As the pandemic restrictions lessen inch by inch, theatre lovers are rejoicing in the reopening of the stage doors, the re-learning of lines, and the reprise of jolly musical tunes. For many musical theatre students, this September will mark the first time they have found their light in their onstage classrooms since the pandemic began. However, one active member of Mt. A’s Indigenous community, Paul Brisk Jr. from Listaguj, Quebec, has been gracing the stage with his presence in Sackville throughout this past summer. He will continue to do so in his newly-appointed role as one of Live Bait Theatre’s interns.
When it comes to theatre, the loud-and-proud drama studies student has done it all, and with gusto: singing, acting, dancing, carpentry, painting, and even the odd Elvis Presley impersonation. Brisk has been working for Live Bait since the summer of 2017 as a performer, and this summer, galloped onto the stage as the comedic Nick Bottom in Festival by the Marsh’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Although Brisk is no stranger to language acquisition—he is, after all, a speaker of English, French, and Mi’kmaq—the Middle English verses within the play were still a fun challenge for the actor.
“There was definitely a shift in comprehension. I am much more accustomed to more contemporary pieces and stuff of that nature…It was super fun! I got to be funny in a dialect of English that I am incredibly unfamiliar with. And I got to basically spend the summer working with people I enjoy, doing something that I think is pretty cut and dry,” said Brisk about the experience.
While working with Live Bait Theatre this summer, Brisk added a new title to his repertoire: playwright. His first-ever script, Becoming My Own Native, is an ode to the personal creation of his native identity, a part of himself that he believes changes daily. This play, as Brisk likes to put it, is “a love letter to himself, by himself”.
In writing the script, Brisk is challenging the typical conventions of playwriting. In Mi’kmaq culture, the act of ‘writing’ in order to tell a story is not the traditional route. Stories are told in an oral, collaborative manner, and Brisk was determined to incorporate that in the telling of his story. The piece was written with the support of Live Bait and with the mentorship of Amherst-based playwright Charlie Rhindress. In addition to this, it will be devised through consultation and conversations with others.
“Everything I do, and do successfully, I do in a collaborative manner,” said Brisk, “I don’t advertise myself as some weird, self-sufficient success. My skills and strengths lie in working with other people, so I wanted this to be a collaborative piece where I have conversations with people that I deem relevant to the conversation.”
Although the show celebrates the joy of Indigenous identity, this joy does not come without hardships. ‘Becoming My Own Native’ brings forth the concept of passive exclusion; the practice of not being actively shunned due to one’s heritage but being passively made to feel as though they don’t belong in a group. In the case of Becoming My Own Native, Brisk sheds light on feeling as though he is “not being Native enough” in a given situation. The play destroys said concept and blossoms into a reaffirmation: a warm hug that screams to its audiences, “You are enough.”
“I think, like, in terms of an identity, people always see it as ‘Are you native or not?,’ but how I feel on a given day will change,” said Brisk, “I wanted to make something that shows that it doesn’t have to be powwows, regalia and drums to be Native. Being Native exists in all facets of our life; it’s a different lifestyle, a different perspective.”