This story started with an invitation to do a play reading from my sister and playwright Alanis King, who had been invited by the University of Wisconsin (UWM) to write the script titled Sharing Wisconsin Sky.
The reading was part of a Greater Milwaukee Foundation Grant-supported collaboration between Peck School of the Arts, UWM Planetarium/Physics, and UWM’s Indigenous Language areas, including American Indian Studies and the Electa Quinney Institute. The project team was led by UWM faculty Robin Mello, Jean Creighton, Margaret Noodin, and Joelle Worm.
After a postponement due to the pandemic, the project began in late fall and the students were tasked with a writing assignment: to think of their experiences of the sky, the stars, and their relationship with the planet we are all living upon. Alanis was given the students’ writing contributions, which she then artfully wove together with her own written pieces and scenes that connected the stories together from the Anishnaabe worldview of our relationship to the cosmos.
Given the number of characters and Indigenous songs, I was invited by Alanis to take part as a reader. I in turn offered an invitation to the First Nations University’s Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly, who has a penchant for theatre. Both of us were thrilled to kick off our international acting debuts!
I was given the starring role of Giizhigokwe – Sky Woman (no pun intended) and to be a Beneshiisuk Singer of two Anishnaabe songs. Kathleen was invited to read the role of Eclipse.
The 11 readers, comprised of UWM’s project team, students, and guest readers, Kathleen and I, presented on Zoom on December 19, 2020. The reading took about 2 hours with sound checks and introductions. After the play, Alanis thanked everyone and remarked that, “The opportunity to hear the voices of the characters and their stories lifted from the page and brought to life by the talented cast is an excellent way as a playwright to envision possibilities for a future script workshop and eventual production.”
I really cherished learning another Anishnaabe word song and it reminded me of my love for music: Bin bin bindigen Gchimiigwech gaabiizhaayan translates to mean ”come in, thank you for being here.” This whole experience that included many Anishnaabe songs and our language lifted my spirit.
Likewise, Kathleen says, “It was a wonderful experience acting and working with so many talented people. The play is beautifully written and merges Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices through spoken word and song. Reflecting on people’s memories and experiences of the sun, moon and stars, it is a reminder that no matter who we are, or where we are from, we all have looked to the skies with wonder and awe.”
This reading was a learning opportunity for us towards our future research collaboration between the University of Regina and First Nations University, a research project involving diverse storytelling on depictions of racism whereby we will be creating artistic vignettes on race issues. This research project is inspired by, and will be directed by, our new colleague and collaborator Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, a MAP faculty member at the University of Regina.
The play reading was one of our last community engagement initiatives of 2020 and was well worth the effort and time as well as an opportunity to help out where script readers were needed. To our good fortune we have been invited to a second reading in person on the real stage under the Wisconsin sky at the nearby Electa Quinney Institute, the Potawatami community school’s amphitheater.
If all our stars align, there will be more to come!
by. Dr. Anna-Leah King
Alanis King is an Ottawa-based Odawa artist originally from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve. Her other playwriting credits include Bury, Morning Becomes Electa, Kawabin Elvis, Born Buffalo, Teacher, Kohkum’s Good Medicine Journey, Treaty Daze, Bye Bye Beneshe, Song of Hiawatha: An Anishnaabec Adaption, Order of Good Cheer, Gegwah, Lovechild, The Artshow, Heartdwellers, The Manitoulin Incident, Tommy Prince Story, and If Jesus Met Nanabush. Her published works include 3 Plays by Fifth House Publishers and coming soon The Manitoulin Incident written in three languages. She is the first Aboriginal woman to graduate from the National Theatre School of Canada.
Anna-Leah King (PhD) is an Associate Professor of Indigenous Education, Educational Core Studies and Language and Literacy Education and serves as the Chair of Indigenization at the University of Regina. King is originally from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.
Kathleen O’Reilly (PhD) is the Graduate Program Coordinator and Associate Professor Indigenous Education at First Nations University of Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan.
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