Little woman big warrior
By Colin MacLean
March 26, 2010
Annie Mae Pictou Asqusash was a Mi'kmaq activist who came out of Nova
Scotia in the early 1970s and rose to a position of prominence in the
American Indian Movement.
She participated in a number of demonstrations, including the 1973
occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve in South Dakota.
In 1975, she was found on the reserve murdered, execution-style, with
a bullet hole in the back of her head.
For 30 years, a botched investigation left a pall of mystery over her
death, although two men now are awaiting trial.
Out of this dramatic story, playwright Yvette Nolan has fashioned a
two-handed play, Annie Mae's Movement, currently being staged at
The work is long on atmosphere and short on motivation. We never
learn why Annie Mae left her husband and children, what forces drove
her to participate in the AIM where, being a woman and not a warrior,
she was not wanted, or why she became the driven woman she was.
But director Jessica Abdallah and designer Ruth Albertyn have created
an enchanted tale that looks more to the spirit that moved "the
little warrior woman."
Abdallah has directed with such propulsive energy that it is
impossible not to be caught up in the events.
Albertyn's set is a marvel of expressive simplicity. There is a great
sense of space, both physical and emotional.
Stylized hills lead to a huge backdrop where, sparingly and
effectively used, animated projections give a feeling of infinity.
There is a table and a single chair, some silk banners that change
the space and a blood red one that speaks of the violence to come.
Strange indistinct sounds are heard and the fearsome loup garou (the
aboriginal werewolf) prowls in the background. Creepy.
Abdallah strives through setting, staging and performance to give the
play more depth than is provided in the script.
She demands an involvement in the fragmented story and a genuine
anger at the dirty tricks used by the FBI, which regarded AIM as a
subversive terrorist organization (and did not distinguish themselves
at Wounded Knee), and AIM itself, which was full of warring factions
and may even have ordered the death of Annie Mae.
The play features Reneltta Arluk as the activist. Small, feisty,
determined yet vulnerable, she, by sheer performance, fills in the
gaps in the script.
Chris Cound plays all the men in Annie Mae's life, from a laconic but
fair judge through bellicose FBI agents to paranoid and violent AIM
members. He gives each of his characters their own unique personality.
Just before she is shot, Annie Mae howls the names of all the women
in her family and beyond, affirming that her spirit goes on in these people.
"You can kill me," she says, "but you can't kill us all."
Three and a half suns.
Annie Mae's Movement, a production of Studio Theatre, plays in the
Timms Centre for the Arts at the U of A through April 3.
Annie Mae play explores murder and oppression
March 24, 2010
by Vonn Gondziola
Annie Mae's Movement
Written by Yvette Nolan
Directed by Jessica Abdallah
Runs March 25April 3 at 7:30 p.m., matinee on April 1 at 12:30 p.m.,
no show Sunday
Timms Centre (87 Ave. and 112 St.)
$10$20 at TIX on the Square, (780) 420-1757, or at the door.
It's a startling statistic that, since the year 2000, over 500
indigenous or aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing in
Canada. American Indian Movement (AIM) member Anna Mae Pictou Aquash
was one of those women and playwright Yvette Nolan wrote Annie Mae's
Movement, based on her true story. Director Jessica Abdallah teamed
up with designer Ruth Albertyn, with the project serving as both of
their MFA theses; Annie Mae's Movement is a play that spoke to
Abdallah, which is why the two MFA candidates wanted to share it with
a campus audience, hoping to inspire them.
"I wanted to choose a story that helps dialogue," Abdallah explains,
"because I believe that theatre can be a tool to help communicate
across cultures and across languages."
When two creative forces come together, the outcome isn't always
positive. Egos can definitely come into play, but with so much on the
line, they can't be allowed to dominate the art.
"If the show works, then we've done our job. And sometimes, if we
can't agree, it's like 'what's better for the story?' For this story,
at this moment, and that was how we resolved any [disagreements],"
Once larger disputes are settled, the creative process is further
fuelled by having more than one source for inspiration. Both Abdallah
and Albertyn found it beneficial to bounce ideas off of each other.
"The two of you together can come up with something so much more
interesting than just one mind [could]," Albertyn explains, regarding
the partnership between the director and the playwright. "It's been
very much a collaboration, because I think I've contributed to her
process as much as she's contributed to mine, and, ultimately, that's
the best kind of relationship you can have."
Annie Mae's Movement is a story about the struggle to bring about
change. It strongly depicts the results of oppression and the
reactions of the oppressed, ideally making audience members question
aspects of their own lives.
"I think a story like this is part of what makes theatre relevant
still. You don't have a screen. You can't just sit back and let it
wash over you. You have to be actively engaged," Albertyn says.
Exploring decisions that no person should have to make, this play
will also make you think about what people need to do in order to
bring about change. These are questions that Albertyn and Abdallah
had to ask themselves in order to properly depict the struggles of
Anna Mae Pictou.
"One way or another, it's [an] education, and it's getting all the
tools that you can in your arsenal," Albertyn says.
However, this play isn't meant to only be enjoyed by revolutionaries,
aching to bring about change. By no means do they expect an audience
member to run out and find those 500 missing women. No, Abdallah and
Albertyn have a much simpler goal in mind.
"It's the idea of having the audience have to bear witness to [the]
disappearances," Abdallah says. "And that awareness is kind of what
we want people to leave with."