Kamloopa: Empowering Indigenous women through the art of performance

“If you only show women who cry or die, how will the rest of the world see us?”

That is the powerful question B.C. playwright Kim Senklip Harvey asked when creating the characters and storyline for her first full-length play, Kamloopa.

Harvey believes the stereotypical roles that women (especially Indigenous women) are given in the acting community are more harmful than good.

“If we don’t see women living and laughing and having fun, that will bleed into society,” Harvey says. “That is how people will see us." 

Harvey used her own experiences as an actress to make decisions on how her own characters would be represented in Kamloopa, set to run at the Pavilion Theatre Sept. 13 to 22. (The performance will kick off Western Canada Theatre's 2018-19 season.)

“I got writing my own plays because I was waiting to get roles in acting that just were not coming,” she tells KamloopsMatters. “I got sick of getting roles where I had to die or cry or would have only a few lines. I would look at my male counterparts and be like, ‘I want those roles. I want to tell jokes and have powerful lines.' One of my mentors looked at me and said, 'Well, make them yourself.'"

Harvey always knew she was going to write, but she waited for a time in her life when she felt her skills would be able to serve the story she wanted to tell. She wanted to do it right, she wanted to make it powerful.

She wanted to create roles her actresses would feel proud of.

"I wanted to say, 'Here are roles that are going to flex your artistic muscles, that you can show your Indigenous culture and how you are a complex human being who thinks and feels and lives.'"

Harvey believes the narrative that is currently being shared about Indigenous women is a dangerous one. While she thinks that it is important for Indigenous issues to be shared, she also believes that for every headline that depicts violence against Indigenous women, there should be another one that shows their strength, that shows that they are funny and courageous.

“There needs to be something to balance it out,” she says, noting it can’t all just be negative. “You need to see us living and breathing and being ourselves.”

Kamloopa is a story about two sisters, Kilawna and Mikaya, who are struggling to navigate their way through the world. The pair strives to understand who they are by looking in all the wrong places. With their new Indian Friend #1, a lawless trickster, they go on a road trip to B.C. biggest powwow, Kamloopa.

There, they learn to bear witness "to the bravery of one another and (their) peoples, as they embark on a transformational journey that unleashes the powers of being Indigenous matriarchs," reads a write-up about the show.

“I tell people to expect many things from this play," says Harvey.

"I write spherical because our people are spherical. I want my characters to triumph through tragedy, for there to be happiness with my heroes.

“They are complex, they are full, and they are dynamic, because those are the type of women I know in my life. They are inspiring and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time."

Harvey has made sure her actresses feel fulfilled in their roles by providing workshops and constantly asking, "Do you need more?"

“I will give them more. I want them to feel like they are being represented, that their characters are full," she says. “It’s a big deal that I made people leave their family to come and rehearse and perform. I want to honour people’s lives and how precious they are."

Harvey hopes Kamloopa inspires her audience.

"It is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are Indigenous or not. These three women are being immensely brave; they are teaching us about finding who we are and giving respect to who we are.”

While the story has a wide range of complexities within it, Harvey says comedy is a constant.

“There is visual comedy, oral comedy, physical comedy and then it also goes really deep into what it means to be a human. ... I think everyone will leave a little bit braver."

Opening night for Kamloopa is already sold out. You can buy tickets online (click HERE) or at the Kamloops Live! Box Office (1025 Lorne St.). If you are an Indigenous woman, discounted $10 tickets are available by entering promo code TRICKSTER.

— Cavelle Layes is a freelance reporter for KamloopsMatters

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