New theatre production tackles Indigenous issues in health-care system

A play is being put on by the Circle of Voices program at the Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre in Saskatoon and it deals with discrimination of Indigenous people in the healthcare system.

'Theatre is good medicine,' says playwright of Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin production Hospitals, Broken Pianos

Kaylynn Bear and Sara Redeagle are two of the actors in the new play Hospitals, Broken Pianos: Compassion Not Included. (Submitted by Britainy Zapshalla)

A new theatre production in Saskatoon tackles the topic of discrimination against Indigenous people in the health-care system.

Playwright Jennifer Dawn Bishop said she came up with the idea for the play, titled Hospitals, Broken Pianos: Compassion Not Included, after experiencing frustration and anger with hospital staff when her father was treated poorly.

She said staff at the hospital did not believe her father — who does not drink alcohol — when he answered the standardized health questions about drinking.

"We noticed that they wrote in the [patient] chart that 'patient claims he doesn't drink' and that really bothered us immensely," Bishop said. "It took a long time just for staff to not put my dad in that stereotype category."

Making his directorial debut, Marcel Petit said he hopes the play — being presented by the Circle of Voices program at the Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre in Saskatoon, which provides training and development for young Indigenous performers — opens up an opportunity for discussion about what it's like being Indigenous in Canada.

"We've heard the stories over the past two or three years where people are dying in hospitals because they're not being looked after," Petit said.

Youth involvement in production

Hospitals, Broken Pianos also incorporates stories from the young people involved in the play about their individual experiences, good or bad, dealing with the health-care system.

Bishop said she knew sharing the themes with young people was important, as she wanted to collaborate with the kids.

"I wanted them to know that it's not just coming from me, but it's coming from all of us together," Bishop said.

"It brings their voices in and lets them know they have a voice," Petit said. "It lets them know that people are listening."

Petit said including the youth in the writing process was beneficial as they received real stories from real people.

"I think that's the big thing," Petit said. "When they're acting in it, they know that part of this is them."

Turning anger into creativity, hope for change

Bishop said the production has helped her work through some of the anger she felt toward the health-care professionals that treated her dad poorly.

"Theatre is good medicine," Bishop said. "I think it's wonderful for us to be able to express our frustrations in a different way."

Petit said he hopes the play will help address the broader concerns felt by Indigenous people, and not just those within the health-care system.

"We're seeing it now with what's going across this country.… The attitudes, the marginalization, and the poverty and the racism and all of this," he said.

"Let's start dealing with that, let's start talking about it, let's train people. Let's quit being scared of each other."

Hospitals, Broken Pianos: Compassion Not Included runs at Studio 914 in Saskatoon until Friday.

With files from Shauna Powers