New program at the University of Saskatchewan brings Aboriginal students to the stage

The University of Saskatchewan is offering a unique theatre program with a focus on Indigenous students.

Theatre course the first of its kind in Canada

Wanita Bird and Carol Greyeyes spoke this morning about a new aboriginal theatre program at the University of Saskatchewan.

"All the world's a stage," claimed William Shakespeare.

But what if you hesitate to take your place on the stage because you feel uncomfortable and out of place in a traditional drama school?

I feel awake, I feel alive.- Wanita Bird

The University of Saskatchewan is trying to solve this problem by offering a unique theatre program with a focus on indigenous students.

"I feel awake, I feel alive," said Wanita Bird, one of the eight students enrolled in the new program.

Bird and program co-ordinator Carol Greyeyes were guests today on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning. 

"It's been in the ether of people's imaginations for some time," Greyeyes said.

Greyeyes is an award winning actor who knows firsthand the challenge of negotiating through a culturally foreign drama program.

"It was very much leave who you were at the door of the institution. We learned sort of received pronunciation and all of the plays that we were studying were very Eurocentric."

New program is a long-standing dream 

It was her work decades ago alongside actors like Tantoo Cardinal at the Native Survival School in Saskatoon that planted a seed in Greyeyes's mind. She could see how young people embraced the idea of theatre and drama, and desired to bring that experience to the university level.

"We really want to develop contemporary Indigenous culture, to see what it is," she said.

"They learn the basics that are normally taught within a BFA program in theatre, but they also have cultural embellishments."

It was the very promise that Wanita Bird needed, as she pondered a return to school after 18 years away. Bird is a singer and performer working to perfect her craft. She is also a youth worker, and like Greyeyes is motivated by the impact theatre has on children. 

"I saw how empowering it was for the youth, and how they had a voice in a unique, beautiful way."