conscient podcast

e91 keith barker – telling a really good story

Episode Summary

My conversation with indigenous playwright, actor & director Keith Barker, artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts on Dec 8, 2021 in Tkaronto about indigenous theatre & storytelling including a reading of his 'APOLOGY, MY' 5 minute play for the 2021 Climate Change Theatre Action with voice actors Riel Schryer and Sabrina Mathews. Also with excerpts from e92 santee smith and e44 bilodeau.

Episode Notes

eith Barker is from the Métis Nation of Ontario and is artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts in Tkaronto. He is the winner of the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Playwrights Guild’s Carol Bolt Award for best new play. He received a Saskatchewan and Area Theatre Award for Excellence in Playwriting for his play, The Hours That Remain, as well as a Yukon Arts Award for Best Art for Social Change.

He’s a kind, generous and thoughtful person. 

I met Keith while we were both working at the Canada Council in the mid 2010’s. We reconnected at the National Arts Centre’s 2019 Summit on Theatre and Climate Change presented at The Banff Centre. 

Our conversation touched upon indigenous theatre, the impact of telling a good story and the impact of placing artists in spaces with community members, telling their stories and talking about the crisis ands includes excerpts from e92 santee smith - about SKéN:NEN and interconnectedness and e44 bilodeau - the arts are good at changing culture

There were many memorable moments in our conversation. This quote in particular resonated with me: 

To me, artists being right in on the conversation, being present and actually pushing the agenda is absolutely the thing we need to be. That's where we need to be. Too many politicians and policy and all that stuff. You're watching that stuff fail right now and to put artists in spaces with community members, telling their stories and talking about the crisis… that's happening and engaging people, that's the power of theatre and that's the power of art. That, to me, is the thing that's gonna push people to make changes or to start talking or to enter into dialogue. Because right now we have a left and a right that isn't gonna speak. They don't like each other. They don't like their politics, but you get them in a room together and they actually break bread and start having food. They realize that both their kids go to the same school. They both drive the same car. They both love hockey. You know, if we start finding those connections through art, then they they're gonna engage. And it doesn't matter if it's an indigenous artist telling that story or you know, another, IBPOC person or anybody else. If you're telling a good story, people are gonna be engaged and, and it'll compel you to wanna do something.

I also have a special treat for you in the last 5 minutes of this episode. You’ll hear near the end of my conversation with Keith that I accepted to produce a radio version of his APOLOGY, MY play which was commissioned by the 2021 Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) project. You’ll hear my son Riel playing a political advisor and my wife Sabrina Mathews playing the Prime Minister of Canada. Big thanks to Riel and Sabrina for this powerful reading of the play and big thanks to Keith and Climate Change Theatre Action for permission to produce this amazing play that anticipates a future we can still avoid.

Note: Here is the APOLOGY, MY play by Keith Barker, performed by Riel Schryer and Sabrina Mathews as a stand alone audio file:

This is one of 6 episodes recorded during the Gathering Divergence Multi-Arts Festival & Conference Fall 2021 | Art in the Time of Healing: The Importance of IBPOC Arts in Planetary Renewal event from December 8 to 10, 2021 in Toronto.

The others are:

Links mentioned in this episode:

Script of APOLOGY, MY by Keith Barker

(published with permission of the author) 

This play came out of exchanges I've had with my uncle over the years. He is a fervent climate change denier who believes it is a hoax drummed up by lefty pinkos. This play is me writing out my disillusion by imagining a revelation about the climate crisis through the eyes of a Prime Minister who finds himself (or herself) on the wrong side of history.

I’m sorry. I truly am.

You can’t say that.

Why not?

You’re making it personal. Don’t do that.

It’s an apology.

You need to think bigger picture here.

Fine…On behalf of the country--

The country, the people, whatever you want to call them, are not the ones who are

sorry, the government is.

…On behalf of the party--

Whoa whoa whoa, it’s not one party’s fault, it’s every party’s fault. Got it?

