Actors Ujarneq Fleischer, left, and Johnny Issaluk rehearse a scene for the The Breathing Hole in Stratford, Ont. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Indigenous history and climate change explored in Stratford’s The Breathing Hole

STRATFORD, Ont. — Reneltta Arluk wanted to acknowledge the origins of the story told in her Stratford Festival production “The Breathing Hole,” so the director took the project to the North.

Consultations and workshops were held with Qaggiavuut, a Nunavut-based performing arts society, to ensure the play was inclusive and reflective of the Inuit community.

“It was tough, to be honest, because it was reconciliation,” said Arluk. “(Colleen Murphy) has written this play with all of these Inuit people in it. And how do you navigate what is authenticity and what is not? And that’s what we went up there to do. … That land has to hear the stories that inspired it.

“When you put Indigenous people onstage, Indigenous people sit in the audience, too,” she added. ”And if they feel like something isn’t ringing true it takes them out of the story.”

“The Breathing Hole” centres on the 500-year saga of a polar bear named Angu’juaq, which translates to “a big man” in Inuktitut. Audiences follow Angu’juaq from birth in an Inuit community in 1534 to an encounter in 1832 with English explorer Sir John Franklin and his crew.

The journey continues through to the 21st century, looking at the lives of a biologist and security guard working for an oil company, and a future devastated by global warming.

While Angu’juaq is a focal point, Arluk said both she and Murphy wanted to emphasize the toll drastic environmental change has on individuals.

“One of things that Colleen talks about is that people don’t connect the Arctic to people,” she said.

“It is Inuit that is feeling the impact of climate change because of the gases, chemicals that go up, because of how pollutants travel to the North. But people will get behind the endangered species of a polar bear rather than really look at how a whole society or a whole community are affected by climate change.”

Inuk actor Johnny Issaluk valued the opportunity to give voice to his community in his theatrical debut.

“It’s pretty much how we lived and where we came from; the storyline of my father, where he came from,” said the Iqaluit-based Issaluk, originally from Chesterfield Inlet on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay.

“Seeing it first-hand and then reading the story — it’s so accurate. … It’s important to showcase where we come from. Not only that, but what’s going on up there in any form or another.”

Miali Buscemi said the opportunities for Indigenous artists to tell their own stories are improving.

“To play a character or to play a person that is Inuk, it is important to me,” said Buscemi, who grew up in Kimmirut on the southernmost tip of Baffin Island.

“It’s only now in recent years that Indigenous actors are playing their own roles because for many years they didn’t, even in film and TV, which is largely what I’ve done from 2007,” she added. “Even there, they always hired other people that looked Indigenous or could pass for Indigenous.”

Arluk said she hopes ”The Breathing Hole” will help pave the path for the Indigenous actors within the production to take on new projects.

“That’s something I feel like we can do as part of this Canada 150 reconciliation,” said Arluk. “On another level, I really think that it’s important that our stories get told — and this is just a part of that process.

“Another thing is we have to actually acknowledge our engagement into the environment,” she added. “When you’re having these discussions about climate change, it’s not going to go back — it’s only going to go forward. …

“We have to accept climate change like we have to accept death — and we’re still deniers.”

“The Breathing Hole” will be onstage at Stratford’s Studio Theatre until Sept. 22.

Just Posted

Lacombe ready to light the night

The Christmas spirit comes to Lacombe Thursday night with the start of… Continue reading

Opioid prescriptions up across country, but daily doses dispensed down: report

TORONTO — The overall number of prescriptions for opioids has increased over… Continue reading

Notley pleads with political foes, allies to support Alberta pipeline projects

OTTAWA — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley issued warnings to all political parties… Continue reading

Uber isn’t saying how many Canadians were affected by year-old hack

TORONTO — Uber is owning up to a year-old security breach that… Continue reading

N. Korea criticizes US over designation as terror sponsor

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — North Korea on Wednesday called U.S. President… Continue reading

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer: Nov. 19

Watch news highlights from the week of Nov. 13

Creationist will speak at home-schooling convention in Red Deer

Ken Ham has debated Bill Nye on the Earth’s origins

Update: Innisfail girl found

A 15-year-old missing Innisfail girl has been located safe and sound. Police… Continue reading

Cost to fix Phoenix pay system to surpass $540 million, auditor general says

The federal government’s chronic salary struggles will take more time and more… Continue reading

Red Deer Christmas Bureau to help 1,300 children this year

Demand is high, but Red Deer always provides

CP Holiday train makes stops in Central Alberta

The popular train will feature entertainment from Colin James and Emma-Lee

Kittens rescued after allegedly being tossed from vehicle

Couple finds abandoned kittens new home through Facebook

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month