Actor Tania Carter reflects on the national tour of Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way and how it changed her

As part of continuing our relationship with Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way, we will be publishing a series of post-tour blog articles and interviews with the cast and crew.

Our first is on actor Tania Carter who played Muriel.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Tania Carter, I played Muriel in Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way.

Where are you from?
I am from Vancouver originally. Spent 20 years in Toronto and came back, and yeah, here to stay.

My mom would consider herself Metis. But she was married to my dad so she’s status… but she wasn’t status before that. My grandmother is Metis. She wasn’t married to my grandfather when my mother was born. My grandfather is Tsleil-waututh. He’s a George. My grandmother is Mi’kmaw and Basque from France. And then my dad is a mix, but he’s from Seabird Island. He’s considered Sto:lo and Agassiz, BC. So then, that’s what I am.

You come from a large family of artists, and you mentioned activists….
Yes. That’s probably why I got hired last minute for this role.  Well I had a degree in theatre but my mom is Lee Maracle and she’s written like 6 million books. Probably two a year for the last three or four years. And my dad was the founder of Red Power back in the 60s here in Vancouver.

[The Red Power Movement were “a small group of Native Indian activists that existed in Vancouver from 1967-1975” –Red Power and Socialist Study: 1967 – 1975by Ray Bobb]

I didn’t know that… that’s amazing.
That’s how mom found him. She saw him on the news and she said “That’s the father of my children.” She went and tracked my dad down and followed him for a year.  His girlfriend at that time left and my mom took her place!

So he’s starting to write again now, but he was an alcoholic for a solid 40 years. After I was age six or seven, he started drinking when Red Power disbanded. That’s him. And now he writes. He doesn’t have a degree at all. He never finished high school.

My mom went to university when I was a teenager and got two degrees. Now she works for the university of Toronto. On the weekends she’s all around the world doing her books and stuff.

My brother works for CBC as a writer. Lives in North Bay, in his wife’s first nation, Nipissing.

My sister was an actress on film for a while. She did theatre in Toronto for about 12 years, and then she was a teacher for 12 years of theatre at Manitoba Theatre for young People.

Chief Dan George, my great grandfather, was an actor. Bobby George, my grandfather, tried to be an actor but it wound up being his dads calling.

That’s my family.

What were some of the highlights that you had on tour?
I would say a lot of the cast were awesome to tour with….it was nice to be around seasoned actors. It was nice to travel. I loved Winnipeg and St. Bonniface. It was awesome.  My grandma’s a French speaker, right? So, the accent thing, I liked it… it’s comforting. My grandma used to speak in French and my mom used to speak in English back to her. So, I would hear French all the time even though I didn’t learn how to speak it, and my mom didn’t speak it.

I really like the script. I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from this project as a professional thespian or artist is how theatre really can change you and it can become a conscious change.

“At one point in the end of Vancouver’s run I realized that something had changed in me, and it was my thought processes around residential school survivors”

At one point in the end of Vancouver’s run I realized that something had changed in me: it was my thought processes around residential school survivors, being the child of a residential school survivor, and being able to forgive the violence. Not necessarily forgive my father, but forgive the violence that he held inside and then expressed as I grew up. It was such a revelation, I came off the stage and I was like “Oh my God, I realized something! It’s not so bad to be a survivor!” To be the child of a survivor. The world can be a good place, even though there are people who are really violent.

What do you think it was that made that change possible, or made it possible for you to be conscious about that change?
I think it was the actors, the script, and the direction that it went on stage, and our willingness to take the scriptdifferent places emotionally. Other actors, because they were really into it and did what they needed to do, they enabled me to go places that I didn’t think I was able to go. I don’t know if it showed emotionally in how I delivered the words, but because I was able to act and embody the script I think that’s how it changed me.

I have a new respect for acting. It’s not just looking at the character, but you internalize it, you become it. You totally tap into the emotion of whatever that character is experiencing.Whatever Muriel’s story was, I felt it. It enabled me to look at residential school survivors differently. Totally differently. I’m 48 and finished a degree four years ago. Something opened up in me on this tour. I was able to go, “I’m taking this time for me, that’s what I blocked out for this script, this play, this tour, coming back to BC, going – This is my time now. (I raised a child, she’s good) Just focusing on how I was feeling and on the people around me.

What were some of the challenges for you?
Memorizing my lines.(laughs)

What else? I wish there was a show every day sometimes, or at least a rehearsal every day. Because sometimes there were two or three days where, if there was just a tech, we didn’t go 100 percent though the show.  It was kind of hard.

