Q & A with Reneltta Arluk

Q: As a professional playwright in the North West Territories (NWT), where would you advise emerging/professional playwrights to access
funding opportunities?

A: There is a great funding program the NWT Arts Council offers twice a year on their website http://www.nwtartscouncil.ca/

Q: As a playwright, what are the benefits of living and practicing in a remote part of Canada?

A: There are many benefits. We, as Indigenous people, are still deeply connected to the land up here so when there is a need for inspiration or re-connection a ten minute drive to some clear water or darkness to see the northern lights is usually all it takes to find it. It isn’t that easy to be a self-sustaining artist in the North yet, so my practice takes me both south and north to be able to do what I do. What I am working towards is that I can fully live in the north as a full-time, self-sustaining artist. The benefit right now is that we few northern playwrights are breaking new ground and reclaiming our stories. My practice is to carry the teachings from the north with me wherever I am.

Q: What are some of the challenges of living and practicing your artistry in NWT, and how do you overcome any challenges?

A: Like I mentioned in the earlier answer, it is not possible to be a self-sustained artist in the North as an actor or a playwright. Therefore to be a full-time artist it is necessary to balance between the south and the north. Until the NWT recognizes the importance of the Arts as a viable profession and feeds more into its infrastructure it won’t happen. We need more northern-based funding sources, sponsors and spaces to invest into longer-term professional projects. To overcome some of these challenges was to found Akpik Theatre in 2008. When I began writing TUMIT I didn’t want to just write a play. I wanted to begin a journey that TUMIT initiated. So withTUMIT came Akpik Theatre. Akpik is the Inuit name my great-grandmother Alice Simon gave me. It means “cloudberry”. I find it fitting that something so beautiful and juicy could flourish in the barren land like the Arts. Since 2008, Akpik Theatre has produced the one woman show TUMIT, adapted a short story by Richard Van Camp into a Radio Drama called I Count Myself Among Them, created a performance art piece called Anticipation about climate change and duality of culture at a whaling camp, workshopped new works with northern playwrights and, initiated a youth outreach tour called What’s Your Story? teaching youth spoken word, theatre/storytelling and song in three different communities. The latest project Akpik Theatre has to announce is that we are creating  a website, www.akpiktheatre.com Our first launch is to promote a northern play-reading series that explores plays written about the north starting as early back as the 1930’s to now. The main reason we are doing this is to create a discussion about stories the north inspired. I am curious to hear the thoughts that northerners have about plays written about them. Our voice doesn’t appear until the 1970’s and a shift starts to happen that I think will be interesting to discover.

Q: How would you describe the theatre scene in the NWT?

A: It is building. There is a wonderful regional theatre, the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), that offers subscribers professional dance, theatre and music productions that tour to other northern communities. It also is the place where many local dance and theatre companies have their performances. There is a great one-act summer festival called Theatre on the Lake that has been performing local new works for sometime now and has grown. Stuck in a Snowbank Theatre, founded by NTS grad, Ben Nind, has been around for over ten years performing summer theatre in found spaces about true northern stories. It was part of that company and working with Ben that I started seeing the possibilities to form an Indigenous perspective. NACC has a new festival that showcases Indigenous storytellers called Ko K’e Storytelling Festival. We can use more sustainability in the NWT. I would like to see Akpik Theatre have more of a presence year round.

Q: What inspired you to become a playwrights and what are you currently working towards?

A: I think I partly answered this question in #3 and #4 but the reason why…Why? WHO is telling our stories? Who is writing about what it’s like growing up in remote communities in the north? Growing up in places that don’t teach people like me dance, theatre or singing. I didn’t play sports. I didn’t know the arts existed. So I didn’t find my voice until much much later. I want to create a space where we northerners can find/speak/define our Indigenous voice as artists sooner than later. Or at least offer it as an option.

Q: Your first produced play,TUMIT, meaning "tracks" in Inuktitut, is a northern Indigenous play that weaves contemporary and traditional
storytelling together. How have your life experience inspired you to write this play?

A: TUMIT came from the guts of need. It came in spurts and strong enough where I knew I needed to listen to it. It began very close to my life. I think most first plays inhabit that theme. In its dramaturgy it changed into something of its own. The relationships in the play to environment, and family and love are undeniably quite similar to my life but how Sarah, the main character in TUMIT, maneuvers her way through her journey and tells it is very different to how I do in mine.

Q: Is there anything you'd like the south to know about the north?

A: That right now we are at a crossroads with climate change, resource exploitation and finding our ground within it. The Art we use to define it is deepening. As a northern Indigenous woman I am inspired by the artists I’ve met in the circumpolar north and through these connections our voice grows stronger.