Production And She Split the Sky in Two Grapples with Important Issues

A group of students sits on stage following play rehearsal

Caption: Cast and crew in Brantford Collegiate auditorium following rehearsal

Last month, the winning production at the Ontario Drama Festival’s district competition covering Brant, Oxford, Haldimand and Norfolk counties was the student-written production And She Split the Sky in Two. Next month, the play, which examines the issue of Indigenous teen suicide, will compete in the next level of competition at the regional level.

“The goal in writing and staging this production was to start a conversation,” says Aleria McKay, the 18-year-old Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School student who spent nearly two years perfecting the script. “The more we talk about suicide, the more we share our experiences, the more we realize we’re not alone.”

In McKay’s words, the play is about the struggle and trauma of losing a loved one, and while it’s a story, it’s based on her experiences growing up on Six Nations of the Grand River. With a contemporary style and simple set design, the storytelling doesn’t shy away from tackling the issues head-on, and audiences are in for a gripping, emotional experience.

The cast is non-Indigenous, but preparing to mount the performances included open discussions and reading assignments in addition to the regular rehearsal schedule. It also compelled many of the actors to do further research on the issues in what has been an eye-opening experience for them.

“It won’t seem real unless you understand the power of what you’re saying,” notes McKay.

Both McKay and the play’s cast agree that theatre is a unique and valuable vehicle for examining difficult topics.

“We talked a lot in rehearsals about the implicit agreement between the cast and its audience,” said McKay. “When you watch a play, you suspend disbelief, and that opens your mind to new possibilities.”

On April 26, the production heads to Hamilton for the regional competition. If it advances from there, it will compete in the provincial competition in May – a first for a Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School production. There are many costs associated with travelling to festival locations, however, the cast and crew are hopeful two public performances will help offset some of those costs.

Update: The production won a number of awards at the recent regional competition in Hamilton, and advances to the provincial level of competition on May 9th in Cambridge. To help raise funds to travel to the provincials, a public performance takes place on Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m., followed by a short Q&A in the auditorium at Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School. Tickets can be purchased through the school’s main office, and are $10 for adults and $7 for students and seniors.

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