Nuliajuk a big, expensive success

Qaggiq theatre group proves professional theatre is possible in Iqaluit



“I would say ‘Welcome to our theatre’ but we don’t have one,” said Jonathan Dewar, producer of Nuliajuk, to welcome audiences to one of three nights of the Qaggiq Theatre Company’s first original production at Iqaluit’s Cadet Hall earlier this month.

And so about 100 theatre-goers stood or sat on the backs of their chairs in the makeshift theatre each night to watch a play without a stage. The theatre group had intended to put the audience on risers like a stadium, but the fire marshal’s office said no.

“If we had a theatre, we would have a fixed stage, and fixed lighting,” said Dewar, who is also the executive director for Qaggiq. “Iqaluit needs an arts and cultural centre.”

Though the action was difficult to see, viewers were drawn in by a flowing white backdrop, created by Iqaluit carpenter, make-up artist and art director, Claude Roussel. The set was transformed by professional stage lighting, imported from Toronto.

Choreographed dance and motion — added by Toronto director and choreographer Alejandro Ronceria — contributed to the magical world the actors created.

Sylvia Cloutier starred as Nuliajuk, and the story follows her transformation into Sedna, the mother of the sea beasts, which is told in English and Inuktitut.

The story begins with Nuliajuk starving in an igloo with her father, played by Jeff Tabvahtah. The pair is rescued just in time by a stranger who brings food, and later comes back for Nuliajuk’s hand in marriage.

Nuliajuk goes with him, only to learn he’s a shape-shifter, who turns into a raven.

At one point, the raven-husband, played by Vinnie Karetak, attacks, and Nuliajuk escapes into a stormy sea. Her father tries to rescue her, but instead, while holding a knife towards the raven, he accidentally cuts her fingers off as she tries to get into the boat, and she is lost in the sea — now Sedna of the sea.

But this production was not just about entertainment. The goal, says Dewar, was to prove that an Iqaluit-based group could stage a professional theatre production, complete with lighting, choreography, and wages for the cast and crew.

“The big thing was for us to start getting Canada Council of the Arts support,” Dewar said. “This had to be successful.”

Dewar now hopes to get funding to take this production on the road, across Nunavut.

In total, the play consumed over $100,000 in grant money.

Three Canada Council grants were used in part or in full towards Nuliajuk: an aboriginal theatre grant worth $25,000; an inter-arts production grant of $25,000; and an aboriginal collaborative exchange grant for $27,300.

A fourth Canada Council grant, worth $25,000, is on the way.

Three more grants worth $10,000 each came from Nunavut’s culture, languages, elders and youth department, economic and development department, and the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.

Four theatre experts were flown in to help with the production.

They included a director, stage manager, lighting and a lighting designer. A “dramaturgy consultant” was also flown in earlier to help the group turn their rough ideas into a professional script.

These were “things we needed expertise in to be successful,” Dewar said. The outside professionals also served as mentors during the play.

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