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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Lehmann.
The Globe and Mail, November 9, 2001

Part 7 of 7: The curtain falls

Dead Dog Cafe In a way, that's what all of the performers and their non-native producer have done. They have continuously reshaped their lives, as theatre does.

During the taping, Rain sails through her "acrimonious" line, and at the end of the show there is an immediate standing ovation for the cast. When she nods in thanks, the cheers grow louder.

And then the three performers leave the way they arrived - in different directions. King, the celebrity author and creator, wades through the crowded lobby, cheerfully accepting the many verbal bouquets while autographing programs and copies of his books. Tonight, he did not let the lions and tigers out of the cage.

“They treat me like I'm their best friend,” Starr says later. It only adds to his concern that he has appeared in a red man's “minstrel show.”
Starr, the reserve-bred philosopher, retreats to the Green Room, where he will sit for a while with a Piapot First Nation drum group that performed in the show. Rather than mill about with the audience, he says, he is more comfortable in private with his young "homies."

Eventually, he wades into the lobby, but knows it is a mistake. The urban crowd and its adulation unnerve him. Strangers, just because they liked his work, feel they can approach him. One white man pats him on the shoulder. Another taps Starr's bum with his hat and says, "Great show."

"They treat me like I'm their best friend," Starr says later. It only adds to his concern that he has appeared in a red man's "minstrel show."

Starr does not dislike white people, or the mainstream society around him. Since the performance, he has moved to Regina to work with a dance company that performs at the Globe Theatre.

His bigger concern is that shows like the one tonight may be segregating Canada's races rather than bringing them together. He fears that the white crowd that cheered him was cheering not an actor but a native actor.

At the far end of the lobby, Rain alone seems to have removed herself from the stage. She pushes past her fans as if frantically searching for a fire exit, but then finally spots her children and smiles for the first time in hours. She hugs them and sits down on a padded bench. At last, half a dozen white women who have been trailing the small Cree actress get a chance to ask for her autograph.

Rain is flabbergasted. She once dreamed of being adopted by a white woman because she thought that would be a ticket out of hardship. And now, half a century later, she is a heroine to the other society.

"I'm no more important than you," she tells one woman. "I'm just Edna."

As the evening sky darkens, Flaherty mills about the Globe lobby, looking very much a part of the crowd. When she spots her three stars, each holding court with a clutch of fans, she heaves a sigh of relief. She has a deadline to meet, and budget to address - pressures from a white CBC bureaucracy back in Toronto.

The others will move on too - King to his suburban comforts, Starr to his family's reserve, Rain to her crowded home of orphans and relatives in Edmonton.

But for a short while, they can afford to celebrate.

After the last of the fans has gone, the cast, crew and a few local theatre types gather for a drink at a local bar. In the morning, their lives will again be fragmented. They will pursue very different avenues of theatre, with different views of art and race.

But at least tonight they know they were able to make two worlds a stage.


THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7 plus a related story):

Photo Essay
Backstage pass

1. 'I think people in Canada didn't know Indians were funny'
Using humour to force the two societies to re-examine each other, and themselves

2. 'Socially relevant' humour
Using comedy to tell ironic truths, however painful

3. Appealing to the audience
The racier the humour got, the more fan mail came in

4. Forbidden zones
'As long as you don't let the lions and tigers out of the cage, it's okay.'

5. Laughter "is the great leveller" in native society
Finding his way on the stage

6. 'I was tired of being poor'
Edna Rain takes up acting after decades of abuse

7. The curtain falls
The three performers leave the way they arrived - in different directions

Related: Dead Dog Café Listeners react



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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