What did you hope that the audiences would take away from the script?
Well, I was hoping there was a lot of Native people going to see the show. And I had a feeling there wasn’t going to be, because the producers running it were non-native.

So, I was hoping that they would see that they really need to do a lot of research – that there’s a lot more to our history than is written in the textbooks they may have read or been exposed to. To see that we are humans, we have emotionality, we have problems and try to get through them. And to be witness, realize that they are witness to something real. I think that’s the biggest thing. These are stories from many different people that they wove together. I don’t think that was really clear in the promotional material – that these were real stories. People would ask me. Mostly native people would say, “Are these real stories?” And I would say “Yeah, they’re from real stories”. So I hope they got that, on a subconscious level – to know that this is us. Even through our performances, to feel that being indigenous people ourselves they might have known, ok there’s an experience here… because they did it so well, it must be a part of them, somehow.

 “Oral history has a place… it needs to be a part of everybody’s heritage.”

I think that’s the biggest thing, that this is real history.  It’s told orally. So that’s the next thing: not all history is written in a book. Oral history has a place, for non-indigenousand indigenous people. We need to bring it back. It needs to be a part of everybody’s heritage.

Yeah, totally. It was so powerful when Syilx Elder Richard Armstrong spoke at the Enow’kin Centre, do you remember that? In Penticton when he said, “It was like seeing my elders’ stories enacted on the stage…”
I kind of remember that, yeah. And you know, for the indigenous people, exactly, I want them to see themselves, and see the way out… that what we’ve experienced is generational. I can see how if you had [as much passion as the character Muriel] to get a family together, even though there’s so much dysfunction, if it’s possible, it could be a great thing. I think that the play is also saying, you need forgiveness. My character Muriel is trying to push the daughter to get together with the father, and the father to get together with the daughter. In an ideal situation, he would go to counselling. Then his daughter could see a good person – not just a healing person, someone who wants healing.

Tania Carter as Muriel (right) and Tracey Nepinak as Rosemary in Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way

How did you find that the show changes from territory to territory? Or did you find it changed?
Oh yeah.

VANCOUVER: Vancouver is very grounded. It’s very solid… Maybe because we’re longhouse and can adapt to that colonial hierarchy. We know what we want, and we know sometimes how to get it, but we think we know how to get it all the time. Which is good in some ways and bad in others. There was a real solidness about the performances here.

The whole longhouse thing is respect. So as soon as we stood up, they [the audience] stood up. For me, it wasn’t just a standing ovation – it was that matching longhouse-to-longhouse feeling. Like we are bringing our stories from another longhouse and we’re bringing it to yours. That’s what it felt like when [Vancouver audiences] gave standing ovations. We’re respecting your longhouse. We’re respecting you bringing your performance here as artists. That got me.

PENTICTON: Then we went to Penticton: they’re not longhouse. They’re underground, traditionally. In Penticton, I could really feel the spiritual, ancestral connection, the connection with the land, way deeper in a sense than even here.  In VancouverI felt the water and the people and the land.  But in Penticton it was really land-based, which gave our performance a totally different feel. For me, I felt like there was a lot of ghosts around. And loneliness. It felt like lonely ghosts. But they were really gracious that we were here, and that people were listening to them.

TORONTO: And Toronto…I was tired. Toronto seemed so fast. It was really tiring to be there…it was full of adrenaline ambitious. That’s the city where I did two educational degrees. I know that feeling: just push, push, push. We were in the downtown core and at U of T– and that’s only one of the universities down there…it has 40 thousand students who live in the downtown core. You have a huge young population, so you’ve gotta have that intensity. So, I loved it, but it’s tiring. Part of me was trying to keep up with the pace and at my age it’s really hard.

WINNIPEG: Winnipeg was just happy for me. All the actors were happy that we were going home soon.It was the last leg.

Because we had a lot of non-native people in the audience… it almost felt like a trade centre. Even when there was native people it was like “Oh, we’re coming to enjoy the show. Here’s another different people coming to show us something.”