(Prime Minister sighs)

Mr. Speaker I stand before you today to offer an official apology.

There you go.

The denial of climate change is a sad and regrettable chapter in our history.

I like the chapters – That was a sad chapter. This? This is a new chapter.

In the last hundred-and-fifty years populations were introduced to widespread

electrification, internal combustion engines, the car, and the airplane.

Sweet. Keep it in the past, stay away from the future.

This massive shift to fossil fuels exponentially increased material prosperity and

measures of well-being. But we were wrong.

We’re never wrong.

It was a mistake.

Mistakes are just as bad as being wrong. Neither will get you votes.

It was regrettable.

Mm, better.

We are past the tipping point of climate change. Now we must deal with the full

consequences of government failure.

Way too negative.

Now we must deal with the consequences of inaction… and a multi-generational culture

of denial to maintain the status quo.

Cut the last part.

I think we need it.

And I think we don’t. Keep going.

…Unprecedented warming cycles have melted the ice caps, causing the mass extinction

of species. The acidification of the oceans has destroyed the majority of marine and

mammal food chains. The occurrence of extreme weather events has vastly increased as

sea levels continue to rise.

You can’t say all that.

People already know this.

Then why are we saying it again?

Because it’s true.

Truth is overrated.

Then why am I even giving this speech?

Because, politically it’s a smart move if we do it right. It also makes you look like a

Prime Minister--

I am the Prime Minister

Yeah, well, you know what I mean.

I don’t think I do.

Listen, don’t focus on the small stuff. You need to ignore your instincts. Whatever

feels right, is wrong. You won’t win this if you repeat mistakes.

Don’t put this all on me.

Says the guy who stood up in the House of Commons and denied the existence of

climate change on the same day scientists announced the Arctic Circle was ice-free.

They did that on purpose to make me look bad.

What, melt the Arctic Circle?

You know what I mean.

I don’t think I do.

You really think you can fix this?

What do you think?

You always answer a question with a question?

Only the dumb ones.

Right…Where were we?

Somewhere between mass extinction and extreme weather conditions.

…Today, we recognize the denial of climate change was wrong

Not wrong but -



I’ve already said regrettable...

Yeah, and you’re going to say it a hundred more times so get used to it.

…The fossil fuel industry actively misled the public and is largely to blame for the

inaction on climate change with capitalism being the driving force.

Don’t say the C word.

Why not?

You can’t be seen placing the blame on industry.

Just over a hundred companies are responsible for 71% of all the Global Greenhouse

Gas Emissions.

That is debatable.

Not if we’re using science it’s not.

Wow, and where was this guy a few years ago?

I am trying to make up for my past mistakes.

And that my friend is how you kill your political career.

I need to say this.

No, you don’t. You’re talking to the base. Card carrying members. They voted for you

because of your ideology. You can’t just bait and switch these folks. Do that and you

can kiss the election goodbye.

You’re right. Thank you for that.

For what?

It didn’t really hit me until you said my words back to me.

What’d I say? Sorry, I’ve said a lot.

Mass extinction.

Oh come on. I’m just trying to get you re-elected here.

This isn’t about politics anymore.

Everything is about politics.

Sorry, but I need to do this.

Let me do my job here. I’m a fixer, it’s what I’m paid to do. Fix things. And if you want this fixed Mr. Prime Minister, then you need to start listening to me pronto. Do.  Not. Apologize. These altruistic feelings are fleeting. Trust me. You think you’ve found some clarity, but you haven’t. And when those feelings pass, and they will pass, you will regret having made a decision in a moment of weakness. You understand me?

Perfectly. I think you need to go.

You’re making a big mistake.

Maybe, maybe not.

Let me help you.

No, I think you’ve helped enough. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a speech to write.

Last chance… Really? Fine, it’s your funeral… You know what? I wasn’t going vote for

you anyways.

Aww, you broke your own rule.

And what is that?

Don’t make it personal.