Summer 2015 was my family’s first in Montreal. We quickly settled into our NDG apartment and became regulars at the NDG Art Hive in Girouard park. When the queen bees put out the call for large pieces of cardboard, my recycling-loving heart skipped a beat – our moving boxes and Ikea packaging would be turned into the set for the Cheap Art Collective’s Giant Puppet Show for Country En Ville. When organizer, Melanie Stuy, put out the call for participants, our family of six was thrilled to get involved.
Fast forward to February 2016. Melanie wished to get a head start on this year’s production for Country En Ville. August seemed far away, but when your collective is composed of parent volunteers with school, work, and other responsibilities, time is a rare commodity. I was excited to be a part of the story-building process and attended the first meeting around Mel’s kitchen table in March.
Everyone in attendance readily agreed to build a story around use of resources and distribution of wealth. Mel had a general sense that we’d need to create a character to represent the 1% and a burning desire to build a giant papier mache dinosaur. The kids jumped on this idea and insisted there had to be cyborgs, too. With radical inclusion being at the forefront of the CAC’s mission, we chose to honour this suggestion, even if we didn’t quite know what to do with it to start. As we continued to float ideas, the amazing Joanne Penhale recalled a quote credited to Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki from the Odanak reserve, northeast of Montreal:
When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.
And just like that, the story unfolded. We’d open on creatures living in harmony until the T-rexes arrived with an intent to build wealth at the expense of these critters and their habitat. They’d eventually be swallowed by the earth they were destroying and we’d close with our quote.
All of a sudden it was July and there was much to be done to pull this off. Melanie got to work on building the puppets and Yvette took the lead on the set and props. Despite being the new kid on the block, the CAC entrusted me to fill out the script, developing narration and dialogue. I really connected with the native wisdom in the chosen quote and knew we wanted to use our most-loved puppet, Mother Earth, so I turned to creation stories for further inspiration. As the script unfolded, the dinosaurs were named the Tyranny Rexes and bore a tragic resemblance to white settlers in North America. It became necessary to comment on important social justice issues, such as the residential school system and police brutality, so these elements were worked into the storyline.
Participants were recruited from the CAC and Art Hive and anyone who showed an interest in what we were doing was asked to join. The NDG Seniors Atelier got on board and made some amazing props. Roles were assigned and rehearsals began. On summer schedules, it was rare the entire cast and crew could all be there at the same time, but piece-by-piece it came together. When our musical accompaniment fell through, Old Time Honey, came to the rescue.
I don’t think any of us felt ready the day of the show. The kids were excited, the adults were nervous, and everyone was comforted by Mel’s reminder that it was supposed to be fun. Just go out there and have a good time.
The band started to play, cuing our flag dancers to enter, followed by the Great Spirit, the earth, the sea, and the sky. Creatures filled the land and were given to Mother Nature to protect. The Tyranny Rexes entered with their cyborgs and were greeted with an enthusiastic round of jeers. When the fatigued creatures protested, “Less Work, Fair Pay” the audience was quick to join in. When the Great Spirit and Mother Nature wept for their creation, a hush fell upon the crowd. When the T-Rexes were swallowed by the rising seas, the audience cheered. Mother nature sent her pixies to revive the sleeping creatures and the final quote was received with warm applause. The band began to play and Mother Earth led the puppets and actors in parade about the park. We went out there and had a good time.