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“Our families are still healing”: Calgary play Honour Beat sheds the truth on issues affecting Indigenous communities today

Honour Beat, a play featuring Calgary’s first all-Indigenous cast and crew, has wound down after a busy month of performances running from Sept. 4 to Sept. 29.

“It’s the first time in the history of this country where there’s been an ability to speak this truth,” said Michelle Thrush, director of Honour Beat.

Thrush said that there is now space to share the truth on these issues, without having to apologize.

The play, written by Tara Beagan, is about two sisters, Rae-Anna, played by Tracey Nepinak, and Anna Rae, played by Monique Mojica, facing their mother’s death and the arguments arising between them afterwards. 

Thrush said she believes that it is important to not be censored on issues such as residential schools, and the difficulties faced growing up in Canada as an Indigenous person.

“The arts for me is about speaking the truth and putting light in places that have been dark for a long time,” said Thrush.

The play has a small cast of only four actors. It mainly takes place in one location, the hospital room the mother, played by Paula-Jean Prudat, is in.

Andy Moro, in charge of set and production design, included projections of various images that went along with the dialogue to fill up the space on stage.

With the heavy topics tackled in Honour Beat, Thrush wanted to make sure the cast felt completely safe exploring issues that were “so close to their hearts.”

There are many issues involved with creating a healthy family after generations of families were kidnapped and placed into a foreign system, said Thrush.

“Our families are still healing.”

While Honour Beat was in theatres, Thrush said there was a safe space in the lobby of the theatre Indigenous people could use if they felt triggered during some of the play’s moments. 

This safe space was a place where survivors could smudge (a traditional ceremony for cleansing the soul) and be with counsellors that were present during every show.

Beagan, the writer behind Honour Beat, is an “extremely intelligent woman” who was “very present, very sensitive,” said Thrush.

Thrush loved how Beagan was not apologetic for the topics and issues brought up in the play.

“She is not writing for non-Indigenous people.”

Beagan wrote the play’s script years ago, but did not receive funding until it was commissioned by Theatre Calgary through FUSE: New Play Development Program.

FUSE is a program that has developed a number of plays over the last few years such as Liberation Days by David van Belle, and Pride and Prejudice adapted by Janet Munsil.

Thrush has co-directed shows such as Treaty 7, and One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo shows.

Thrush has a show titled Inner Elder coming up at The Big Secret Theatre from Oct. 23 to. 27. 

In the future, she said she hopes that more Indigenous stories are brought to the stage and more collaborations between Indigenous cast and crews are involved with theatre in the city.

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