By Heather Campbell
SUDBURY—Emerging Indigenous playwright, Sarah Gartshore, a new talent to watch out for, has been developing her bold, new play Survivance. Gartshore showcased a reading of the play as part of Shkagamik-kwe Health Centre’s National Aboriginal Day celebrations at their “Honouring our Spirit—Celebrating our Stories” gala, on June 21, 2016, at Sudbury Theatre Centre.
Gartshore has been honing her playwriting skills for the past several years with dramaturges Matthew Heiti and Lisa O’Connell from Pat the Dog Theatre Creation, a playwright centre, out of Sudbury, Ontario.
“This has been a courageous process for Sarah and an important conversation for all of us and one that challenges the audience at a very deep level,” said Lisa O’Connell, the founding Artistic Director of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation.
Survivance is based on urban Indigenous people in Canada and contributes to the conversations stemming from the Truth and Reconciliation efforts.
“I was encouraged to write even though it was controversial,” says Gartshore. “Indigenous people are still kicking. Not just standing, but rebuilding, actively rebuilding. It is a time for learning our culture but don’t always know how to access, especially for people living off of the Reserve.”
The process of taking a play from idea to full production can take several years to develop. From public readings, feedback sessions, and working with dramaturges before it finally gets produced for a larger audience. Presenting at the Shkagamik-kwe event to a mixed audience of over 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people was a unique opportunity. The audience was captivated from beginning to end of the 45 minute presentation, and showed their admiration with a standing ovation.
Gartshore grew up on St. Joseph Island, but spent a great deal of time in her mother’s home community of Batchewana First Nation. Her mother, Lois Apaquash, has been a big supporter of her daughter’s work including taking a small part in the public readings of the play.
Gartshore discovered theatre while attending Laurentian University and she ‘accidentally’ took a class with Karyn Recollet who introduced her to The Scrubbing Project by Turtle Gals Ensemble (Michelle St. John, Monique Mojica, and Jani Lauzon).
“That was a game changer for me. I began to reconnect with my culture,” recalls Gartshore. “The Scrubbing Project was so different with actors breaking all the roles and it gave me permission to do that in my own work.”
Gartshore did not start writing plays at that time, but became involved in theatre through acting. She learned about Pat the Dog Theatre after being hired as an actor for readings by local playwrights as they developed their plays. She decided to submit her own writing for a chance to work with Heiti and O’Connell in the 12-week Playwrights Junction program.
O’Connell says that it is essential that we have more Indigenous playwrights and she sees her role at Pat the Dog Theatre Creation to help nurture Gartshores’ voice and assist with the different tools of writing and performing.
Gartshore is also getting support from Native Earth Performing Arts Weesageechak emerging writers program and the special opportunity to work with Indigenous theatre creator Muriel Migeul. Miguel is founding member and artistic director of Spiderwoman Theatre out of New York City, an urban Indigenous performance theatre running since 1976.
“They asked me who I wanted to work with on my play and I immediately said ‘Muriel Miguel’,” she admits. Gartshore has indeed received her wish and Miguel is now reading her script and a working session has been scheduled in Stratford, Ontario this September.
Survivance will also be workshopped at Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto this November.