1784: (Un)Settling Antigonish is a theatrical pilgrimage of truth and reconciliation in the popular theatre tradition. United Empire Loyalists (mostly Irish), Black Loyalists, Mi’kmaq, and Acadians, return from the dead at the 1784 landing site at Antigonish Harbour, to speak truth to history and to acknowledge that we are all treaty people. The pilgrimage begins at the Antigonish Heritage Museum, where the pilgrims meet to take the Community Transit Bus to the landing site (Act 1) and grave site of Antigonish’s first Settlers. The nation-to-nation dialogue between the intergenerational and multi-cultural performers takes the form of pilgrims joining each other on a journey as walkers among walkers, often challenging each other’s version of history. Period music of Irish Harp, Flute, Mi’kmaw Drum, and Black Spirituals punctuates the story line. Pilgrims on and off stage join in songs and healing rituals.
Dorothy Lander shaped the script in the summer of 2014 as a joint project of Arts Health Antigonish (AHA!) and the Antigonish Heritage Museum. The the first on-site reading was on October 11, 2014, which included the lead characters of the Narrator, Colonel Timothy Hierlihy, his son Captain Hierlihy, and the Mi’kmaw Elders, and musical accompaniment of Irish Harper Thea Huard. Ken Kingston came on board as Artistic Director in November. We applied for a grant of $10,000 from the Positive Aging Program, Department of Seniors, Nova Scotia Ministry of Health, and were notified in January 2015 that we were successful. Throughout the winter months, we recruited performers from the cultural groups they were portraying, most of whom were on the stage for the first time. We also expanded our Creative Team to include a Costume Director, Videographer, Stage Manager, Graphic Designer, and Producer. Every rehearsal was a workshopping of the script, in which the Mi’kmaq, African Nova Scotians, Acadians, and Irish/Scottish performers along with the creative team negotiated and fine tuned every aspect of the play–the script, the costumes, the props, the musical accompaniment. We became pilgrims on a spiritual journey long before the first production on July 4, 2015.
We held five performances in the Summer and Fall of 2015, four on-site at Antigonish Harbour 11:00 a.m. on July 4, 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Sept 6, and final one at 11:00 a.m. on Sept. 24) and one indoor performance at 7:00 p.m. on July 29. All rehearsals and performances were videotaped (Denise Davies, Eckova Film and Media Productions) and along with interviews with cast, creative team, and audience participants, and will provide the material for a documentary film of the process, which we plan to submit to Film Festivals, beginning with the Antigonish International Film Festival. A Playbill/Program was distributed at each performance, and showcased our provincial government and local sponsors. The dedicated website features interviews with cast and creative team, and excerpts from the performances.