s seeing someone talking to a fire.
Nat believes rocks are animate and that Euro-centric science can’t explain the world as well as her ancestors did.
Two Planks and a Passion Theatre commissioned joudry to write for its fireside stage and the company’s artistic director Ken Schwartz directs.
The one hour, 15-minute piece has the rhythm of a sacred ritual with the actors’ movements in the dark lit only by fire.
This effect is particularly lovely when Nat tells a story of the passing seasons with joudry prowling around the fire as a bear star.
Elapultiek is a healing journey for its characters and its audience with a glimmer of hope at the end.
When Nat questions if she can make any meaningful change, joudry throws that same question out to her audience.
Schwartz thinks this is the first full-length play by a Mi’kmaw writer commissioned by a Nova Scotia company. “We plan on touring this work again next year.”
Elapultiek (ehl-ah-bool-dee-egg) — “we are looking towards” — plays Eskasoni tonight (Sept. 6), Millbrook (Sept. 7) and Kejimukujik National Park (Sept. 8, 8 p.m., The Campfire Circle in P2 Jeremy’s Bay Campground.)
joudry, who writes with humour and grace, is an oral storyteller and ecologist from the traditional district of Kespukwitk (southwestern Nova Scotia). She first worked with Two Planks and a Passion in 1998 in its production of Drew Hayden Taylor’s 400 km. She lives in L’sitkuk (Bear River First Nation).
“It’s a crucial time to have these conversations,” she says, in a press release. “The power of performance can engage audience in ways that moves them to ask more questions about the past and future.”