Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture by Yvette Nolan (review)
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Reviewed by
Yvette Nolan. Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture. Playwrights Canada Press. x, 174. $19.95

Yvette Nolan's book is one of the most recent and important publications on Indigenous theatre in Canada. Previous works include Rob Appleford's 2005 anthology Aboriginal Drama and Theatre, Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles' Staging Coyote's Dream, Volumes One and Two (2003 and 2009), and Joe Osawabine and Shannon Hengen's 2009 book Stories from the Bush. Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture provides a historical overview of the arrival of a formal Indigenous theatre on Turtle Island. Nolan herself is a major contributor to the conversations and mobilizations of the field. She has served as artistic director at Native Earth Performing Arts, director of a number of professional productions, dramaturge, and knowledge keeper. Her role as a knowledge keeper is attributable to her writing and preserving some of Indigenous theatre's genealogy through publications, conference presentations, and study guides. Nolan has been involved in shaping the field's critical and theoretical landscape through collaborative projects with Native Earth Performing Arts, the Banff Centre, and the National Arts Centre English Theatre's knowledge mobilization sessions: The Study and The Summit. Nolan's book traces the last thirty years of Indigenous theatre in this country and honours the work of those who have made it all possible.

Oscillating between first-hand accounts and performance or textual analysis gives a uniquely Indigenous structure and style to the book. The work offers readers an entry point to Indigenous protocol, politics, community, and performance as Nolan examines the past, present, and potential future of Indigenous theatre in Canada. She discusses dramaturgical processes and personal experience, and provides performance and text analysis to be inclusive of a variety of Indigenous artists and potential readers. In discussing the many plays she has worked on, Nolan acknowledges some key mobilizers in the field. The works of Margo Kane, Monique Mojica, Marie Clements, Daniel David Moses, Waawaate [End Page 136] Fobister, Michelle St-John, Michael Greyeyes, and others are named, and she honours their contributions as medicine.

The title of the book, Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture, is deeply rooted in Indigenous resurgence practices. Throughout the book, Nolan describes how Indigenous identities and belongings – like the drum – have been mis-recognized by non-Indigenous people. Nolan explains, "the drum has been a signifier of 'Indianness' for as long as white folks have been looking at Indigenous peoples." Medicine Shows provides another lens by which to analyse Canada's colonial traditions and space, and to consider how this heritage affects both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Indigenous theatre, and the community it creates, becomes one of the medicines to cure misdiagnosed stereotypes and cultural appropriation.

Indigenous performance practice as medicine highlights theatre's ability to heal Indigenous participants and audiences, and to contest and challenge the misrepresentations and misunderstandings that surround past and present Indigenous identities. The women in this book stand out as prominent mobilizers and creators in the connections, lineage, and development of contemporary Indigenous theatre traditions. Nolan shows how our women are writing, starring, producing, and directing just as much as our men. Her privileging of Indigenous women's theatre work demarcates a balanced and supportive community. Nolan also honours the work of Indigenous men and two-spirit practitioners.

As much as the book emphasizes theatre as medicine, it does not provide specific examples of how to initiate this healing. Missing from Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture are tools for readers to conduct appropriate play and performance analysis. Nolan herself acknowledges this absence of a critical discourse in the final chapter of her book. The Indigenous theatre community requires more critical discourse and writing about the works it is creating to help ensure that the field continues developing.

Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture provides a comprehensive overview of Indigenous theatre on Turtle Island in demonstrating the diverse ways that Indigenous theatre practitioners use creative and spiritual practices to manifest culturally specific worldviews and experiences. Theatre is one way for Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island to promote artistic resurgence and to honour, build, and share cultural practices. Nolan's work fills a gap in Canadian theatre scholarship and...


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