New dance-theatre hybrid explores Canadian identity through the words and actions of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
While he may possibly be the most unlikely Canadian historical figure ever to receive a theatrical stage production, our seventh Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Mr. Five Dollar Bill himself) will be honoured and remembered through the new production, Laurier, which will receive two public performances at the Open Space Theatre in Fredericton on November 1 and 2 as part of its national tour.
Conceived and presented by the Confederation Centre for the Arts, Laurier was created and directed by Theatre New Brunswick Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones.
“Laurier is a dance-theatre piece built around the actual speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier,” said Jones. “It is a piece that gives voice to our former Prime Minister through his words, but also leaves room for the performers and all of the artists on the project to respond as Canadians now to thoughts, initiatives, opinions, and insights from Laurier’s time.”
Using Laurier’s words as a creative structure to work from, Jones, together with Assistant Director/Choreographer Kerry Gage and Composer/Sound Designer Deanna Choi worked with the show’s five-member cast to animate some of Laurier’s most memorable speeches.
“This means that there are often two things happening at the same time,” said Jones. “The speeches themselves, and movement or dance that augments, comments on, is an abstraction of, or illuminates the words. It also means that a good deal of the play uses the human body, the use of light, and the original musical composition as text.
“As artists working on the project, we collectively feel that it is a piece of art that contemplates identity by looking at the past, and also ourselves in the present,” he said.
So, of all the figures whose influence has helped shape the country we live in today, what is it about Laurier that warrants a stage production?
“I think it’s two things,” said Jones. “His influence on the country as our Prime Minister through his actions and policies, and also his extraordinary use of language.
“It was difficult to read through hundreds and hundreds of pages of speeches and to find the right pieces to share,” he said. “The theme of identity, or Canadian identity was helpful. These are loaded, complicated, challenging, inspiring, and interesting words – ‘Canadian’ and ‘identity’.”
Laurier’s impact on the early development of Canada can easily be measured through his long list accomplishments that include the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the establishment of Yukon Territory and the construction of the second transcontinental railway to name just a few.
But he is also remembered for words and actions that fly in the face of today’s culturally rich Canadian identity. Laurier is credited for halting Chinese migration by increasing the head charge from $50 to $500 and openly stated his belief that it was moral for Canada to takes lands from “savage nations”. His distaste for Vancouver’s growing Sikh community in 1906 is also well documented.
For this production, Jones drew inspiration from all corners of Laurier’s career and made a point to not gloss over some of his less-favourable actions and words.
“A speech that helped make Laurier’s career was in defense of Louis Riel following the Red River Rebellion, while his defense of Political Liberalism as opposed to Catholic Liberalism was an attempt to breech a religious and cultural divide,” said Jones. “His words, present in our production, regarding industrial immigration in opposition to his shocking words about what he terms ‘Asiatic Immigration’ made for a very intense and important conversation in our work.
“The list of his accomplishments that have shaped how we see our country now and his appeal for optimism and courage still resound today. In all, he is a figure from Canada’s history that can inspire us to ask questions about Canada’s past, present and future.”
Perhaps it’s this mix of good, bad and ugly that makes him the ideal subject for such a performance.
“When the audience leaves the theatre, I would love for them to be moved in their minds and in their hearts,” said Jones. “I would love for them to have unanswered questions. I would love for them to engage in conversations about these feelings and these ideas, and to carry these conversations forward long after they have left.”
This production is free of charge. Seating is limited and must be reserved in advance through the link below.