Friday, April 02, 2010

國家藝術中心劇場: "一場心血" / National Arts Centre Studio: "Where the Blood Mixes"

On Tuesday, K and I went to the NAC to see "Where the Blood Mixes", a play that had been nominated for a 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award. While the Residential School experience is a key theme of the current story, it was not in the original that playwright Kevin Loring wrote abt a decade ago (please see below the article written by Joe Wiebe for more details). With the added bitter-taste ingredient, the show really brings into focus, the impact of government policies on aboriginal children who were forced into Residential Schools for "white-wash" to rid of their uncivilized "redskin" culture.

Both K and I quite enjoyed the play. The performers really did a good job in bringing out the desperation of the community and the relationships btwn the characters. At the end of the show, I told music composer Jason Burnstick that some of my friends are involved with/impacted by the Residential School program. He looked at me and said: "So, you understand." To me, it was both a comment and a question. Could we outsiders ever understand what the Residential School students have gone thru?


"The Long Journey" - An interview of Kevin Loring by Joe Wiebe

Kevin Loring has been on a long journey with his play Where the Blood Mixes. The now-35-year-old actor/playwright began writing it a decade ago when he was in theatre school at Langara College’s Studio 58 in Vancouver. What he first came up with was much different than what the play looks like now.

"It was a twelve-minute solo show called The Ballad of Floyd," he remembered in a recent interview. "It was about a man in a bar celebrating his daughter’s birthday all by himself. It seems like he’s having a good time, but then as the night progresses you realize that he’s really quite lonely, and he’s celebrating his daughter’s birthday because she has left and is living in the Downtown East Side."

Loring performed that version himself twice-once for his graduation and once at the Talking Stick Cabaret, a precursor to the Talking Stick Festival, which now features aboriginal artists from across the country.

After that, he decided to expand the play into a full-length version with other actors playing the characters. "It was almost a Groundhog Day scenario where Floyd keeps waking up in the bar over and over again," Loring explained. "It’s like he can’t leave the bar; he’s stuck there until he breaks the cycle."

He kept working on the play, and during a workshop at Toronto’s Factory Theatre in 2004, he was thrilled to find himself working with Gary Farmer, the well-known actor.

"On the first day of rehearsals we’re all getting ready to sit down and read the play," Loring recalled. "The director asks everybody what they thought and they all say polite things. Then Gary pipes up. He takes the script and slams it on the table and says, ‘25 years in the business and I’m still reading drunk Indians in a bar. So what?!’"

For the playwright, it was a bolt out of the blue: "He was totally right. It was probably the most important note that I got in the development of the piece."

At the same time, it was a shock to Loring’s confidence. "It was terrifying," he admitted with a laugh. And although the workshop went well, "I knew that Gary was right. What he said really struck a chord."

Afterwards, Loring wasn’t sure how to move forward with the script, so he didn’t touch it for almost two years. But then he was invited to do another workshop with Sharon Pollock in Calgary.

"Leading up to that, I re-wrote it from beginning to end, page one to the end of the play." He felt that what was missing was a sense of the community where the characters live, so he specifically set it in Lytton, his own hometown.

"The new draft incorporated elements of what it’s like-the landscape, the rivers, that specific bar-and issues surrounding alcoholism and poverty, and just the struggle of the people there. It was so different from the previous versions of the play that I renamed it Where the Blood Mixes."

The title is a reference to the mistranslation of the N’lakap’mux place name for Lytton, which is Kumsheen. For years, it was believed to mean "the place where the rivers meet"-the confluence of the muddy Fraser and the clear blue Thompson-but the correct translation is "the place inside the heart where the blood mixes."

But there was still one element missing, which he didn’t discover until another workshop at Queens University: the fact that "all of the main characters are either directly or indirectly affected by their experiences at residential school."

It was a theme he had avoided in earlier drafts because "it’s a pretty loaded thing in the community," he said, "especially in native theatre."

"I figured I can’t really write about the experience of being at residential school because I wasn’t there, but I can definitely write about the aftereffects, what the echoes in the community have been. So I used that workshop to try that out on an audience, and when I heard it read it was like: boom, now it’s a play, now it’s about something. It all made sense. It was the missing ingredient."

Finally, the play was ready for the stage. The first productions were seen at Toronto’s Luminato Festival and Vancouver’s Magnetic North Festival in June 2008.

"At Magnetic North, we opened on the day of the Apology at the House of Commons," Loring said, referring to the federal government’s historic apology to former students of the residential school program, which occurred on June 11, 2008. "That day, we opened in Vancouver to a full house. It was unplanned, but you couldn’t plan it better."

Loring, who sees himself as "about half and half" a playwright and actor, is currently the playwright-in-residence at the National Arts Centre, where he is working on a new script. He also has a commission to write a script for Vancouver’s Green Thumb Theatre.

After this run at the Belfry [theatre in Victoria, BC], the play will move to Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre from February 24 to March 6 as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. From there, it goes on to Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto in March and April.

But for Loring, the most meaningful performance of the play may have already occurred. In 2008, after the show was staged in Toronto and Vancouver, it went on a tour of the BC Interior, including a stop in Lytton.

"It was amazing. It was absolutely amazing," Loring said with tangible excitement in his voice. "That day, it wasn’t like just doing a play, it was real. It was real for the people there; it was real for me."

"It was a beautiful sunny day in February," Loring remembered. "We filled up the Memorial Hall up on the Reserve. We had a big feast afterwards and everybody was all smiles and laughing. There were lots of tears and lots of laughter and shouts during the run of the show. It was a good day."

Clearly, with the success of Where the Blood Mixes, Kevin Loring can look forward to many more good days in theatre.


Joe Wiebe is a Vancouver freelance writer and one-time BBOB (Belfry Box Office Blonde). Read more of his writing at or

* The Interview

Related articles (written by Haricot / lotusandcedar):
* 探訪克裡駝鹿族國 ∕ Visiting the Moose Cree First Nation (Part 3)

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