This post is part of a series for our Her Side of the Story encounter, May 13-14 2016 located at the National Theatre School of Canada. We invited theatre artists from across Canada to reflect on how their work in theatre is influenced by their perspective as women. Are they conscious of promoting a “feminine perspective” or is it something that is intuitive? Imago Theatre would like to thank all of the artists who responded to our questions for their thoughtful, insightful responses. We will be sharing these responses on our blog for the first two weeks of May. We will also be creating a publication of selected quotes, which will be available for free at the Her Side of the Story readings, long-table discussion, and cabaret.

Reneltta Arluk

What does the female perspective mean to you?

It starts with how I approach a story as an audience member, whether that be in a play, a book, a conversation. I settle in. Often it’s a better listen. What I mean by that is in these plays, books, and conversations there is a desire to connect. To connect to a place of revealing, of sharing a situation that includes not only the person speaking but what is inspiring that woman to speak out. When we follow a male protagonist we can tend to hear his singular voice and his journey. When you follow a female protagonist often you follow the journeys of who is important to her, situations that affect her, wanting to understand others around her. The picture is contextually bigger and therefore there is more to dive into. Not saying male writers or men are less divulging but the conversation is different. Men primarily have the heard voice in many situations so there is a less need for them to explore outwards but tend bring the story to them.

Is it important to have the feminine perspective on stage? If so, why?

Of course it’s important. For one thing population. We are not less in population so therefore our perspective should not be less on stage being represented. The other reason it’s important is to have the perspective shared directly. We as humans cannot empathize with other cultures, people, histories, lives without hearing their personal perspective. We can read and study to learn outside our realities but often it’s through the observance of another person. It becomes an interpretation rather than a perspective. There is more gained by experiencing a play from a connected perspective rather than a speculative one.

How do you approach your work as a female practitioner? Does the feminine perspective inform your work?

As a minority and a woman the work becomes a balance of expressing your individual voice but also taking into consideration the representative voice. I ask myself the question, “Does this character have a greater message than just the words she’s speaking?” It can be a fine line because as a minority and as a woman I don’t want to weaken the character for the politics or the education; but I still want to have a greater vision be heard through her. I think about how my work can feed into creating a better understanding of the Indigenous world, the northern world, the female world, the underprivileged world…then I go fuck it and write what my guts tell me to and trust the vision is there.

According to you, what stories need the most telling? How is this reflected in your practice?

We need to hear more Indigenous stories. It’s selfish to say but it’s true. We need to be a constant voice heard in all facets of society: politically, visually, artistically, musically, textually, physically, all the “lly”s. We need to because we, like the rest of Canada, do not have one perspective as a Peoples. Often we are considered or expected to have the same one. The more people who hear our stories broadens the perspective and leads to better conversations in this country. I like to think that my work as a writer and actor help initiate a better conversation.

How do you approach choosing the work? What do you look for?

I first look at the perspective or the voice that is being asked of me as an actor. Can I take on this role, do it justice, and transform the audience mind? As a writer or producer I create the perspective so then I look at what does this audience need to hear? What do I need to say? Ha ha ha. So I guess I approach choosing my work with questions and then work at answering them. I look for ways to deepen the understanding of who I am creating. There is excitement in not knowing all the answers, where the story will take you. As a writer and/or as a performer the enjoyment is digging for it.

Have you seen many changes in the theatre scene in the last couple of years? 

Absolutely. I am not sure if it’s coming from the Truth and Reconciliation that has been happening across this country or if it’s a collective consciousness for a need to change but being an Indigenous artist in this country feels brighter. It excites me that the National Arts Centre is committing to creating an Indigenous Theatre section in its company. It’s exciting that Stratford is opening its doors to Indigenous actors, directors and playwrights. These major theatrical institutions have a greater capacity to create change in our community. It’s exciting that our long time running Indigenous companies are expanding to a greater audience. Often our culture is matrilineal-based this means our women are a major part of these changes.

Can feminine and masculine perspectives co-exist on stage? Can you name a play that has succeeded in doing this?

I immediately think of Oleanna by David Mamet. I’m not entirely sure it’s a feminine and masculine perspective but it definitely challenges the male and female dynamic. It remains a play that utilizes the skills of the actors to fight for their objectives, their perspectives. That’s intriguing and remains so. I have always wanted to be cast in this play for this reason.

Can you name a male playwright who writes from the feminine perspective? If so, how do they succeed that it?

I immediately think of Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway. Tomson successfully wrote a play about seven Native women who fundraise to go to the BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD using humour, heart wrenching reveals, cutting dialogue and timeless relationships that still resonate in our country today. Having met some of the original cast members of this iconic play and having the opportunity to speak with them, I learnt that this was successful because it was collaborative. Collaborative in the way that Tomson recognized his aunties, his mother, his friends, his community, the crimes that were happening and wrote about it with  succinct composition. The characters are real because we know them, they exist still, all are diverse and have their own desires, losses, pains and flaws that make them beautifully human. Ha ha ha, I feel like I am writing a review for this play but honestly other than Les Belles Sours when have you enjoyed being the fly on the wall so much as an audience member?

Is there a play (or plays) that represents a model for the feminine perspective for you?

I think because it has been in the media lately as Kelly Allard’s day parole hearing came up regarding Reena Virk. I think of Shape of a Girl by Joan MacLeod. That play explores the various perspectives and dynamics that led to this horrific act of lateral violence as a way to try and understand it, be sickened by it, empathize with it. This play asks you to put yourself in all the shoes.

Ask me if I want more reasons to go to theatre and what would inspire me to do that! (I’ll pretend you did.)

Tell me more stories I haven’t heard. I think new work is greatly underrated in this country. We rely too heavily on the confirmed successes and our country suffers because of it. It suffers artistically but also collectively because these new works reflect a broader perspective of who we are becoming. Underrated and underfunded. Offer a space to a perspective that isn’t male dominated and then sell season tickets. Go see a play written from another cultural perspective than your own and buy their play. Be the minority and appreciate it. I certainly do.


Reneltta Arluk