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Theatre Calgary play tells a universal tale

By SILVIA PIKAL 

Film and television star Michelle Thrush is directing Honour Beat. Photo courtesy Theatre Calgary.

A play in which two grown sisters face off over their mother’s deathbed. A set design that almost becomes its own character. A story that takes place in a palliative hospital room and inspires deep emotion, yet also makes you laugh. That’s what you should expect from Honour Beat, according to film and television star Michelle Thrush, who is directing the play, and Stafford Arima, artistic director of Theatre Calgary. Thrush says the play is ultimately a human story.

“It’s a story anyone can relate to,” Thrush says. “It’s about family, love, death and betrayal.” She describes the relationship between the sisters as genuine, raw and beautiful.

“I’m an only child so I’m so intrigued by sibling relationships,” Thrush says. “I watch my daughters who are teenagers, and it blows my mind when I watch them argue. I didn’t grow up with that so I always wonder, do I get in there? Or do I let them figure it out because it’s building people skills?”

When Arima went to a reading of Honour Beat last year, while it was part of a new play development program at Theatre Calgary, he instantly fell in love with the story. He lost his own mother 10 years ago, and the play’s exploration of family relationships deeply impacted him.

“I think this story connected with me on a very personal level because on some level it’s a story about family, it’s a story about forgiveness, it’s a story about awakenings and transformations,” Arima says. “I connected with it on that level, and what I found so interesting about the piece was that it also made me laugh.”

He describes it as a family drama that lets you laugh and cry at the same time, and since it explores family relationships and goes to the core of human behaviour, it will also make you think and feel.

Both Arima and Thrush are excited by the voice of Canadian playwright Tara Beagan, who wrote a universal story focusing on the significance of family, with an Indigenous family at its core.

Thrush says the production features a full Indigenous cast, and many on the creative team are Indigenous, which she hopes will further open the doors in the Calgary theatre community for Indigenous artists to tell their own stories.

She says the momentum started with Making Treaty 7, a Calgary theatre production that explores the historical signing of Treaty 7 through the Indigenous perspective. This year her one–woman show, Inner Elder, returns to the stage and takes audiences on a comedic journey through her life as she transforms from young to old using Indigenous clowning.

“I’ve been working in the industry for 30 years now,” Thrush says. “The progression that’s taken place as Indigenous people step forward in the arts community is an absolute revolution.”

Her ultimate hope is that Calgarians will connect with Honour Beat’s universality.

“I think it’s so important right now that for the place we’re in as Indigenous artists that we’re seen as human beings,” Thrush says. “If we have people coming in through the audience watching the show and they can relate to it as a human story, then I’ve done my job. I hope they walk away with an understanding that there’s not as many barriers between us as human beings as sometimes is portrayed — that we all grieve, we all love, we all share kindness and jokes.”

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