Upcoming Saskatoon play a 'live documentary' about Gerald Stanley case
'I hope somehow it will help,' says Colten Boushie's mother of the play Reasonable Doubt
A surreal scene played out in a Saskatoon rehearsal room this past Sunday.
Forty or so people gathered to hear a workshop reading of Reasonable Doubt, a "live documentary." The play is about race, justice and the trial of Gerald Stanley.
Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, was seated in the front row.
Boushie, 22, was shot and killed after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley's farm in August 2016. An altercation occurred between the people in the SUV and Stanley, his son and his wife.
A jury found Stanley, 56, not guilty last February of second-degree murder in the shooting.
That tense two-week trial was vividly brought back to life Sunday as actors faced Baptiste while reading out several uncomfortable portions of the trial transcript word-for-word.
Even testimony recounting the shooting, told from the differing perspectives of Stanley's son and one of Boushie's friends, was included.
"If we have a hope at all of finding some sort of truth about this issue, we must be willing to listen to other people's perspectives," said Joel Bernbaum, one-third of the creative team responsible for Reasonable Doubt.
'A more raw kind of honesty'
Bernbaum a Saskatoon-based theatre artist, collaborated on the project with Yvette Nolan, an Algonquin woman, and Lancelot Knight, a Cree man.
About a year before Boushie's death, work began on a project meant to explore the relationship between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people in Saskatoon and the rest of the province. It was commissioned by Saskatoon's Persephone Theatre and supported by a grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board.
The original plan was for Bernbaum to interview 50 people and incorporate their accounts into a play.
"We were getting interesting answers [initially] but they were all of the same tone. Polite," he said.
Then Boushie died.
The tone of the interviews began to change, Bernbaum said.
"A more raw kind of honesty," said Bernbaum. "Because when an incident like that happens, it's a tragedy for those directly involved, but it's also an incident for all of us that live in this community. And theatre is truly about community."
The 50 planned interviews turned into 200.
The play, which Bernbaum prefers to call "verbatim theatre," is made up of moments from the trial and testimonies gathered by Bernbaum. These scenes are punctuated by songs performed by Knight.
Trial participants or interview subjects are identified by their age and race and portrayed by a small troupe of actors, each performing multiple roles.
"I do believe it is helpful in this discussion that is very much about race to know who the original speakers were," said Bernbaum.
The interviewees range from Grade 5 students to elderly people in a retirement home. Bernbaum said the variety offers a "kaleidoscopic view of a community and an issue."
Bernbaum told Sunday's audience the play is not meant to answer questions or offer solutions. The goal is simpler than that.
"The message is, 'Let's talk.' "
Lisa Bayliss, Persephone's director of marketing and development, said a previous reading of the play in the company's offices sparked conversation.
"There were four or five of us here that were debating different ends of the spectrum," said Bayliss.
"We're all in agreement that this project is important and that this story should be coming out of Saskatchewan even though it's a story of national and even international interest."
Reasonable Doubt has no release date. Bernbaum said the original hoped was it would debut in February 2019 — one year after the Stanley verdict — but it won't make that deadline.
"I do not want to let it sit," said Bernbaum. "This has to be done sooner than later."
Boushie's mother: 'I hope somehow it will help'
After Sunday's reading, Bernbaum listened to suggestions and criticism from audience members. One said the play at times fell into the familiar Indigenous-people-as-victims narrative. Another said the presentation should have incorporated traditional elements.
Baptiste, Boushie's mother, quietly left the room as the feedback session got under way. On the way out, she scrawled a message on a whiteboard:
"Thank you. Love all. Debbie."
CBC News later asked her what she thought of the play.
"I am very happy with the hard work put into [it]. I hope somehow it helps with the change that's coming up in the future," she said.