Award-winning Canadian playwright, actor and educator Kevin Loring has been named the first-ever artistic director of indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre.
The new department’s inaugural season in 2019 and 2020 will coincide with a major milestone for the NAC: the 50th anniversary of the Ottawa-based performing arts centre.
Loring won the 2009 Governor General’s Award for English Language Drama for the play ”Where the Blood Mixes,” which examined the intergenerational effects of the residential school system.
The production toured nationally and was presented at the NAC in 2010 when Loring was the playwright-in-residence.
He is currently performing at the NAC in the musical ”Children of God” from Oji-Cree playwright, actor composer and director Corey Payette, which also explores the legacy of the residential school system.
Loring will take up his new post on Oct. 16.
Loring’s lengthy history with the NAC dates back well over a decade, with appearances in Marie Clements’s plays “Burning Vision” and “Copper Thunderbird,” and in the NAC’s 40th anniversary production of George Ryga’s “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe.” He also took on the role of Edmund in an all-aboriginal version of “King Lear” in 2012.
Loring was among hundreds of indigenous artists the NAC brought together for discussions about expanding indigenous arts at one of the world’s largest performing arts centres.
In his new role, Loring plans to work towards that objective by broadening access to the NAC’s indigenous theatrical offerings beyond Canada’s capital.
“How do we make this a national company if all of our shows are being done at the National Arts Centre and for an Ottawa audience?” Loring said in a phone interview.
“What I propose is that we do four shows at the National Arts Centre stages every season, and at the same time, we do four shows outside of Ottawa,” he added, citing Vancouver, Iqaluit, Montreal and Toronto as potential locales.
“We create with other companies out there, with communities out there. We build shows with them or support shows that they are creating, and we maybe help them tour it, either through the region and eventually back onto our stages at the National Arts Centre … so that we always have a number of shows that we’re developing outside of Ottawa.”
Loring is a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation from the Lytton First Nation in British Columbia. He created the “Songs of the Land” project in 2012 working in tandem with five separate organizations in his home community. The project involved the examination of century-old audio recordings of songs and stories of the Nlaka’pamux people.
He has also written two new plays based on his work in the community: ”Battle of the Birds,” about domestic violence and power abuse, and “The Boy Who Was Abandoned,” about youth and elder neglect.
In addition to collaborative creative work on a broader scale, Loring said he is also interested in exploring more innovative ways of storytelling.
“This work, I hope, inspires our indigenous youth and inspires our indigenous people to see that there might be a space for them in theatre, in art … telling our stories, singing our songs, dancing our dances,” he said.
“The truth of the matter is we do not have, at the moment, enough indigenous designers, enough indigenous stage managers, enough indigenous arts managers.
“That’s going to be a process of trying to fill those roles as best we can with indigenous people, and at the same time, to try to foster and bring in artists from other backgrounds into the theatre realm.”