International Women’s Day is Saturday, March 8, it’s a day to pause and consider women’s health, dreams, and safety — worldwide, and in Canada.
It’s a perfect time to see The Hours that Remain, a play by Ontario Métis artist Keith Barker. The play explores the love, loss, and grief for families and communities surrounding the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women along a highway in British Columbia. This is being presented by Gwaandak Theatre in association with Toronto theatre company New Harlem Productions at the Yukon Arts Centre on March 5 to 8.
“This play is a man’s personal response to the unwillingness of a nation to protect its women,” says David Storch, the director. “It’s a very imaginative story; an interesting spin on the idea of loss, and a strange psycho-drama mystery, too. This is not a confrontational piece, it is a big-hearted offering to a community to start a conversation.”
According to the School Study Guide that Gwaandak Theatre created for the play, which written and researched by Angela Code, “The Hours That Remain is a fictional play inspired by true stories of missing and murdered Canadian Aboriginal women — particularly from the ‘Highway of Tears,’ the 800 kilometre section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, BC.” Since 1969, there have been many Aboriginal women lost along his highway, and the cases have never been solved.
This national tour of The Hours that Remain features Melaina Sheldon who is Inland Tlingit from Teslin playing the character of Michelle; Christine Wesley Genier, who is Southern Tutchone Wolf Clan and a member of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, plays Denise. Toronto-based actor Eli Ham plays Daniel. The characters Michelle and Denise are sisters; and Denise and Daniel married. The character of Michelle also brings many characters to life, including women who have gone missing on the Highway of Tears.
“Our cast, our trio of actors are heroes,” says Storch, who has worked across Canada for 25 years as an actor, a director, and a teacher. “Due to the subject matter, it’s not the kind of play that gets raging applause from the audience. Instead, afterwards, the audience might be completely silent, some people have stayed in their seats for up to an hour after the play has finished.”
Certainly, the subject matter is emotionally challenging. Storch knows the script very well – he first began working with it in 2010.
“This may sound callous, but with this kind of intense material, you can get too deep in the muck,” says Storch. “The challenge can be to balance the technical side of the communication of the story. For Melaina and Christine, the subject matter becomes overwhelming, so we take our moments — to have a coffee, have a sip of water, then get back into it.”
Taking moments to care for her collaborators was key to Genier’s process in rehearsing the play.
“In theatre or anything else, there can be friction in groups, but it’s like we all made an instant silent pact to take care of one another,” she says. “At its core, I believe this to be a love story, the love between two sisters, and between husband and wife. The three characters help us to understand what happens to those who are left behind [by the missing women]. There are huge gaps left in our communities, in our hearts, in our lives.”
Genier was born and raised in Whitehorse and she has worked with CHON FM Radio, 98.1, since 2003. Since 2005, Genier has produced and hosted “The Christine Genier Show,” bluegrass and old time acoustic country roots music program.
Genier received her theatre training at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto in 2001 and 2002, and returned to Ontario to rehearse The Hours That Remain.
“We rehearsed in Toronto, and in a way, it was good to be away from the comforts of home, all we had to focus on was the play,” Genier says. “It was intense to leave town and to be away from my family, but this story so desperately needs to be told, to be involved is nothing less than an absolute honour.”
After successful performances in Vancouver at the First Nations theatre festival called Talking Stick, The Hours That Remain team is looking forward to performing for Yukon audiences in Dawson and Whitehorse.
“It’s been a long road, and it’ll be nice to end up at home,” Genier says.
The Hours That Remain played in Dawson City from February 28 to March 1 at Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre and runs in Whitehorse, Wednesday March 5 to Saturday March 8 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Showtime is 8 p.m. The March 8 performance is a special International Women’s Day presentation. For more information please visit www.GwaandakTheatre.com. To purchase tickets, call the Yukon Arts Centre box office at 667–8574.