Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project
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New World Brave

De-ba-jeh-mu-jig

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
(The Tempest, 5.1)

De-ba-jeh-mu-jig: Company History

Since its inception in 1986, De-ba-jeh-mu-jig has staged over 30 productions by well-known aboriginal playwrights, including Drew Hayden Taylor, Tomson Highway, and Shirley Cheechoo. De-ba-jeh-mu-jig is located in the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve No. 26 and is situated on the eastern side of beautiful Manitoulin Island and stretches across both Georgian Bay and Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada.  Wikwemikong is recognized as Canada's only Unceded Indian Reserve: the Wikwemikong Band has, uniquely, not relinquished title to its land to the federal government by treaty or otherwise. "Wikwemikong" translated means "Bay of the beaver".

"Incorporated under Provincial Charter on September 26, 1986 in West Bay (now known as M'Chigeeng), Ontario, De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group was founded by Actress/Filmmaker Shirley Cheechoo. The company was established in order that Native youth be given the opportunity to see themselves and their lives reflected on the stage, in the characters, in the stories, in the experiences portrayed.

Situated on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario, it soon became clear that the company would have to bring the shows to the audience, and De-ba-jeh-mu-jig has been a touring company ever since. It has also maintained the status of being a creation company that nurtures, develops, produces, and tours original work.

As the commitment to youth and education evolved, regular touring to schools and communities throughout the province became the norm. By 1989, the Ojibway language began to be incorporated, and to this date the company has produced many new works that are entirely in Ojibway, bilingual, or in english. The commitment to underserved, isolated, and remote communities has been consistent throughout the company's history. In October of 1993, the Board of Directors adopted a new working mandate as follows;

"De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group is a professional community based non-profit organization dedicated to the vitalization of the Anishinaabeg culture, language, and heritage, through education and the sharing of original creative expression with both Native and non-Native people."

The old nursery school in Wikwemikong was home to the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group from approximately 1990 to 1998, after they relocated from M'Chigeeng, ON. The school was torn down in the late 1990s. The totem pole that was located outside the building still stands at the same location, feet away from our current administrative offices." (click here for more information on De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)

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New World Brave

New World Brave, a collective creation (like several others in De-ba-jeh-mu-jig's repertoire), takes the problem of envisioning a future for aboriginal culture and addresses key issues facing aboriginal communities across Canada. The play marks the limits of Shakespearean adaptation insofar as it takes a well-known Shakespearean line from The Tempest (5.1), a play frequently associated with encounter narratives that incorporate aboriginal peoples, and transforms it ever so slightly.

Moreover, the adaptation of this single line traverses another key adaptive text, Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), which itself has an important connection to aboriginal culture. The central character, John, "is the result of an accidental contraception failure. His parents [Bernard and Lenina] were visiting a 'savage reservation' when his mother got lost; she was stranded inside the reservation and gave birth to him there. He grew up with the lifestyle of the Zuni Native American tribe and a religion that is a blend of Zuni and Christian beliefs. The culture shock which results when the 'savage' is brought into regimented society provides the vehicle by which Huxley points out that society's flaws" (Wikipedia Brave New World). James V. Spickard argues that "Ruth Benedict featured [the Zuni] in Patterns of Culture, perhaps the most famous anthropology book of all time -- a book based as much on her critique of modern life as it was on Zuni reality. At about the same time, Aldous Huxley used the Zuni as the paradigmatic, primitive Other to the Whites' Brave New World. Each projected a later era's Euro-American concerns on a Zuni world" (Zuni and the American Imagination). The projection of the "savage" into the space of so called "civil society" is a key feature in the way in which The Tempest has been adapted, especially in relation to Caliban as a symbolic way of registering the collision between different cultures. Significantly, this adaptation has usually been accomplished from the point of view of settler or European culture, something that New World Brave importantly reverses.

Further, in Huxley's dystopia, "the 'savage,' John, is a keen Shakespeare fan, which sets him further aside from the vast majority of humanity in Huxley's dystopia, as most of them are illiterate, and Shakespeare's works are banned and unknown in this society to everyone but the World Controllers" (Wikipedia Brave New World)––the latter being a projected outcome that Huxley saw in  the industrialization of American society by Henry Ford. In Huxley's work, then, the theme of aboriginal "place," the use of Shakespeare as a cultural signifier, and the problems of dystopic (American industrialized) modernity are all addressed. New World Brave similarly takes on these issues, however indirectly––and one might even argue that this indirection is the way in which native culture writes itself back into the cultural narrative thus reclaiming its centrality even as it is depicted as marginal.

The adaptive transformation of the Shakespeare line effected by New World Brave, then, may appear barely significant but holds enormous symbolic power in relation to the work of the play, which seeks healing through theatrical creation (like the kind of theatrical healing envisioned by Yves Sioui Durand and his production company Ondinnok). No other implicit or explicit reference to Shakespeare occurs in the play. Nonetheless, the intertextual overwriting of Shakespeare's line is enormously suggestive of a reclamation of language and culture from the distorting gaze of European, settler culture.

For more on Huxley and Native American culture see, Jack D. Forbes, "The Humanities without Humanity; or Native American Literature and Humanistic Education"

New World Brave (2000), by
De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group

"De-ba-jeh-mu-jig's play New World Brave is a group creation by and about young Aboriginal men. The production explores the possibility that it is these men's role to envision a future for their people. Designed specifically to appeal to teenagers and young adults, De-ba-jeh-mu-jig asks difficult questions: As young aboriginal men, how do we see the world in which we live? How do we reconcile the chasm between traditional values and contemporary society? What is the effect of choices I make today, on the seven generations that will follow? The process used to create the pieces is called 4 directions. Through improvisational theatre techniques, the actors use physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual resources to tell their stories" (qtd. from the press release).

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