Why did you decide to adapt Shakespeare’s play As You Like It?
One aspect of the play that interested both myself and Chris Abraham, artistic director of Crow’s Theatre, was the fact that it’s about people from the city who go out into the forest. This return to the land leads to an encounter between two worlds that are usually opposed, and this encounter makes renewal possible. From an Indigenous viewpoint, I think that moving between territories—not just geographically, of course, but also psychologically—helps to start a dialogue. For either side, taking a step back and getting an outsider perspective helps us look at things that it would be easier for us to cover up.
We have a tendency to be comfortable with the idea that we know. We think that because we’ve read one article, we’re an expert on the subject. You meet one person and you think you have empathy. But you don’t know. We should always be trying harder to understand others and what they’re going through.
Shakespeare’s work engages in constant dialogue with the past to shed light on the present. What is the importance of history to you?
These days, my impression is that history is something we like to use against each other. We’ll bring up this fact over here to do battle with your fact over there. As Indigenous people, we come from a system of lies about history, and we’re taught total BS all the way. Luckily, we really are moving on from that and new perspectives are slowly being brought into the collective story. My show is part of the movement to displace our perspective.
It’s not to throw away everything about recorded Western history but to say that there’s another story here that has a different starting point. It begins “where I come from, people say this;” it starts with “the old folks say this where I come from,” and these stories are just as valid as those found in schoolbooks.
You’ve taken on one of Shakespeare’s comedies and approached it quite playfully. In your view, are there different kinds of comedy—a kind that’s positive and transformative, and another, less valuable kind, that’s more complacent or indifferent?
I don’t think a laugh is ever a bad thing. Even when you’re laughing about a very sad or serious subject, when you laugh, you let this thing go from inside you. Sometimes it’s from deep down inside, and the laughter—even if it comes out like a pustule of bile—hits you in ways that surprise you. When a joke is made with a terrible image, you have to remember that the image isn’t real; it’s only a tool to allow us to look at parts of ourselves in a more real and honest way.
Laughter is based on interaction: I tried to make you laugh. If you did laugh, then that’s on you. We’re in this transformation together. Everyone is free to choose how to deal with what provoked their reaction. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to face and we might decide to bury it deep inside, but in other cases, we might decide to use it to start a transformation.
I don’t believe that theatre works as propaganda, even when a work delivers a message that’s really worthy or important. The only thing an artist owes the audience is a good time. And maybe to make them feel a little better. Not to transform them.
Your show is billed as a “radical” retelling of As You Like It. In what sense is your interpretation radical?
Personally, I thought the text was close enough to the original that we could just call it As You Like It. By the way, I would love to get hired by the Stratford Festival with this adaptation! But since enough of the text is different from Shakespeare’s version, it seemed important to include a qualifier, so as not to break the sacred trust with the audience. I don’t know if it’s “radical,” but it is pretty rad!