Bears

By Matthew MacKenzie
Foreword by Christine Sokaymoh Frederick

Bears
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As the prime suspect in a workplace accident, Floyd has to get out of town fast. Pursued by the RCMP, he heads through the Rockies for Burnaby, BC, along the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. By the time he reaches the Pacific, Floyd has experienced changes: his gait widening, ... Read more


Overview

As the prime suspect in a workplace accident, Floyd has to get out of town fast. Pursued by the RCMP, he heads through the Rockies for Burnaby, BC, along the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. By the time he reaches the Pacific, Floyd has experienced changes: his gait widening, muscles bulging, sense of smell heightening…

Matthew MacKenzie

Matthew MacKenzie is a multi-award-winning Métis playwright from Edmonton, Alberta. Artistic Director of Punctuate! Theatre, Matthew is the founder and an Artistic Associate with Pyretic Productions, an Artistic Associate with Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Canadian Liaison of the Liberian Dance Troupe. Matthew has had nearly a dozen of his works produced across Turtle Island.

Christine Sokaymoh Frederick

Christine Sokaymoh Frederick is an urban Cree-Métis with decades of experience in multiple artistic disciplines. She is Executive Director and Producer of the Rubaboo Arts Festival and the Dreamspeakers International Film Festival, which celebrated their tenth and twenty-fifth anniversaries in 2019. She is the first Indigenous Associate Artist of the Citadel Theatre and first Indigenous board member of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and she sits on the national Canada 2020 Frankfurt Book Fair board. She’s attended the University of Alberta, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and the University for Peace (Costa Rica). She is former Chair of the Edmonton Arts Council, former Vice Chair of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and has sat on the executive of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. She served on the committees for the ??? (ÎNÎW) River Lot 118, one of the first Indigenous Public Art Parks. She recently produced/performed in the double bill national tour of Bears and her own play Minosis Gathers Hope. She is the recipient of the 2007 Esquao Award in Arts, and the 2016 Edmonton Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Artistic Leadership.

Excerpt

Sounds of the Boreal Forest slowly reach a fevered crescendo. Floyd in silhouette.

Floyd: Dreaming of awakening from a long winter slumber .  .  .

Stretching forward and back .  .  . claw and rump .  .  .

Greeting the morning sun .  .  . eyes sensitive from sleep .  .  .

Smelling the Mountain air .  .  . the snow as it shifts .  .  . the Forest as it stirs with new life .  .  .

Sliding down slippery slopes with the melt .  .  . ready to meet the valley again .  .  .

Buffalo shake off their winter coats .  .  . Elk search for new growth .  .  . Crocuses push their heads up out and out .  .  .

Turning over boulders .  .  . digging up grubs and tubulars, bulbs and fungi .  .  .

The Chorus lumber on all fours.

Crossing mountain passes .  .  . frolicking in alpine meadows .  .  . splashing through glacial waters .  .  . passing through ancient Cedar Forests .  .  . swimming across swollen Rivers .  .  . staring into the swells and the shallows .  .  .

The Chorus stand.

Following in the footsteps of those who have come before .  .  .

The Chorus travel on the spot behind Floyd.

Standing to meet danger .  .  .

Never turning tail .  .  .

Never backing down.

A Grizzly heartbeat.

Bears.

Lights to full. Floyd wears oil patch coveralls and workboots.

Chorus: The prime suspect in a workplace accident, Floyd had to get out of town fast.

Floyd: He was headed west, but he wanted to avoid the cookie cutter homes and Starbucks rush, electing instead to follow the trails along the Whitemud and Blackmud ravines, emerging like Gaddafi from a drainage pipe — but instead of finding death, finding open farmland, Prairies, which would roll into Hills, which would fold into Mountains, which of course was where Floyd was headed.

He knew a guy who flew helicopters, tailing and tranquilizing Grizzlies to track their declining numbers, and if there was one thing Floyd loved, it was Bears. Maybe he’d take in an orphaned cub. Maybe he’d hunt poachers. Maybe he’d make art installations out of their shellacked droppings — it didn’t matter, really, so long as it involved Bears.

