• Eugene Stickland

Countdown To The Premiere!

As you may know by now, last summer Helen McPhaden and I got together and envisioned a new project for the Stardale girls to work on over the winter and then present in the spring. The theme of the piece was some kind of representation of the journey of adolescent girls and women as a response to the findings of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. What we hoped to create was a performance piece along the lines of previous pieces we had created over the seven years.

Did anyone's plans made last summer actually work out the way you thought they would this summer? Probably not. Fortunately for The Road project, Helen also hired a videographer, Vanessa Wenzel, to come on this journey with us. When it became clear that the pandemic would make it impossible for us to present a live stage performance, we rejiggered the script from stage to screen and at that point, Vanessa took over, with her company Prairie Kitten Productions. Vanessa was assisted by Helen Young who directed The Make Believer Project for Stardale two years ago.

I had the chance to catch up with Vanessa who has completed shooting all the footage for The Road: The Video and is now hard at work putting together the final version of the video that we will first share with the world at a "gala" screening on September 24, 2020. (Details below.)

Here are some of Vanessa's thoughts and observations on The Road project and the video she has created:

So, Vanessa, when we first started to get together back in January, what were some of your impressions about the Stardale program?

The first time I was there was in October. I was honestly a little nervous about it, trying to fit into the set up they have, coming to circle, and them eating their meal. I was wondering what's the dynamic here? I think I had honestly never met a First Nations girl before. They were all so different. They're kinda shy but they have their talents. Eugene and Helen are able to play to those talents and bring them out.

Before we changed directions, did you have a very clear idea of what you wanted to do to complement the stage play?

I had hired a writer, Kristina Fithern-Steele, to help me write the visual narrative. She is an Indigenous filmmaker. I wanted to make sure it wasn't just my white perspective. We worked together to go through a bunch of images the girls had given me and that are kinda Stardalesque. For example, representations of a circle. We had lots of water imagery; light, like firelight; and aurora borealis. This was to have been a poetic means of complementing what Eugene and the girls were creating.

What were your thoughts when we decided to shift from stage to video production?

I was excited because in a way I was glad there would be a permanent record. The heart-breaking thing about theatre for me is that once it's over, it's gone and you can't get it back. I was sad about not being able to do the original project Kristina and I had worked on, but I was still able to use some of what we had written in the video.

How was the process of filming?

The pandemic changed the script and the shoot because I was trying to keep the cast and crew to the smallest number of people possible to keep everyone safe. It involved some extra trips to Canadian Tire to get extra disinfectant and masks and gloves and all that. I hired a person every shoot day for safety supervision.

Did you enjoy working with the girls?

It was interesting to see the girls grow even within the filming process. There was a difference even from one day to the next, from someone being quite shy to absolutely nailing it the next day. The girls are great! I want to be their friend and I hope that they can find their way in film or anywhere else in life. I hope this film allows them to have a credit and get a start. They have such a unique perspective!

Anything you'd like to add?

I hope the film does justice to the seriousness and complexity of this issue. And to the girls' perspective of it, through their own words and their portrayal of themselves in the film.

So there you have it. We are excited to share what we have created with the world in September. And we are very pleased that the hard work the girls put into the project over the winter has been captured and will now be seen by a wider audience.

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