Sunday October 18, 2015

Cliff Cardinal sheds light on issue of solvent abuse in HUFF

Cliff Cardinal explores solvent abuse, suicide and sex abuse in his one-man show, HUFF.

Cliff Cardinal explores solvent abuse, suicide and sex abuse in his one-man show, HUFF. (akipari)

When Cliff Cardinal was just 15 years old, his mother — celebrated actor Tantoo Cardinal — allowed him to miss a semester of school.

"I took myself out of school really," explains Cardinal. And instead of forcing him back into the classroom, his mom sent him to the stage. 

He sat in on rehearsals at VideoCabaret, one of Canada's most inventive and prolific theatre companies. Seems it was a good investment.

"It was fundamental in who I am as an artist and a person," Cardinal says. 

Cardinal is now an accomplished playwright and actor in his own right.

HUFF brings light to darkness

In Cardinal's one man play, HUFF, a young boy and his two brothers cope with the aftermath of their mother's suicide. It centres on solvent sniffing, suicide and sex abuse. 

Cardinal, who plays a myriad of characters, concedes these are very dark subjects to address in a play, but he hopes to bring light to what he calls Canada's most taboo subcultures.

'The more I explored it, the more I realized other people felt the same way, that this was a really scary thing. So to go into those places and to find love and hope there is ultimately what we are trying to do.' - Cliff Cardinal

Cliff Cardinal, HUFF

HUFF is a about a young boy and his two brothers coping with the aftermath of their mother's suicide. (akipari)

Cardinal says playing over 10 different characters was a challenge, but the greater challenge was bringing honesty to the roles.

"As artists we have the responsibility to try and go through their situation with them, to try to live that story with them as best we can."

After 70 performances Cardinal says he has learned to better carry the stress of the story without letting it overwhelm him.

"Some of the characters do terrible things and some of them do wonderful things but when we're going to break the rules and we're going to do evil we have to find the love and the empathy and humanity within that. Otherwise it's just shocking and dark and uncompassionate."

HUFF is currently playing in Toronto at the Native Earth Performing Arts theatre and runs until October 25. An eight-city tour of HUFF kicks off in 2016, with stops in Montreal, Quebec City, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria.