Pawâkan Macbeth, a reimagining of Shakespeare into a new Frog Lake Cree story, touring Cree communities from Edmonton to Yellowknife.

The Cause

Pawâkan Macbeth, indigenous playwright Reneltta Arluk's reimagining of Shakespeare’s into Macbeth into Cree history, legend and cosmology.

This co-production, by Theatre Prospero of Edmonton and Akpik Theatre of Yellowknife, will open in Edmonton in November 2017, tour to rural communities between the cities in 2018/2019, then play in Yellowknife.

““We Cree have a legend of the Witiko; he is an evil being with an insatiable hunger. The more he eats, though, the hungrier and bigger he gets. My students always draw a comparison between the Witiko and Macbeth. Macbeth relates to many themes that are prevalent in Cree legends: greed, loyalty, love, horror, and balance.”
- Owen Morris, Teacher, Chief Napeweaw School, Frog Lake First Nation

Theatre Prospero invited writer Reneltta Arluk to its artists on a residency to the Frog Lake in a new approach to exploring Shakespeare with First Nations. Arluk and Morris invited Frog Lake elders to share Frog Lake stories and legends. Parallels between the elder’s stories of the witiko’s insatiable hunger for human flesh and the themes of violence, fear and growing depravity found in Macbeth resonated with the students. Arluk introduced the local history of wars between the Cree and the Blackfoot and Peigan peoples in the 1870s as they were being pushed off their traditional lands by encroaching white settlement.

The artists then worked with students make their own version of the story. Frog Lake's drumming group joined to help was re-imagine Shakespeare’s play in a time when harsh winters brought fear, hunger and uncertainty and awakened the evil, terrifying witiko spirit.

Development Into Pawâkan Macbeth
”Cultural resurgence is about the dark as well as the light. Resurgence is not just about the beautiful things. It is also about the dark things, that helped us to be balanced as people.” - Reneltta Arluk, Playwright

Frog Lake's elders gave Arluk permission to continue telling their stories. Pawâkan Macbeth has the bones of Shakespeare’s story, fleshed out in 1870 a fluid mix of contemporary aboriginally inflected English, Shakespearean English and Cree. She and Prospero have developed the play with aboriginal actors from across western Canada since 2016. With translators Darlene Auger and Ray Thunderchild, Arluk has refined its Cree language, idioms and protocols to make Pawâkan Macbeth culturally authentic and historical, yet contemporary.

Who Will it Benefit?

• Cree and other Indigenous audiences, and non-Indigenous audiences who don’t often have access to Indigenous theatre.
• Indigenous and other students, who will get to watch Aboriginal theatre artists do Shakespeare and tell a Cree culture story.
• Public audiences, who will see Shakespeare AND experience Canada’s original culture's history and beliefs during Canada's 150th birthday.
• Youth in Alberta and NWT, who will get to see a live production of Shakespeare (There will be no professional productions Shakespeare in Edmonton during the 2017/18 school year and it rarely tours.)
• Emerging Indigenous artists, who will work on stage beside and be mentored by senior professional and cultural practitioners.
• All Canadians, as in a small way, we work to contribute to reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters. We Are All Treaty People

Pawâkan Macbeth will open on the Frog Lake First Nation in fall 2017, then tour to theatres on or near First Nations in Alberta through late 2017. Communities we plan to visit to include:

• The Maskwacis, Alexander and Enoch First Nations, and the Paul Band (using the Fringe Arts Barns in Edmonton)
• The Kehewin, Beaver lake, Saddle Lake and other First Nations and Metis settlements near Bonnyville (The Lyle Victor Albert Centre)
• the Wood Buffalo, Fort Mckay, Anzac First nations, including Fort Chipewyan (The playwright’s familial territory;
• the Sturgeon Lake and Horse Lakes First Nations between the Sturgeon Lake and Horse Lakes First Nations; (The DJ Cardinal Theatre)
• The Poundmaker, Moosomin, Red Pheasant, Ahtahkakoop, Salteaux and Sweetgrass First Nations (The Dekker Centre)
In February to May 2019 we will tour to the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife, then tour a stripped-down version to more remote NWT communities
Yellowknife and
A particular focus is bringing indigenous youth to shows and talk backs. This is an area in which both theatre companies have considerable experience.
In 2018, we will tour a stripped-down version to more remote Cree communities. Artists will work with students to create their own version of the story. Elders and community members will be invited to share their own Witiko or other local stories.
Also in 2018, we will tour to Northern Arts and Cultural Centre in Yellowknife, then to take a stripped-down version to more remote NWT communities