It sheds a different light on Aboriginal people from the regular stereotypes so that's really important for me.
—Kelsey Wavey, actor
Romeo and Juliet takes on an Aboriginal twist at Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
Their Aboriginal Arts Training and Mentorship Program's Master Class is tackling this timeless Shakespeare classic with gusto.
Kelsey Wavey plays the role of Juliet and she feels honoured and excited to be a part of the production.
"It sheds a different light on Aboriginal people from the regular stereotypes so that's really important for me," she exclaims.
Anne Baragar is directing the production. "I really want to change attitudes about Aboriginal youth," she says. She was concerned that there was a perception that Aboriginals could do works about their own community, but couldn't tackle conventional plays. But through the Aboriginal Arts program, and the solid training from mentors like Columpa Bobb and Ryan Black, the students are ready to take on almost anything.
Other than having an Aboriginal cast, the production stays very true to
tradition, with period costumes, music and dancing. And the sword-fighting sequences will be impressive.
Kelsey Wavey and Tracey Nepinak in Romeo and Juliet (Leif Norman)
"It's really important for these kids to experience Shakespeare," insists Tracey Nepinak, mentoring guest artist for this production. She also plays the role of Friar Lawrence.
Nepinak has been an artist for 20 years and this is her first time being in a Shakespeare production with an all-Aboriginal cast.
"Until you've actually performed it, you don't realize how rich and beautiful the words are -- and the feelings," she adds. She says it's a daunting production, with a huge cast, small budget and lots of teenage emotions.
"But the kids' spirits shine through in it," she says, smiling.
Wavey feels it's easy for the students to relate to this 400-year-old play. "I think a lot of Aboriginal people have been through lots of struggles. It's a very high suicide rate community. This play is really about love, but it's also a big tragedy, so just having that background and knowing about tragedy, we have a lot of emotion to bring to it."
"It may be old," Wavey continues, "but it's definitely timeless. The feelings never go away. Shakespeare is so true to what people really feel."
Baragar is beaming after their first school performance. "They feel empowered," she exclaims. "It's important for them to know in their hearts that they can do anything."Romeo and Juliet
runs at various times May 31 to June 3 at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. All of the performances are free.