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«Sinking Neptune By Donovan King Optative Theatrical Laboratories – Radical Dramaturgy Unit V2.07.07.05 Table of Contents Preface 2 Dramaturgical ...»

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A Dramaturgical toolbox for…



By Donovan King

Optative Theatrical Laboratories – Radical Dramaturgy Unit


Table of Contents

Preface 2

Dramaturgical Analysis 4

Bibliography 28

Appendix A: English Text (tr. Eugene Benson and Renate Benson) 31

Appendix B: Original French text (by Marc Lescarbot) 38 Appendix C: OTL Process Strategy for Sinking Neptune 54 1 Preface Canada's first play to be revived: CBC Arts (Dec 08, 2004) HALIFAX - A new production of The Theatre of Neptune in New France, Canada's first play, will be staged in 2006. The production, which will take place on Nov. 14, marks the play's 400th anniversary. It will be staged along the shores of Annapolis Royal on the Bay of Fundy, where it was originally performed.

"It may be a little cold, but we want it to be at the exact same time, 400 years down to the minute if we can," director Ken Pinto told the Canadian Press at a press conference on Tuesday. "Hopefully there won't be snow falling."

Written by lawyer and historian Marc Lescarbot, the play was used to lift the spirits of the French settlers at Port Royale, who had survived a fierce winter the previous year.

"Good theatre, real theatre has a purpose. This play was aimed at guaranteeing the survival of this group of people for the rest of the winter," added Bill Van Gorder, a member of the board of Theatre 400, the organization behind the re- enactment.

According to Pinto, Theatre of Neptune was a remarkable production, using cannons, smoke bombs, trumpets and canoes. The cast includes the god Neptune, and a chorus at one point sings the praises of France's king – a choice that underlines the play's secondary purpose: to forestall a mutiny.

"It's a very simple play, but it's a good play and it started theatre in this country," Pinto said.

Colonial map of Port Royale & environs (present day Lower Granville, Nova Scotia) 2 400 years of theatre in Canada: Halifax Herald (Dec 08, 2004) Ken Pinto [originator and director of the Atlantic Fringe Festival] wants to celebrate the 400th anniversary of theatre in Nova Scotia, with a year of festivities, including a re-enactment of the first North American play staged Nov.

14, 1606 in Port Royal....Among plans for the year, which Theatre 400 (the group planning the festivities) hopes will be designated by government as "the Year of Theatre" are: a commemorative stamp, a Heritage Minute TV spot, a travelling display of the original 1606 manuscript, and a musical based on the Order of Good Cheer to be produced in Halifax (where NeptuneTheatre is named after the 1606 play)...."We hope Theatre 400 will put Nova Scotia theatre on the map, which is why we're making the announcement now, so we can begin fundraising," Pinto said.

–  –  –

The first play ever recorded in the so-called “New World”, The Theatre of Neptune in New France, will apparently be re-enacted in 2006 to mark its 400th anniversary. Penned by colonial lawyer and historian Marc Lescarbot, the play was originally performed on November 14th, 1606 at the French colony of Port Royal (present day Granville, Nova Scotia). As the “first play”, Lescarbot’s masque has been proclaimed as the progenitor of Canadian theatre, Port Royal is immortalized as the “birthplace of poetry and drama in the North American continent” (Pierce, 113), and Lescarbot has been credited as “the father of Canadian Theatre” (Pichette, 21). The Theatre of Neptune in New France has been re-enacted several times, attempts have been made to build a theatre on the spot of the original performance, a permanent plaque has been unveiled at Lower Granville praising Lescarbot’s work, and Halifax’s regional playhouse (the Neptune Theatre, named after the masque) all attest to the keen dedication by some of keeping this memory alive.

–  –  –

Ken Pinto, founder and director of the Atlantic Fringe Festival, wants to celebrate the “400th anniversary of theatre in Nova Scotia” with a year of festivities, including a re-enactment of The Theatre of Neptune in New France.

4 Theatre 400, the group planning the festivities, hopes the government will declare "the Year of Theatre", issue a commemorative stamp, commission a Heritage Minute TV spot, facilitate a travelling display of the original 1606

manuscript, and fund a musical to be produced in Halifax. According to Pinto:

“We hope Theatre 400 will put Nova Scotia theatre on the map, which is why we're making the announcement now, so we can begin fundraising," Bill Van Gorder, a board member of Theatre 400, is equally supportive of the reenactment, suggesting "Good theatre, real theatre has a purpose. This play was aimed at guaranteeing the survival of this group of people for the rest of the winter."

Not everyone, however, is likely to agree with this glossy and nostalgic assessment. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to see that The Theatre of Neptune in New France is an extremely racist play directed against First Nations (especially the Mi'kmaq people). I first studied the celebrated Neptune play during an MFA program in Drama at the University of Calgary, and quite frankly was angered by its racist structure and imperialist motives. As the supposed “foundation of Canadian theatre”, it smacks of Euro-centric misrepresentation, manipulation, and oppression – hardly something we should base Canadian theatrical heritage on, especially given the extraordinary theatrical traditions of the First Nations people themselves. When I proposed unmasking its oppressive, colonialist agenda and subverting the text, I met with considerable old-fashioned Albertan resistance: some professors felt the plan was an insult to “Canadian Theatre History” whereas others argued that it would be inappropriate because I am not of First Nations ancestry, and therefore should hold nothing against the play. The overall message I received was to leave Neptune alone and get on with the business of directing uncontroversial traditional plays for (mostly white) middle-class subscription audiences. There was something rankling about these attitudes – instead of opening discourses that could potentially challenge Western theatre and its initially corrosive relationship with the First Nations, they were meant to discourage my interest in post-colonial and Native theatre. Luckily, hailing from the multi-cultural mecca of 5 Montréal, I felt empowered to disregard such outdated and apolitical attitudes – I explored these fields outside of the stuffy academic institution.

