Theatre classic Moonlodge follows an Indigenous girl on her search for belonging

Soulpepper Theatre Company is taking audiences across the globe with eight international audio plays. And IDEAS will be your travelling companion. Moonlodge is the first play of the “Around the World in 80 Plays" series.

The one-woman show is based on Canadian playwright’s life experience

Margo Kane’s play Moonlodge is a ‘story of resilience and the incredible mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers who continue to survive with humor, dignity, and honour,” says Jani Lauzon, director of Moonlodge. This play is part of Soulpepper Theatre's audio drama series, Around the World in 80 plays. (Getty/Soulpepper Theatre Company)

*This episode originally aired on April 21, 2021.

After performing her one-woman show thousands of times, Margo Kane can finally sit back, relax, and listen to her creation. Kane created Moonlodge, a significant piece of Indigenous Canadian theatre, in 1990. She toured the show for years, in Canada and around the world.

Now, the show is being produced again by Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, as an audio-only production featuring a different actor, Samantha Brown.

It's part of the theatre company's Around the World in 80 Plays series, an audio tour of world theatre. It's a project meant to keep live theatre going, as the ongoing pandemic makes gathering in theatres impossible. 

Kane is now the artistic director of Full Circle: First Nations Performance, and founder of the Talking Stick Festival, an annual Indigenous performing arts festival in Vancouver.

Kane says she created the show because there were so few opportunities for Indigenous actors in the '80s and '90s.

"I was trained as a triple threat and I had all kinds of skills in singing, dancing and acting and choreographing, but… there was no work for me to perform in," she says.

For decades, the most prominent Canadian play dealing with Indigenous lives and cultures was The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by Ukrainian Canadian playwright George Ryga. Kane auditioned for the title role of Rita Joe, but didn't get the part.

Canadian playwright George Ryga's 1967 play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is considered to be one of the first plays in modern Canadian theatre to address issues relating to Indigenous people. ( Books)

"I really wanted the role. However, it went to a white woman and I was devastated. So I went on. There [were] never any roles coming up that were going to really speak to the stories of my own people. So I started to create my own work." 

Instead, Kane wrote the show Moonlodge, calling it a "labour of love." It premiered at the Women in View Festival in Vancouver in 1990, and then opened Toronto's Native Earth Performing Arts festival that same year. She went on to tour the show in Canada and internationally for over 10 years.

"It saved my artistic life because there was no other work in the canon of Canadian theatre that I was going to be able to play a major role unless I took on other characters," she said. "And I really wanted to tell Indigenous stories."

Jani Lauzon, the director of the new production of Moonlodge, also says she faced discrimination when starting her career.

"I wanted to study Shakespeare. I took a class and my teacher said, 'Well, you know, you're more than welcome to take the class. But I just want you to be aware that you'll never work in Shakespeare,'" she recalled.

"Those were common situations in the '70s and '80s."

The power of live theatre

Moonlodge tells the story of Agnes, an Indigenous girl taken from her family and put in a foster home. She embarks on a journey of discovery, leaving home and ending up at her first pow-wow, where she meets a community of women who help her understand her Indigenous identity.

Kane says Agnes's journey of discovery mirrors her own, and her search for belonging.

"Moonlodge reflects my view of: where were all the Indians? Every time I walked down the street, I was looking, I would see them. And I wanted to be close to them. I wanted to know them. I wanted them to be with me. That searching and trying to find connections wherever you could." 

Margo Kane says she created the 1990 play, Moonlodge, to honour mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers and to motivate others on their journeys home. (Submitted by Margo Kane/Poster image by Allistair Eagle)

After thousands of performances of Moonlodge, Kane noticed differences between the way Indigenous and non-Indigenous audiences would react to the play. In one performance in the B.C. interior, an energetic section of the show, full of dance and music was met with silence from the mostly-white audience.

"I felt kind of insulted a bit and I thought, gee, I just killed myself for like four minutes and there's nothing," she says.

After those feelings faded, Kane says she felt compassion for the audience.

"I thought, these people are listening. They don't know how to respond. They want to be politically correct. They don't want to be offensive.  And I felt a great compassion come over me."

That moment helped her understand the power of live theatre to educate and inspire.

"That was a turning point for me. I never looked back. I didn't worry about audience reaction from that point on. I just knew that my job was to bring them an understanding, dawning and awareness."

Moonlodge is part of Soulpepper Theatre's Around the World in 80 Plays series. Find more information here.

Guests in this episode:

Margo Kane is an actor, director, and writer. She is the original creator and performer of Moonlodge. She is the Artistic Director of Full Circle: First Nations Performance, and founder of the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver.

Jani Lauzon is an actor, musician, puppeteer, and director of Soulpepper's audio production of Moonlodge.

Read the full list of credits for Moonlodge, here.

Music Credits:

Running Bear
Words and Music by J.P. Richardson (c)
Universal Music Publishing Canada on behalf of Fort Knox Music, Inc. and Universal Songs of Polygram Int., Inc. (SOCAN)

Intertribal, Pt. 1
Artist: Whitefish Bay Singers
Album: Whitefish Bay Singers, Vol. 7

Tangled Roots
By: Samantha Brown

* This IDEAS episode was produced by Matthew Lazin-Ryder.

Around The World in 80 Plays is an audio drama series mounted by Soulpepper Theatre Company that takes listeners on a trip around the world. IDEAS will be your guide on that journey with radio documentaries exploring the cultural and historical context from these countries. Find more episodes from this series here.

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