Curtain raiser of Nisga'a playwright Larry Guno's Bunk # 7 at REM Lee Theatre in Nov 2021. The play is set to tour northern B.C. next month. (Supplied photo)

Soul-searching residential school play prepares for B.C. reconciliation tour

The Raven Collective’s production of Bunk #7 by Lary Guno kicks off in Terrace Sept.29

A production of the late Nisga’a playwright will be crossing northern B.C. this fall as part of a reconciliation tour.

Directed by Marianne Brorup Weston from The Raven Collective, Lary Guno’s Bunk #7 tells a unique story of friendship, collective resistance and triumph based on Guno’s own experiences as a student at Edmonton Residential School in St. Albert, Alta.

Twenty years in the making, Bunk #7 was showcased for the first time on the playwright’s home turf last November at the R.E.M. Lee theatre in Terrace. The play, which was set to premiere in 2006, in Toronto, was halted by Guno’s untimely death in 2005 and thereafter delayed a second time in 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brorup Weston, who spent years working with her friend Guno on the project, said the audience reception was huge when they showcased it last year. It ultimately led her, along with the cast and crew members, to put together the upcoming tour.

“It turned out to be quite an impactful event, there was a lot of positive feedback from people, including the residential school survivors who watched it,” Brorup Weston said.

“There is a healing and reconciliatory aspect to the production that is really speaking to the people,” she said, adding that phone calls poured in from across northern communities telling them to keep showing the play.

“We are just responding to the call of the audience.”

Guno, who was born in Gitlaxt’aamiks (Nass Valley) in 1940, was a prominent lawyer, NDP MLA for the former Atlin electoral district and well-known for his key role in designing the Nisga’a Final Agreement.

The characters in Bunk #7 were modelled after Guno’s own tightly knit group of friends and the number seven refers to his bunk number in the dorm.

A pivotal moment of the play is a “riot” that turned the building upside-down spurred by the students’ dislike for canned pork meat they called “spork,” which they were fed every day, sexual abuse, dismissal of their favourite supervisor and being away from their families.

The students created pandemonium in the building for more than three hours, causing the staff to lock themselves away in their rooms. Boxes of spork were then used to build a makeshift barricade against the police who were called to come in and restore order. The incident ultimately created a lot of change in the school. It led to the dismissal of its principal, and officials were forced to change the menu.

Brorup Weston is of the opinion that a story such as this needs to be told, especially against the backdrop of the discovery of children’s bodies buried at former residential school sites across Canada.

“Even though I thought my job was done last year, it wasn’t. I’m not done. So many things have happened,” she said. “There is collective power in [Bunk #7] it is an interactive tool for people,” she said, adding it is an opportunity for the public to learn about history on a path to reconciliation.

“I am excited and scared about the weather, COVID-19… unpredictable things that could get in our way. But I feel that we have to do this and my cast and crew feel the same,” Brorup Weston said.

Brorup Weston said she also wants to take the opportunity to not only introduce northern B.C. to the story but also to theatre in general since the area is a “vast desert of theatre.”

There have been some changes to the cast and crew from the original production (three cast members have changed) and the set designers, who came in from across the country, will not be touring. But they did mentor Brorup Weston’s young crew to take up the baton for the tour.

The Terrace-based director praised cast and crew who committed to the play and were willing to set aside their normal lives to go on tour. She hopes to eventually launch the play on a national stage.

“The work is never done. We just open the doors to the work, the least we can do is introduce it.”

On Sept. 29, the eve of the National Day of Truth & Reconciliation (Sept. 30), Bunk #7 will kick off its 2022 journey with a show in Terrace. It will travel to Prince Rupert (Oct. 8), Smithers (Oct. 15), Kitimat (Oct. 22), Gitlaxt’aamiks (Nass Valley, Oct.29), Prince George (Nov. 5), Dawson Creek (Nov. 8) and Fort St. John (Nov. 12) among other dates.

Posters for Bunk #7 presentation coming to a theatre near you will be up in communities soon. For information about a BUNK #7 presentation coming to a theatre near you, please contact Marianne at 250.635.2942 or mbrorup@citywest.ca and follow up on Facebook at www.facebook.com/larrysraven.

READ MORE: Two decades in the making, the time has finally come for Nisga’a playwright Larry Guno’s Bunk #7

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