There’d been a berry patch out back behind his duplex growing up, Raspberries —

Chorus: Like shitloads.

Floyd: At three years of age, Floyd had guarded the patch jealously, charging out of the brambles after a feeding frenzy to chase any would-be “Sally Samplers” away.

His mom had named him —

Mama: “Little Cub. ”

Floyd: — setting a half-pint daily berry limit, a rule Floyd still followed at forty years of age. There can be too much of a good thing —

Chorus: Even for Bears.

Floyd: Walking through the native grasses in the gutters to avoid the GM crops in the fields, Floyd wondered what life would have been like for the last Grizzlies of the Plains. They dwelt in the Mountains because it was a refuge, not because they chose to be confined to the range. There was a reason Grizzlies could run at over forty klicks — they were equipped to bring down Antelope and Deer, Moose and Elk.

Antlers become quills.

Chorus: “Progress. ”

Floyd: Floyd scoffed as he stepped over the bloated carcass of a Porcupine that lay decaying in the dirt.

The call of a Gopher. Floyd hits the dirt.

The call of a Prairie Gopher alerted Floyd to a passing patrol.

Prairie Dogs sound the alarm as the patrol passes.

Eyeball to eyeball with a Dark-Eyed Junco, Floyd couldn’t help but recall that songbird populations on the Prairies had been off the charts when the Buffalo used to roam — Tattlers, Thrashers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers feasting on the insects that fed on the vast herd’s dung.

Chorus: “Fuck progress. ”

Floyd: Floyd thought, dusting himself off.

Floyd crosses the Pembina River.

Crossing beneath a suspension bridge that spanned the Pembina River, Floyd realized he didn’t know what he’d do when he encountered his first Grizzly friend, but he knew he wouldn’t play dead.

That’s what his foreman had done when a Bear had wandered through their drill site outside Fort Saskatchewan, and that nearly ended with Floyd’s foreman being dragged to kingdom come.

Grizzlies were foragers. They’d feed on a carcass just as soon as they’d feed on Highbush Cranberries or Dandelions. If you encountered a Grizzly in the wild you either had to clear out or try and stand your ground, Floyd reaffirmed, because —

Chorus: “There’s no such thing as neutral in the Bear world. ”

Floyd: Somewhere outside Edson, Floyd found his rhythm. He wasn’t walkin’, he wasn’t marchin’, he was trompin’ — trompin’ to the beat of deerskin hand drums he’d had beatin’ in his heart since he was eleven. His gait was widenin’, his muscles were bulgin’ — he couldn’t see the Mountains yet, but ohhhhhh —

Chorus: Ohhhhhh —

Floyd: He could smell ’em.

Floyd scratches his back on a birch tree.

Stopping to scratch his back on a birch tree, a guy in a jacked F-150 stopped to see if Floyd was OK.

Chorus: “Doin’ fine. ”

Floyd: Floyd assured him —

Chorus: “I’m headed West. ”

Moose lips. Hat tip.

Floyd: Blowin’ into Hinton, Floyd found his friend’s hanger deserted. There were no helicopters, or their component parts, just a note with a forwarding address that read —

Chorus: “Feds cut our fundin’. Headed north. ”

Helicopter blades chop up the playing space.

Floyd: Goin’ for flapjacks at the Husky truck stop, Floyd drowned his disappointment in a shitload of blueberry syrup.

Blueberry syrup swamps the playing space like an oil spill.

Awards

  • Carol Bolt Award 2018, Winner
  • Toronto Theatre Critics Award for Best New Canadian Play 2018, Winner
  • Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play 2018, Winner

Reviews

Bears is inventive and daring theatre. ”

“It’s a blend of chase story, identity search, ode to Indigenous spirituality, dark comedy, interdisciplinary spectacle, and eco-activist plea. ”

“It’s packed with the same adrenaline rush you’d get from a sprint. And like any run, Bears will leave you breathless. ”

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