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alterNatives set to open soon in Montreal

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A new production of Drew Hayden Taylor’s play alterNatives is set to open the Centaur Theatre’s 2023/24 season from Oct. 17-Nov. 5 in Montreal.

By Rick Garrick

MONTREAL — Curve Lake First Nation’s Drew Hayden Taylor is looking forward to a new production of his play alterNatives that was translated from a French-language version, alterIndiens, produced in 2021 in Montreal. The new production of alterNatives is set to open the Centaur Theatre’s 2023/24 season from Oct. 17-Nov. 5 in Montreal.

“Charles Bender (who performs the Dale role in the Centaur production) saw it, read it and really liked it and had it translated into French, but he wanted it to have more of a resonance within the French Canadian community so he changed things, he changed the characters names, a few of the little details about the characters, that they came from reserves in Quebec rather than Ontario,” Taylor says. “And then ironically, when they were doing it at Centaur and had to bring it back into the English, they opted to re-translate it back from the French version into the English version so the English characters still have the French Canadian names, the French Canadian backgrounds and little details in it that give it more of a resonance within the Quebec population.”

Taylor says the play features three Native characters and three non-Native characters who meet at a dinner party.

“I wanted to create a situation where I could explore a whole bunch of different topics,” Taylor says. “It’s a humorous but critical exploration of people, of beliefs, of things people think are important and are willing to fight for.”

Xavier Watso, an Abenaki actor and former high school drama teacher who performs the Bobby role in alterNatives, says although the play was originally published in 2000, the country still faces some of the issues it raised, including people who think they are Indigenous or others who think they know more about being Indigenous than Indigenous people.

“We’re facing the same kind of problems,” Watso says. “Some things have changed but we still have a lot of education to do.”

Watso says the Bobby character resembles a bit of who he is, noting that he has an “activist kind of past,” including raising awareness about Indigenous issues.

“What Bobby does in his way is he confronts people, he won’t be afraid to tell difficult truths,” Watso says. “The difference between the character and me is he’s a little bit more of a troublemaker than me but I find there’s a lot of truth behind my character. Even though there’s some humour behind it, I find that there’s a lot interesting things he says that a lot of people can relate to, even if you’re not Indigenous.”

Xavier Huard, director of the play and co-founder of Menuentakuan Productions, which presented the alterIndiens production at Théâtre Denise Pelletier in 2021 and toured the play to communities around the Montreal area, says the French-language version was a big success.

“It works really good,” Huard says, noting that Eda Holmes, artistic director at Centaur Theatre, had seen a performance of alterIndiens after hearing about the play. “She asked us to come back to the English version because she also felt it was an interesting play to play right now. Even if it was visioned for the first time 20 years ago, it’s still a comedy with very great actualité (relevance) for us.”

Huard says alterNatives is kind of a sitcom.

“There’s lightness in it, this ability of creating humour with some stuff that could be very heavy, but now it was expressed with this lightness,” Huard says. “So it’s tricky because one way or the other it’s going to come and get you and bring you to the show.”

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