In a popular western university that shall remain unnamed to protect the confused, there existed a theatre department. And in that theatre department there was a theatre professor who met political correctness head-on. It was not a pretty sight.One of this prof's responsibilities was to assist in organizing the following year's theatre season, which gave the acting students practical performing experience. As is often the case in acting classes, three-quarters of the student body was female, necessitating the programming of a play consisting largely of female characters.
The professor had often lamented that this meant repeated productions of plays like Les Belles Soeurs. So he came up with a brilliant idea.
One of his personal favourites was the little play called The Rez Sisters, by Tomson Highway. Granted, all its characters are native, but seven of the eight roles are female. He pitched the idea to his theatre committee. Concerned about the political implications of such a production but intrigued by the idea, they suggested the professor investigate. That he did.
He telephoned the guy who could be called the Leading Native Representative in the university to bounce the idea off him. The gent had some personal concerns about the play -- he felt it glorified bingo, which he considered another form of on-reserve gambling. But he gave the professor his blessing.
Next on the list was Tomson Highway, author of the play. Tomson gave more than his blessing, he congratulated the professor for daring to go against common practice. Several months before, Highway had written an article for a journal railing against artistic directors reluctant to produce The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing because they might not be able to find enough native actors to fill all the roles.
Highway believes non-traditional casting should work both ways and white folk should have the option of playing natives. The professor was encouraged. So he approached his students and told them the wonderful news.
He was shocked to discover that many of them were dismayed and reluctant. Some were downright uncomfortable. There was much talk about cultural appropriation.
Several persuasive individuals refused to audition. After several weeks of discussion, the play was scrapped because the students felt that they shouldn't be performing in a non-native production. They asked the professor if they could do Les Belles Soeurs instead.
Oh, the irony. After 15 years in native theatre and film, I know that many aboriginal actors live for the opportunity to play non-natives. I've lost track of the times a native friend has excitedly told me, "I've got a part in a play/movie, and guess what! I'm not playing an Indian!" They want to be hired for their talent, not their ethnicity.
I guess that's a one-way street. Perhaps what's most tragic is that, in this politically correct age, this would probably be the only time in their amateur and professional careers that they would get a shot at playing the "skin game."
Yet, no doubt, sometime in their future they will gladly jump at the chance to play a child molester, a Nazi, a whole plethora of unsavoury characters, with less thought than they put into turning down this unique theatrical opportunity. I don't quite get it.
This also puzzled the professor. "You don't want to appropriate native women, yet you are comfortable appropriating working-class French- Canadian women?" he asked, searching for understanding. "Yes, but there are no French Canadians in (this western city) and there are lots of native people here," was the answer. I've heard the French never stray very far from their poutine and bagels.
In the end, neither The Rez Sisters nor Les Belles Soeurs was produced. The final result was the programming of The Secret Rapture by English playwright David Hare.
I have not read this play but have been assured by reputable sources that it has no native characters.