Sila: An Arctic Tale
By Chantal Bilodeau
Directed by Theresa May
I first heard Sila as a staged reading at the Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival in 2012, where it won First Place. I was immediately moved the play’s brave attempt to explore the intersection of the emotional, cultural, and ecological impacts of climate change. I was intrigued by Bilodeau’s use of multiple languages in the play (English, French and Inuktitut) as well as multiple modes of storytelling as a way to demonstrate the crucial importance of traditional knowledge based on lived experience to the contemporary conversation about climate change and climate justice. I was also struck by the way the play breaks language open, inviting us to consider as a possibility “a time when humans and animal shared the same tongue and traded skins with ease.” This invitation to imagine the lived experience of both polar bear and human communities presented an immense theatrical challenge to the cast and crew of Sila. We knew that we were working against, or in spite of, the mythos and Disney images about polar bears that saturate contemporary mainstream culture. How could we avoid one more reiteration of the polar bear as a poster-child of global warming? How could we “make a bear” that tries to climb out of those expectations? Peoples of the Arctic have shared sustenance and habitat with this creature since time immemorial. We took our inspiration from contemporary Inuit artists whose work in stone expresses the interconnected kinship, the permeable worlds of bear and human. Our polar bear is a village, body of knowledge, a constellation of memory, and an expression of survivance.
Rehearsals for this production have been a rich experience of knowledge-sharing. Our cast includes Native/Alaska Native students and community, who generously shared about Arctic cultures and places. In addition to theatre arts, Sila’s cast includes students from environmental studies, music, comparative literature, linguistics, and law—all of whom added to our collective knowledge. I am grateful to each of them.