Reparation Via Adaptation
Scenographic Dramaturgy in the Wendake Tempest
13 November @ 6.00pm
Since the mid 1990s, the number of international Shakespeare productions engaging the politics of indigeneity and/or featuring indigenous performers has steadily increased. Examples include Simon Phillips’s 1999 The Tempest for Queensland Theatre Company, which cast Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers in a confrontation of the country’s colonial history, and Native Earth Performing Arts’ 2008 exploration of tribal politics in The Death of a Chief, a retelling of Julius Caesar co-produced by Canada’s National Arts Centre and featuring an all-aboriginal acting company. Working within a broadly similar postcolonial context is Ex Machina’s 2011 La Tempête, staged by internationally renowned director Robert Lepage on the Huron-Wendat First Nations reserve in Wendake, Québec. This paper unpacks the ways in which Lepage’s signature scenographic dramaturgy, composed of kinetic bodies, architectonic scenography and historical-spatial mapping, adapts Shakespeare’s Tempest in an effort to subvert the text’s imperial hegemony and symbolically return agency to the doubly colonised Huron-Wendat people. While such a postcolonial intervention is by no means conceptually groundbreaking, Lepage’s use of evocative scenography, not textual adaptation, to re-‘write’ Shakespeare’s colonial narrative merits further investigation. By empowering Aboriginal bodies in performance, shifting The Tempest’s conclusion to give a First Nations Caliban agency over Prospero’s fate and incorporating historical narratives including Edmund Kean’s physical and spiritual recuperation within the Huron-Wendat community in 1826, Lepage is crafting canonical counter-discourses that not only intrinsically acknowledge Québec’s problematic colonial history but also offer a positive point of contact for two minority groups that have regularly clashed in their respective pursuits for self-determinism – Canada’s First Nations peoples and the Francophone Québécois.
Melissa Poll is a PhD candidate in Drama at the University of London, Royal Holloway. Since completing her MA thesis in Theatre History and Criticism at the University of British Columbia, she has worked as a professional actor (The Arts Club Theatre, Théâtre de la Seizième), adjunct professor, and freelance theatre critic for The Vancouver Sun, Vancouverplays.com and The British Theatre Guide. Her current research focuses on scenography in Robert Lepage’s extant text productions, particularly his staging of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Metropolitan Opera.