1939

Written by:

Jani Lauzon , Kaitlyn Riordan

Artist/Creator(s) Identify As:

Indigenous

Cast Size:
8

Roles For:

  • Indigenous Peoples: 5
  • Men: 3
  • Women: 5

Genre:

Comedy
Drama
Historical

Themes:

Identity
Indigenous
Loss
Shakespeare
Siblings

Length:

150 min.

Year Written:

2021

Synopsis:

At a Residential School in northern Ontario, five students are ordered to gather in a classroom. Two of them, Joseph Summers and his sister, Beth, have been at the school for seven years, but its policy of separating siblings has largely kept them apart – till now. Susan Blackbird, an orphan who has been there since she was four, struggles to connect with her barely remembered Cree heritage, while newcomer Evelyne Rice tries to avoid punishment by repressing her Mohawk culture and language. Jean Delorme, as a Métis student, is a rarity at the school and struggles to fit in.

English teacher Sian Ap Dafydd explains the reason for their summons: they have been chosen to entertain King George VI and his Queen on their forthcoming visit with a student performance of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Firmly colonial in her notions and intentions, Ap Dafydd is as determined to get her young actors to deliver the “big round vowels” she considers essential to speaking Shakespeare as she is to show the royal couple how the students are learning to be “good little Canadians.”

But as rehearsals proceed, the students’ agency erupts as they learn about each other and discover parallels between the play’s characters and their own experiences. Confronting individual and collective tragedy with humour and strength, the students undertake a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Their resilience evoking Helena’s line in All’s Well: “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.”

Characters:

Susan Blackbird: Cree student, 16 year old

Sian Ap Dafydd: English teacher, Welsh descent, 50 years old

Jean Delorme: Algonquin Métis student, 16 years old

Madge Macbeth (historical figure): Journalist, raised Jewish, 61 years old

Evelyne Rice: Mohawk student, 16 years old

Beth Summers: Ojibwe student, 15 year old

Joseph Summers: Ojibwe former student, 17 years old

Callum Williams: Anglican Priest, English descent, and teacher, mid 30s

*for professional productions, the playwrights ask that the Indigenous roles are played by Indigenous actors, though not necessarily of the same nation as the characters.

First Produced:

World premiere at the Stratford Festival in 2022

Resources:

The play can be accessed by visiting the Canadian Play Outlet.

Notes:

The playwrights: Jani Lauzon has Métis heritage, and Kaitlyn Riordan is a settler of Irish and French descent.