Something Old, Something New: Native Earth Puts Down Roots in Regent Park


 As Canada’s oldest Aboriginal performing arts company moves into its new space and prepares for an inaugural performance, artistic director Tara Beagan reflects on what it means for the company to settle in Regent Park.


By Marcia Walker

“We had our phone lines connected today,” Tara Beagan says offhandedly, as she sips her tea and continues her previous discussion about the legacy of colonialism. Hammering echoes through the hall but Beagan doesn’t seem to notice. It’s August 2012, and the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts (Canada’s oldest Aboriginal theatre company) is confident, grounded and thoughtful in the company’s new office at the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre (now called Daniels Spectrum).

A scene from Thy Naighbour's Wife, by Tara Beagan

Naomi Wright, Martin Happer and Melissa-Jane Shaw appear in a scene from Thy Neighbour’s Wife, by Tara Beagan, in the production from Theatre North West in Prince George, British Columbia.

“It was a natural fit,” Beagan says of the recent move. “Placing us here, the oldest Canadians with the newest. It also raises questions… What does it mean to be a visible minority in a city where visible minorities are the majority? We don’t have a collective culture. Not yet. How can we be one community? I’m interested in finding out who we are together.”

Building community comes naturally to Beagan. She often mentors younger playwrights like Waawaate Fobister. “I have ten years on him and I want to help him to the next stage in the same way mentors have helped me.” One of Beagan’s mentors is her good friend Yvette Nolan, the former artistic director of Native Earth. Both women are playwrights with Aboriginal mothers and Irish fathers. “There were times last season when I wasn’t sure how people were fitting together. If I need help, I always know I can call on her. I am never alone.”

Beagan has just finished directing Waawaate’s sold out Summerworks show Medicine Boy. As she unpacks the office, she also dismantles the Medicine Boy set. “We didn’t get as much production support as I would have liked,” she shrugs. For Beagan, developing talent and encouraging community is more important. Beagan’s producers and her assistant director for Medicine Boy were all in their early twenties and of Aboriginal descent. “There are now three more Aboriginal producers out there,” she says with pride.

Her next project is acting in Keith Barker’s play The Hours That Remain, a co-production with Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company and New Harlem Productions. When the play comes to Toronto in October, this will be the inaugural production in the Aki Theatre, Native Earth’s performance space in their new home. “Having the same rehearsal and performance space is much closer to our tradition,” she says. The rumble of construction continues around her but she remains unfazed. The noise and dust of construction are temporary. Native Earth is here to put down roots.

The Hours That Remain runs until November 3, 2012 at Daniels Spectrum. Tickets are available at the Aki Studio Theatre  or by calling the box office at 1-800-204-0855.

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