Despite being featured in the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Global Savages is not what one might traditionally call a “play.” In fact, it doesn’t even take place in a theatre. Don’t go expecting act breaks, set changes and understudies. But then, that would be a little like going to Bluesfest and becoming confused because “Kanye isn’t blues.” Perhaps Ottawa needs to be a little more flexible with these things.
It’s not a play, but it is a performance, and one with a very specific goal. The promotional material makes it clear: “The Global Savages endeavor to create a fundamental shift in the way we understand First Nations people.” And, to be frank, that’s almost all that needs to be said about this performance. From the start of the show to the end, The Global Savages direct their focus to the way popular culture, and Canadian society as a whole, views First Nations people. They’re trying to reframe the way many people see the relationship between indigenous cultures and this nation we call “Canada.”
That’s an awfully big task for a 90 minute performance. They’re not trying to conjure solutions to the problems they address in such a short time, but they are trying to add to the dialogue that is currently playing out in our halls of government, as well as in our bars and coffee shops.
The setting is well-chosen for that purpose. The performance is held, not in a hall, but next to the locks, between the Parliament Buildings and the National Art Gallery. While I don’t know how much thought went into the choice of location, it’s difficult to imagine a more fitting and ultimately ironic locale for a play that seeks to dismantle a certain rigid sort of mindset.
The set is simple: a campfire sits at the bottom of a hill, tea steeping in a hot kettle suspended over the flames. The performers sit on tree stumps; the audience adorns the slope facing them. It’s a traditional story-telling set up, and it serves the performance beautifully.
Much of the performance plays with themes of the natural world. And again the locale seems to aid in this, the entire performance underwritten by the splash of a waterfall and the chirping of birds. But it’s not a real waterfall. It was constructed by the very society that was responsible for residential schools, and whose view of the world is so opposed to the one The Global Savages wish to deconstruct. In fact, even the hill on which the audience is seated was built. In the core of Ottawa, it would be difficult to find a single shred of nature not touched by human-kind.
This setting then creates a contrast with the nature that the performers speak of, the one that would “go on without us,” as one says. This tension plays out well, displaying so clearly the differences and similarities between the cultures involved. It is the perfect place for the performers to make their voices heard, and perhaps some politicians on the cliff above the audience are also listening.
The Global Savages, whether it is a play or no, is without a doubt an important experience. It is a statement so beautifully put that it’s likely the audience will remember what they saw. There is a lot of passion in these performers, and though there is a great deal of joking around throughout, this is no laughing matter. It’s entertaining, but its goal is to be meaningful. And that’s what’s going to make it stick with you.
Global Savages runs at 4 pm Wednesday, June 10, and at 7 pm on Friday, June 12 and June 13. This is performance is pay-what-you-can. To guarantee a spot at one of the performances please register online.