Rez Sisters focuses on strength of women
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
BERNICE TRICK Citizen staff
The first thing two First Nations actors heard upon arriving in Prince George were the horrific stories of the Highway of Tears and former judge David Ramsay , both of which either involve murder, exploitation or assault of young First Nations women.
Marsha Knight from Winnipeg and Lisa Dahling from Vancouver are here as part of the cast in the production The Rez Sisters at Theatre North West, a story of seven First Nations women who live on a reserve .
"This play is all about women -- their power and strength and the struggles they face," said Knight, who works with exploited youth in Winnipeg.
"So it is very insightful to come here and hear the histories of the Highway of Tears and judge Ramsay. Unfortunately, I think that judge Ramsays and highways of tears exist in every region, and it's important that people be willing to listen and to do something," said Knight.
The two are full sisters in the story that involves seven women piling into a van to make a six-hour trip to Toronto in bid to win a half-million dollar jackpot in the biggest bingo in the world.
They say life on the Wasaychigan reserve is "familiar and close knit."
"It's good, but sometimes it drives you crazy," said Dahling, who noted women in the play that features an all-First Nations cast, are all related in some way -- half sisters, sisters-in law and a daughter.
During the trip the audience gets to share the women's stories -- sad, shocking, inspiring and hilarious.
"It's a play full of hope. We know there's good things to come and this is about how we make the good stuff happen," said Dahling.
The positive response that 's been given to the play is important to First Nations people, said Dahling.
"It's important for all people to see themselves represented and this was among the first for First Nations. People see us on stage and are impressed. It made a big impact among people when the play began in Ontario. It's a classic already."
Unlike many actors, these two women were not on stage as children or youth.
It's just a few years since Dahling, who plays Philomena Moosetail, started out in stage management, proceeded into community theatre and ended up attending acting school for a year in Vancouver. Since then she's played in a host of of plays, a television series and has worked closely with Tomson Highway, playwright of The Rez Sisters, and was the original Isobel Thompson in his Ernestine Schuswap Gets Her Trout.
Knight, who plays Pelajia Patchnose, began her acting career in 1993 by by taking weekly evening acting classes, progressed into community theatre and landed her first professional job in fareWel. With her Ojibway and Metis ancestry, she has done a number of roles, including The Rez Sisters with Prairie Theatre Exchange, as well as film and video.
They both encourage people to come to the TNW play running to Nov. 21.
"Theatre is a form of story telling and this is a beautiful play to see and hear," said Knight.
"There are many levels of theatre, but this play, with all its kooky characters and a very cool set, will be an evening of both fun and emotion," said Dahling.
"Theatre North West is to be congratulated for mounting this difficult production," said Knight, while Dahling sends along appreciation to all the families that billlet actors during their Prince George stays. "That's a major item for most of us," she said.
Tickets, available at Studio 2880 or Books and Company, are $25 for adults and $23 for students and seniors on weekdays (except Mondays) and Sunday, and $27 for adults and $25 for students and seniors on Friday and Saturday. For phone orders call 614-0039 or 563-2880.