Home Laughter bridges communities: playwright Drew Hayden Taylor

Laughter bridges communities: playwright Drew Hayden Taylor

by admin November 9, 2010

Laughter bridges communities: playwright Drew Hayden Taylor

by admin November 9, 2010

Using his own experiences to illustrate his discussion points, Canadian aboriginal playwright and humourist Drew Hayden Taylor told the audience at this year’s Gail Guthrie Valaskakis Annual Lecture about how laughter can unite different communities.

“What makes me laugh will make you laugh,” Taylor said, summarizing the theme of this speech.

The fifth edition of the Valaskakis Lecture on Diversity and Canadian Media took place at Montreal’s Masonic Temple last Thursday. The annual event serves to honour the former Concordia employee who, throughout her career, was heavily involved in the development and promotion of aboriginal culture.

In tune with Valaskakis’ work, Taylor, an Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nations, described his own experiences working as an aboriginal in the theatre industry.

The night began with Taylor talking about his love of storytelling and saying that, though he is an only child, he came from a large family that loved to tell stories. His childhood memories were of his aunts and uncles sitting around a bonfire, creating stories.

“I went to bed to hearing people tell funny stories,” Taylor said.

In his mid-teens, he moved from his reserve to Toronto, where he worked contract to contract, including his first writing credit on the classic Canadian television show The Beachcombers. His work was noticed and he received his first offer to write a play for money.

“I’m one of the few people you’ll meet who went into theatre for the money,” Taylor joked.

Once he started looking at the different aboriginal plays produced, he noticed that the majority of native theatre was dark and depressing. He said that this was not his experience growing up, but pointed out that for healing to take place in the aboriginal communities, people needed to release their anger. “When an oppressed people get their voice back,” Taylor said, “they will talk about being oppressed.”

Taylor took it upon himself to showcase the other spectrum of the aboriginal cultures, writing his first comedy, The Bootlegger Blues, in 1990.”This was either the best or the worst time for native comedy,” he said.

Taylor described how the play was such a success that he was asked to produce it at Port Dover, where the clientele was older and non-aboriginal. He described how, when the lights came on, no one laughed. He didn’t understand why no one was laughing: the actors were great, the play was the same, yet no one was laughing. Then he noticed six aboriginal people in the back row, laughing.

“Native people got the joke, but white people didn’t,” Taylor said.

It was in the early “90s, which Taylor called the age of political correctness, that they started to laugh. That particular play, he recalled, was about “native people and beer” and non-aboriginals were waiting for “permission” to laugh. Halfway into the play, everyone was laughing and it became accepted and welcomed to have a sense of humour.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations who co-hosted the event with the department of communication studies, said “We’re so pleased, because the content gives a better understanding of aboriginal cultures.”

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Using his own experiences to illustrate his discussion points, Canadian aboriginal playwright and humourist Drew Hayden Taylor told the audience at this year’s Gail Guthrie Valaskakis Annual Lecture about how laughter can unite different communities.

“What makes me laugh will make you laugh,” Taylor said, summarizing the theme of this speech.

The fifth edition of the Valaskakis Lecture on Diversity and Canadian Media took place at Montreal’s Masonic Temple last Thursday. The annual event serves to honour the former Concordia employee who, throughout her career, was heavily involved in the development and promotion of aboriginal culture.

In tune with Valaskakis’ work, Taylor, an Ojibway from the Curve Lake First Nations, described his own experiences working as an aboriginal in the theatre industry.

The night began with Taylor talking about his love of storytelling and saying that, though he is an only child, he came from a large family that loved to tell stories. His childhood memories were of his aunts and uncles sitting around a bonfire, creating stories.

“I went to bed to hearing people tell funny stories,” Taylor said.

In his mid-teens, he moved from his reserve to Toronto, where he worked contract to contract, including his first writing credit on the classic Canadian television show The Beachcombers. His work was noticed and he received his first offer to write a play for money.

“I’m one of the few people you’ll meet who went into theatre for the money,” Taylor joked.

Once he started looking at the different aboriginal plays produced, he noticed that the majority of native theatre was dark and depressing. He said that this was not his experience growing up, but pointed out that for healing to take place in the aboriginal communities, people needed to release their anger. “When an oppressed people get their voice back,” Taylor said, “they will talk about being oppressed.”

Taylor took it upon himself to showcase the other spectrum of the aboriginal cultures, writing his first comedy, The Bootlegger Blues, in 1990.”This was either the best or the worst time for native comedy,” he said.

Taylor described how the play was such a success that he was asked to produce it at Port Dover, where the clientele was older and non-aboriginal. He described how, when the lights came on, no one laughed. He didn’t understand why no one was laughing: the actors were great, the play was the same, yet no one was laughing. Then he noticed six aboriginal people in the back row, laughing.

“Native people got the joke, but white people didn’t,” Taylor said.

It was in the early “90s, which Taylor called the age of political correctness, that they started to laugh. That particular play, he recalled, was about “native people and beer” and non-aboriginals were waiting for “permission” to laugh. Halfway into the play, everyone was laughing and it became accepted and welcomed to have a sense of humour.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations who co-hosted the event with the department of communication studies, said “We’re so pleased, because the content gives a better understanding of aboriginal cultures.”

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