I could feel that audiences were trying to be grounded. The native people try to be grounded. But there is a lot of poverty and stuff. Not just because Winnipeg’s in the middle of nowhere.  Native residents are always trying to be grounded, and there’s nowhere to ground, because there’s no real big economy in Winnipeg; and so we really have nowhere to go. So that was really sad, watching from an outsider’s point of view where we were. On stage I could feel this.  Winnipeg is a really lonely, economically depressed place.  We were mostly catering to the affluent that are very much a minority in Winnipeg. We have a lot of affluent people in BC and Vancouver especially, and we have a lot of affluent people in Toronto but you could feel that in Winnipeg [they were a] very small minority. So yeah, it’s kind of sad in Winnipeg, but kind of happy that we’re working there. And not just working but working doing something good. We’re not against the native people who live there or the impoverished white people. We’re doing something good, we’re making it accessible to people and we’re making money. Its possible. We’re bringing that possibility there. I hope one day people in Winnipeg have their own play like that. Or if we brought our play across the country, we’d have three or four actors from Winnipeg.

 “I would definitely do it all over again.”

I would definitely do this play and tour all over again. Maybe a little tiny bit differently but I really loved being on the road. The cast was great. I love Tracey, I love Jonathan. They’re just so seasoned. Sophie was so seasoned and professional. It was all just magnificent. And Tai was a struggler – she took to the ground running after her little degree, graduation thing. I loved it.

So yeah… it’s crazy… the world that we live in. That we can connect, too – connect with non-aboriginal people, aboriginal people. That part I liked… I have one white friend that I had in university and that’s the only white friend that I ever had. So, to go on this tour and meet such great people…. It was phenomenal. I have a different perspective on people who are working for a common cause… I knew that. I said “this is the only reason they’re here – they are working for a common cause.”

What’s next for Tania?

Tania is looking forward to producing her own play.

My play is actually about the missing and murdered women. It’s done in oratory and dance, and some Coast traditional singing. I did it for my thesis. The play is about two sisters who cut through a park, a conservation area. They get chased into the forest and the younger sister gets taken. The older sister tries to find her.

Tania Carter (left) at Playwrights Theatre Centre in a workshop of her new play

What inspired the play?  
I was raised in the 80s as a child.  I remember in 1982 the first 17 women that were found in the BC national park. That’s what triggered me going deeper into the subject. It all started from a dream that I had about my daughter and my niece who’s a dancer. She’s been dancing since she was six. Her mom is a choreographer.  My niece did dance school every year since she was a baby. My daughter has just got rhythm anyways, so in my dream, my daughter was a traditional West Coast dancer and my niece was a contemporary dancer. I wrote that into the script, then continued to write about the two. I was really surprised that my play wound up being a lot of choreography.

Tania recently workshopped the piece with Playwright’s Theatre Centre’s Heidi Taylor. She mentions how one of the dancers involved in the workshop had a surprising journey with the piece.

The girl who played the dancer was just so mad at me for the script. She was like “One more rape scene…” And then two days before the end, she said “I wrote you a big long email and I wrote a dance piece. I want to show it to you.” She said, “I feel empowered by your play.”

[In the beginning] she didn’t try to perform the choreography and so she couldn’t envision what I was intending with the choreography.

At the beginning, the male performers said that there’s nothing redeeming about the men [in the play]… And there is no redeeming text for the men. There are no empowering words from the men that come to the women. I think that’s what the actors saw at the beginning when they first read the script…. but in the choreography, in the actions, [there is redemption.]

That’s something I’ve got to repeat to myself and talk about. I realize that in my life, there was always a lot of words of love and pleas for forgiveness, but there was no action. And I think my play says something about me: that I want action. I don’t want all those words.  I want somebody to protect me innately from here [the heart], that doesn’t have to tell me that’s what they’re doing.

Sometimes when people say things it doesn’t always come true. And you don’t want to live on a promise. My play is a teenage play. It’s totally for young people, and probably for people my age too.  Being raised as a latch-key kid, you can look back on your life and go you know what? Your parents…well especially an alcoholic father, he will promise you the world, and it never happens. You never get the world from an alcoholic. Even if you get money and whatever, you never get the world.

My play is all about how you don’t take people at their word.  You take them at what they do. And you take my word as a person who’s lived through whatever I’ve been through, and consider how this is going to help you if you listen. Not listen just with your ears but with your eyes and everything.

I hope I can involve an actor who will dive in and then see the goodness through performing or rehearsing the play.

I’m exited to see it!!
I’m excited too! I never even saw till now the difference between the script and the dance part, and how my life is like that…you know? I’ve lived my life with promises everywhere.

Maybe it’s being a girl… I was looking to the dad to [say] “You did good, you did good,” and having that dad there… and not having him. I’m realizing if the actions were all different, it would have been a different story. It’s nice to be able to say: “You can write a different story.”

Posted by Julia Siedlanowska

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