The two one-act plays in Talker’s Town and The Girl Who Swam Forever are set in a small northern B.C. mill town in the 1960s. They portray identical characters and action from entirely different gender and cultural perspectives. In many ways, the two separate works are inter-related coming-of-age stories, with transformation as a key theme.
The central action in both plays involves an Aboriginal girl, Roberta Bob, who escapes from a residential school and hides out by the river. In Nelson Gray’s Talker’s Town, the story is conveyed by a teenage non-Indigenous boy whose friend has had a relationship with the girl and whose attempts to hush up the affair lead to disastrous consequences. In Marie Clements’s The Girl Who Swam Forever, the action unfolds from the perspective of the girl, who – to claim her past and secure her future – must undergo a shape-shifting transformation and meet her grandmother’s ancestral spirit in the form of a hundred-year-old sturgeon.
Employing a single setting and working with the same set of characters, the playwrights have created two radically different fictional worlds, one Aboriginal and one non-Aboriginal. Published together, the plays form a fascinating diptych that reveals rifts between Indigenous and colonial/settler histories and provides a vehicle for cultural exchange. As a starting point for trans-cultural dialogue, this set of plays will be of interest to educators, theatre directors, and the general reader interested in the current discourse arising from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Idle No More, and the Indigenous Rights Movement happening throughout North America. Read as a set, these two plays also invite conversations about negotiating creative boundaries, particularly with respect to eco-centric politics and cultural appropriation.
Talker’s Town: cast of 5 men and 1 woman.
The Girl Who Swam Forever: cast of 2 women and 2 men.
Nelson Gray is a playwright, poet, director, theatre scholar, and a professor in the English Department at Vancouver Island University. His writings for the stage, in particular his collaborations with director and choreographer Lee Eisler, have won numerous commissions and awards, and been produced in Canada, the U.S., England, and Germany. He was the co-founder, with Beth Carruthers, of the Songbird Project--one of the first eco-art projects in Canada to bring together the arts, sciences, and community activists--and his poetry and scholarly articles have appeared in several journals and anthologies. With the assistance of a Canada Council Award and a SHHRC Insight Development Grant, he is currently working on the libretto and pre-production for Here Oceans Roar, an eco-opera and film script based on his experiences as a salmon troller in the Pacific Northwest and incorporating oceanographic research from Ocean Networks Canada. Nelson has a BA (Hons) from Simon Fraser University, an MFA in Directing from the University of British Columbia, and a PhD in Theatre History from the University of Victoria.
Marie Clements is an award-winning Métis performer, playwright and director whose work has been presented on stages across Canada, the United States and Europe. She is the founder of urban ink productions, a Vancouver-based First Nations production company that creates, develops and produces Aboriginal and multi-cultural works of theatre, dance, music, film and video.
Clements was invited to the prestigious Festival de Theatre des Ameriques in 2001 for Urban Tattoo and in 2002 for Burning Vision. In 2002, she worked in the writing department of the television series Da Vinci’s Inquest. A fellowship award from the BC Film Commission enabled her to develop the film adaptation of her stage play, The Unnatural and Accidental Women. She is also a regular contributor on CBC Radio. Clements writes, or, perhaps more accurately, composes, with an urbane, incisive and sophisticated intellect; her refined artistry is deeply rooted in the particulars of her place, time and history. The world premiere of Copper Thunderbird is the first time Canada’s National Arts Centre has produced the work of a First Nations playwright on its main stage.