Adapted Greek tragedy banned on Sask. reserve
New version of Sophocles' Antigone upset leaders, troupe says
A Saskatchewan First Nation has banned performances of an acting troupe's adaptation of an ancient Greek tragedy because one of the characters in the play is a corrupt chief.
"The chief and council have taken the key from the caretaker of the hall," Deanne Kasokeo told CBC News Thursday.
She said she believes her adaptation of the 2,500-year-old Greek tragedy Antigone offended the leadership of the Poundmaker First Nation.
"If we don't have access to the hall, we have no choice but to move our play out of the jurisdiction of the reserve."
The story of Antigone, by Sophocles, involves a woman seeking a respectable burial for her brother even though he died a traitor to the city-state of Thebes. Its tragic and bloody end includes the suicide of Antigone herself.
Kasokeo's version sets the ancient tale on a modern reserve with characters that include an RCMP officer, a band councillor and a band chief.
Debuted in 1998
It was originally staged in 1998 at Regina's Globe Theatre.
"It was a really powerful piece," Ruth Smillie, the artistic director of the Globe, recalled. She added the show's two-week run brought a whole new audience of aboriginal people to the theatre.
"People were gasping at how close the play hit to the bone in terms of the realities of the aboriginal experience."
Kasokeo and director Floyd Favel — both originally from the Poundmaker reserve — have been taking Antigone to a number of aboriginal communities throughout Saskatchewan. There hasn't been a problem until now.
The production was initially brought to the reserve by one of the councillors, who booked the community hall on the troupe's behalf.
Kasokeo sent a copy of the script to the reserve's chief, Dwayne Antoine, and that's when the show went off the rails.
A council meeting was held Tuesday night and Antoine and the reserve's three councillors decided to pull the curtain before it had even risen.
Kasokeo said she only found out about the decision when someone who was at the meeting called her. The chief had not spoken with her.
Antoine did not return phone calls on Thursday.
"He thinks that the play was written about him," said Kasokeo. She points out, however, that both the story and the modern day adaptation predate his leadership.
She doesn't deny her version of Antigone makes some hard points about aboriginal governance.
"We need to take back our beliefs and values and integrate those into our governance systems in order to have effective democracy," Kasokeo said.
"Band custom is a system where the people have the power. In our case, it's the other way around, where the chiefs tell the people what to do."
In the spirit of "the show must go on", Kasokeo is trying to book a hall in the nearby community of Paynton.
There are no tickets to refund, since Antigone was going to be presented without charge to Poundmaker members.
"I think it's wrong for them to go against our rights, our freedom of expression," Kasokeo added.
"Society should know about this. I've never, ever, heard of a play being banned by a government in Canada."
The Poundmaker First Nation is about 200 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.