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With ReZonance, playwright Yvonne Wallace addresses complexity of Indigenous identity and the “residue” of residential schools

Yvonne Wallace
Yvonne Wallace wrote her newest play because she wanted to elevate awareness about the consequences of "othering" people in Indigenous communities.

When playwright Yvonne Wallace conceived her newest theatrical work, she gave it a rather catchy name.

“The first title of the play was The Dysfunctional Band Office Tried to Pull a Jody Wilson-Raybould on Me,” Wallace tells Pancouver over Zoom.

That’s because this play, now called ReZonance, revolves around efforts to exclude a powerful Indigenous woman. Wilson-Raybould was the former justice minister who epitomized this when the prime minister transferred her out of this position. This came after she had questioned his office’s efforts to interfere in a prosecution.

The initial title spoke to Wallace’s experiences as a mixed-race ucwalmicw woman born and raised in the Lil’wat Nation.

“I self-identify as Indigenous,” Wallace says. “That’s how I see the world. That is my experience.”

But because her father is non-Indigenous, that’s not how Wallace has always been perceived.

“They see me as white-presenting,” she says. “And so, at some point in my life, I have to stop engaging with that argument and just be settled in the fact that I am Indigenous and that’s how I see the world. How people see me is…not my problem to fix.”

The play transformed into ReZonance, which is set on a reserve, as Wallace came to recognize that her experience felt like “residential school residue”.

“We attempt to define self-identity in our Indigenous pathways—our ways of knowing and being,” Wallace says. “But what kinds of things happen when we intersect?”

The Capilano University graduate elaborates by saying that Indigenous leaders are often so busy that they’re unable to reflect on and dissect Indigenous complexities. “So that’s what this play is about.”

Wallace felt what it’s like to be “othered”

The central character in this “mixed-race tragicomedy” is Mixy, played by Wallace. According to the synopsis, this character is “invited to a meeting to plan an Indigenous retreat based on land pedagogy”. Mixy demands to be treated as an equal.

Wallace uses the term residential-school residue because sometimes, it’s felt to her that she’s been in a playground where everyone was just trying to survive for themselves.

“So, even when you have a community that you belong to, you can still be excluded or ‘othered’,” she says.

Moreover, Wallace insists that this is the exact opposite of what Indigenous people should be doing. That’s because their communities survived for thousands of years precisely because everyone had a place of belonging.

“I don’t always have an opportunity to be honest about those experiences because of all the constructs, professionalism, common courtesies, [and] being nice,” Wallace acknowledges. “So, ReZonance, for me, was a space where I could talk about the mixed-race experience.”

ReZonance included in Advance Theatre Festival

Cree and Saulteaux theatre artist Renae Morriseau is directing a stage reading of ReZonance at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts on Thursday (February 2) as part of the Advance Theatre Festival. Wallace is curating the entire event, which is presented by Ruby Slippers Theatre. It showcases new works directed by female-identifying and gender noncomforming artists who identify as IBPOC.

Wallace chose works for the Advance Theatre Festival based on ensuring equal representation from all demographic groups, how the stories were told, and how they resonated with her.

“As an audience member, when I go to a reading, I listen for the story,” Wallace says. “The part that’s really exciting for me is when it reaches fruition and it makes the stage—and you can see all the other design ideas and the character relationships.”

Wallace has written three plays: Smothered Sweetly, The Last Dance, and ustzan (to make things better).

“As an Indigenous woman, I’ve been in the theatre sphere since the 1990s,” Wallace says. “After my play ustzan was presented, I found that there were many more opportunities for me to be in a decision-making role. I took that with a lot of responsibility.”

Ruby Slippers Theatre is presenting the Advance Theatre Festival at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts until February 17. For more information, a list of readings, and tickets, visit the website. Follow Pancouver editor Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.