On stage: Canadian Aboriginal soldiers

Photo by Mark Halliday

One hundred years ago, the battle of Vimy Ridge was fought in France. REDPATCH is a historical drama that focuses on this battle, as well as the contributions made by Aboriginal soldiers and their communities for Canada during the First World War.

The play will be presented March 29–Apr. 9 at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver and Apr. 12–16 at Studio 16 in Vancouver.

Aboriginal soldiers in Canada

The play focuses on the realities of war.| Photo by Mark Halliday.

A show five years in the making, REDPATCH, written and created by Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver, co-artistic directors of Hardline Productions, follows a young soldier from the Nuu-chah-nulth nation of Vancouver Island who signs up to fight in the battlefields of France. While the character was created by Calvert and Harris Oliver, it was inspired by the Aboriginal soldiers who did fight for Canada.

“I saw a show that Sean was in called Vimy,” says Calvert, “in it there was an Aboriginal soldier character, and I was really interested in his story.”

Calvert – whose grandfather was an Aboriginal soldier who fought for Canada in World War Two – and Harris Oliver did a lot of research on the contributions of Aboriginal soldiers and their communities for Canada’s war effort, which has often gone unrecognized.

“Growing up in Richmond, I didn’t learn about it in schools,” says Calvert, “so I was really surprised and excited by these stories. We really wanted to highlight the contributions that they made during the war.”

Most of the show takes place in Europe, on the front lines of the war. One of the main themes explored is simply, why? Why would someone sign up to fight for a country in which they are marginalized?

“There were a few different reasons why they travelled to fight,” says Calvert, “in some cases I would liken it to them reclaiming what it meant to be a warrior, to have something to fight for.”

Young men from all over Canada enlisted and travelled to Europe’s battlefields.

“There was something about World War One, about proving your worth as a man,” says Harris Oliver. “There was a romantic idea around fighting, it seemed like a lot of Aboriginal soldiers wanted to prove their worth as an individual by showing how much of a fighter they could be.”

Reality set in

Cultural identity shaped through wartime.| Photo by Mark Halliday.

The war was anything but romantic. The trench battles of First World War was the most brutal fighting the world had ever seen, and REDPATCH puts the battles front and centre with physical theatre.

“The battle of Vimy itself is heavily featured,” says Harris Oliver, “we don’t shy away from the battles, we want to investigate them.”

Sound, light, smoke and other effects will be used to try and immerse the audience into the action on stage.

“We want to convey how brutal this war was,” says Calvert, “and how important it was for Canada as a nation.”

The play also focuses on the question ‘Does someone have to change in order to survive something like war?’ While many soldiers at the beginning of WWI were eager to fight, they quickly realized that they had gotten themselves into something far different than they had expected.

“We hope to convey our character’s frame of mind,” says Calvert, “seeing how it weighs on him physically and emotionally. You can read so much about the war, but the predominant feeling is we want out of here.”

Battles like Vimy Ridge were horrific for those who fought in them as well as for their families back home. Creating a performance that tries to encapsulate their stories is a tall order, which Calvert and Harris Oliver recognize.

“We’ve had to be very responsible with how we attended all of this,” says Calvert, “this is a story of such a huge magnitude. We have to respect what all these people, Aboriginal or not, went through during this war. This show is about respecting where we as a nation have come from, and that we are comprised of so many different people.”

For more information, visit www.redpatch.ca.