Guest Article by Keith Barker
Keith Barker is a Métis playwright & actor from Northwestern Ontario. He works at the Canada Council of the Arts for the Aboriginal Arts, and was the former Artistic Associate at Native Earth Performing Arts. He is a former member of the Toronto Arts Council Committee, and a board member for the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. He was the administrator of the Young Voices Program for young Aboriginal writers.
The first time I read Pig Girl it took me three attempts to get through it. For me, even the title is difficult to process yet I believe it is a necessary piece of theatre. It is an unflinching, unapologetic, and polarizing account of the very worst subject matter. Some say the playwright went too far with the graphic subject matter, to which I would say that I have seen far worse depicted on screens in film and television with little uproar. It is very different to experience this kind of violence reenacted on stage. As audience members, we become participants in a shared intimacy that is unsettling, unimaginable, and worst of all, becomes real.
Pig Girl is a necessary piece of theatre because it examines the very worst in human nature. Every part of the play is orchestrated to provoke an audience and does not allow us to ignore what has happened and continues to happen to women in this country. For me, as a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a friend, a co-worker, as an Indigenous person, as an artist and as a man who was raised by women: this play is not just about what happened on a pig farm on the edges of Vancouver, it is a call for answers to why these heinous crimes continue to be perpetrated against women in our communities, and why there isn’t more being done to stop them.
Why does this story need to be told in such a graphic manner? Much like the Residential School issue, people have tuned out. The 24-hour news cycle and the enormity of the atrocities, in addition to nine years of a conservative government that refused to call a national inquiry on murdered and missing Aboriginal women has sapped our collective conscience and people tend to look away.
I know members of our community are upset that a First Nations, Métis, or Inuit person did not write this play. I understand the concern, and I am conflicted with the debate regarding ownership. On one level, I feel that it is imperative that people tell their own stories, and on another level, there are artists I trust to tell these stories because I know they do approach the subject matter with grace, generosity, and compassion.
Some people will ask, “Does Colleen Murphy have a right to tell this story?” I believe Ms. Murphy to be one of our country’s very best playwrights. I am aware that in telling a story that you have not directly experienced there is always a risk of appropriating other people’s voices. This play would be difficult for anyone to write but it is better that someone is writing this story then no one at all.
I believe in this play. It destroyed me when I read it, and when I attend opening night, it will destroy me again. In those moments of weakness, when I go to look away during the performance I will return to the quote by Edward Bond in the playwright’s preface, “If you can’t face Hiroshima in the theatre, you eventually end up in Hiroshima itself.”