Upon closer examination of The Theatre of Neptune in New France, it becomes disturbingly clear that this masque was used in an imperialistic manner to subjugate First Nations through the appropriation of their identities, collective voice, and lands (often referred to as Turtle Island). Lescarbot, the cultural appropriator, not only recast Turtle Island as “New France” in his play; he also co-opted the chief’s title (Sagamaos), and penned four “Indians” (note that these are called sauvages in the original French production, or “savages”), who all happily welcome and accept European domination without any reservations whatsoever. In fact, these “savage” characters are positively obsequious and servile to the French colonial masters and their imperialist agenda. Also, in a similar vein to racist “blackface” shows of the American south, white French sailors played all the roles enacted - including the “Indian” characters.

While re-enactment director Eric Pinto suggests “It's a very simple play, but it's a good play and it started theatre in this country,” others with more critical perspectives might tend to disagree. The Theatre of Neptune in New France, far from being “simple” and “good”, can be seen as a frightening cultural precedent based on racism, imperialism, oppression, and Western cultural hegemony.

Despite Van Gorder’s spurious assertion that the play “was aimed at guaranteeing the survival of this group of people [the colonists] for the rest of the winter," many [Euro-Canadian] scholars believe otherwise, the general consensus being that the play was actually designed to subjugate the First Nations. Anton Wagner, editor of Canada’s Lost Plays, believes that “[f]rom a political point of view, Théâtre de Neptune claims the new world for France and announces the submission of its indigenous people to the rule of white man” (“Nationalism” 23; see also Wagner, “Colonial Quebec”). Rick Bowers concludes

that The Theatre of Neptune in New France is:

…[an] accompaniment for a new world perceived as untamed and hostile, but also one in which the French now consider themselves resident … The mythic and the realistic have been merged to

–  –  –

According to Bowers in “Le Theatre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France: Marc

Lescarbot and the New World Masque”:

…the French play by Lescarbot is a significant literary and cultural artifact: it represents a social interaction expressed in artistic form.

In fact, Le Théâtre de Neptune…is an exercise of power to be grasped immediately by French explorer and Micmac native alike… But there is never any doubt as to the dominant cultural ethic. The French both create and benefit from this dramatized celebration of power (483 – 484).

As the first piece of Western literature created in the so-called “New World”, The Theatre of Neptune in New France can also be seen as significant entry-point of Western cultural hegemony into the First Nations’ social and cultural reality. The play imposed foreign language, culture and style, behaviour, and perhaps significantly it was also recorded, imposing on the First Nations an entirely new way of interpreting and re-producing social and cultural reality. It can be seen as the starting point of a cultural imperialism that continues to this day.

Cultural imperialism is a form of oppression that comes about when the dominant group universalizes its experience and culture, and then employs these as the norm, or as the "official definition of reality" (Adam, 1978). Through a process of ethnocentrism the dominant group, often without realising it, projects its experience and culture as representative of all humanity. Young (1990: 59) notes, "the dominant cultural products of the society, that is, those most widely disseminated, express the experience, values, goals, and achievements of these [dominant] groups." Social institutions are based on the culture and experiences of the dominant group, such as the education system, news media, advertising, and the entertainment industry. These “cultural” agents serve as "conduits of 7 cultural reconstitution, by continually reproducing the language and symbolic universe of a society" (Adam, 1978: 30). This imposed "social reality" enables the maintenance of hierarchical divisions of class, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and the like by promoting, imposing, and universalizing its own culture while repressing or suppressing other cultures. In other words, the status quo consistently receives favourable treatment and, consequentially, subordinate groups and their efforts to obtain social justice consistently receive negative treatment (Gitlin, 1980). Members inhabiting a society enveloped by cultural imperialism are then encouraged to accept this official definition of reality, which is continuously reinforced by cultural hegemony. Based on the work of Antonio

Gramsci, theatre historian Walter Cohen suggests:

... broadly speaking, [cultural hegemony] is domination by consent it] nicely captures the structured complex of ruling-class power and popular opposition, specifying both the limits and the possibilities of insurgency from below. (28 - 29) Cultural hegemony, then, is imposed not through domination by force, but rather by establishing and maintaining a "norm" that dictates how people are to behave.

In Prison Notebooks Gramsci describes how a "norm" can be created and imposed, suggesting that hegemonic culture works its way into the "spontaneous

philosophy" of a society, with thinking contained by:

1. Language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just words grammatically devoid of content;

–  –  –

3. Popular religion and, therefore, also the entire system of beliefs, superstitions, opinions, ways of seeing things and of acting, which are collectively bundled together under the name of "folklore". (57 When ruling powers manage to dominate meaning within these three spheres of influence, a cultural hegemony is created, providing a seemingly “natural” social reality.

8 The Theatre of Neptune in New France was, of course, written in French.

This alien language (along with others) imposed on the First Nations had devastating cultural effects. Not only were certain native languages driven to extinction, but the European languages in their spread effectively disfigured the pre-European social reality. In “The Theatre of Orphans/Native Languages on the Stage” Floyd Favel, a Cree-speaker and Native theatre practitioner suggests that “Language is related to place; it is our umbilical cord to our place of origin;

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