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Love Songs From a War Drum

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FALL 2001      v30 n03 p15  
Up an old and gloomy warehouse staircase, an eager audience found the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company's production of the play - Love Songs from a War Drum. On Opening Night, March 23, spectators such as; Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, The Honourable Robert Nault Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and many other dignitaries had no problems making the trek up the old warehouse. To the audiences' delight, Love Songs from a War Drum turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining performance.

Well-known Saskatchewan playwright Mark Dieter wrote the play. Dieter pooled together scenes that were actual experiences of theatre group. The play - Dieter's rendition of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" - tell a story of a couple who, of course, comes from opposing backgrounds.

The families of the couple, Rathan (Mitchell Poundmaker) and Tanis (Cheryl Lynn Arcand) were politically at odds. Tanis is the daughter of a former Chief who was ousted by the current Chief who happens to be Rathan's father. Socially, the couple find themselves sucked into a world that is quickly spinning out of control. Their peers, for some reason or another, have pitted themselves against each other, causing the formation of two revival gangs. The perfect scenario for an Indian version of "Romeo and Juliet" - love and catastrophe. Keeping with the spiritually of First Nations culture, Dieter adds an element of the four directions in the form of four Councilors who would intermit profound truths and spiritual teachings throughout the play.

Yet! beside the storyline, what makes this play powerful was the energy, intensity, and skills of the young performers. The cast of Love Songs from a War Drum consisted of approximately 24 aboriginal youth. The youth were recruited from the Circle of Voices (COV). COV is an aboriginal youth theatre program that is workshop based. This training program that provides role models from the performing arts industry to share their skills, knowledge, and expertise to these up and coming performers.

Each performer portrayed their character so well such as the perform of Samantha Whitecalf who plays Jenna, ex-girlfriend of Rathan and Cheperyn Makokis who plays Gabriel ex-boyfriend of Tanis and Gang Leader. Together, they make for a dual to be reckoned with. And in the middle is the character Neil play by Curtis Peeteetuce who is ex-gang member and brother to Tanis, makes the decision to break away from the violence and destructive lifestyle to pursue his own destiny.

There were scenes that made the audience realize the amount of energy put into the play by all involved. Scene with 10 performers on stage rumbling with sticks was played out with such intensity and precise choreograph. It was hard to believe that these kids weren't seasoned actors with years of experience tucked under their belts.

Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company's long term goal is to obtain a permanent venue to house the performances. Working hard towards this goal is the company's General Manager and Producer Donna Heimbecker and Kennetch Charlette, Artistic Director. "We like to have a venue that is in tune with who we are as performers, something that is inner city and a strong base of Aboriginal support," says Heimbecker.

With the growing demand for aboriginal community based performing arts productions, programs, and youth initiatives the demand for a permanent venue is imperative to keep up with the company's expansion. SNTC is also currently seeking volunteers to assist with the rapid growth.

As for some of the crew, Love Songs from a War Drum headed out on road

for a short tour throughout Saskatchewan during April and May 2001. And, If you weren't fortunate enough to catch the play - you will have to wait to see what is in store in the up and coming productions by the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company and hopefully it will be in it's new permanent venue, maybe even as soon as in the new year! Keep your forgers crossed and for the cast, break a leg!

Top Right: Mark Dieter,
below the Cast on Opening Night
Mark Dieter
Cast on Opening Night