REVIEW: TALKING TREATIES SPECTACLE
Presented by Jumblies Theatre
Directed by Ange Loft (with a multitude of cast members, professional and non-professional)
At Historic Fort York, 250 Fort York Boulevard, Toronto
By Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic for www.OnstageBlog.com
On Saturday October 6, 2018, I had the opportunity to attend a uniquely inspired theatrical presentation by Jumblies Theatre.
Talking Treaties, an outdoor mobile theatrical pageant, explored the treaty history of the Toronto area based on three vignettes: The Dish with One Spoon Treaty, The Covenant Chain and The Toronto Purchase with the Mississaugas of New Credit (finally settled in 2010). Through choral readings and recitations, song, movement, puppetry and spectacle, audience members were given an interactive history lesson for the second year in a row at Toronto’s National Historic site of Fort York from October 4-7, 2018. According to the company’s press release, Talking Treaties took audiences on a journey through the eyes of the Indigenous peoples through this shared place of Toronto and the way it came to be.
The Production and Presentation: Two elements of this family fare presentation inspired me the most about this approximately two hour walk about through Fort York: 'diversity and community' of the multitude of performers. Founded in 2001, Jumblies is an interdisciplinary community-engaged arts organization with a provincial and Canada-wide reach. Jumblies makes art in everyday and extraordinary places with, for and about the people and stories. Everyone is ‘welcome’ while the company grapples with the social and aesthetic implications of meaning it.
It was tremendously uplifting to see the wide age range in the performers along with their varying abilities who all came together with one voice to weave many narrative threads of the Indigenous people in this area. Led by Shifra Cooper, the choral singing at the beginning and at the end of the presentation was moving for me especially as I watched the joy and the pride in the singers’ faces and eyes. This was a communal group here who were truly enjoying what they were doing.
The use of puppetry with Britannia and the beaver was quite amusing at times. It was important for me to understand what the word ‘treaty’ should have entailed in discussion with the Indigenous people (RESPECT). Sadly, there was no respect in understanding the way of life and living of the Indigenous people of this area (including Haudenosaunee, Mississaugas and other Anishinaabeg) and what they had given up for the purchase of the land in this area. The effective use of many props thrown into the centre at one point underscored nicely what was gained which did not equal in value what the land was worth.
An outdoor and mobile pageant includes some drawbacks, and the company was ready to move indoors if rain dampened the outside movement of the presentation. For the most part, the weather did co-operate with the odd bit of mist and drizzle which accentuated rather nicely the inherent sense of loss.
When I was a wee lad in 1970 and visited Fort York for the first time, I remember nothing being around the grounds which made it feel like we were removed from the world in which we live. Fast forward fifty some years and now there are condos, condos and more condos everywhere along with the noise of the traffic. The principal players did their best to project their voices above this noise level; however, as I stood at the back, I had difficulty hearing some of the important historical information shared with us.
And there is a great deal of information shared with us. Perhaps just a bit too much. I found myself near the end trying to make sense of what I was supposed to remember, and I began to lose focus on key historical elements.
Final Comments: At the end of the presentation, director Ange Loft encouraged audience members to tell others about what we had seen. I for one would probably return if Jumblies presented further dramatic pieces regarding this highly important reconciliation of the Indigenous people and the important mosaic they contribute to our multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary and multi-diverse country in which we live.
You can find further information about Jumblies Theatre through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You may also visit their website www.jumbliestheatre.org.