January 29th, 2016
Reneltta Arluk, playing the role of Dying Woman in Pig Girl
Behind the Curtain: Pig Girl
QDF: Tell us a little bit about the show.
Reneltta: For myself, it is about the dying woman’s desire to stay alive in a situation that is very dire. Colleen Murphy wrote the play and it was inspired by the Robert Pickton murders that happened out in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, and how so many women from the downtown eastside went missing between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Most of the women were sex workers and drug addicts. Many of them were indigenous. What Colleen Murphy is doing is a call to action by bringing those women’s stories to life, by having the audience confront that these women had a life, and that often these marginalized women are dismissed because of being a drug addict, or sex worker, or being poor or living on the street and how society chooses not to see them or the situation. The play makes us look at it.
QDF: What did you do in terms of research about the incident that happened in British Columbia?
Reneltta: I think we all have done a lot of research but what I was trying to avoid, because it’s easy to do, is focus on the murderer. And this is one of the big reasons why I am doing this play. We call it the Pickton murders. He killed at least 33 women and there were more women reported missing. We don’t know, let alone remember those names. We don’t know their stories or their histories unless we do research. And these women had lives prior than being murdered, but all we know of them is that they were victims.
QDF: Do you remember hearing about the Pickton Murders when they were being revealed?
Reneltta: I remember hearing that they found bodies on a farm. I wasn’t living in Vancouver, I think I was in Edmonton at the time. One of the first things I remember is that there was someone on a farm, Pickton, who was taking women, slaughtering them and feeding them to pigs. And that’s when I thought, “What’s going on? What’s going on in our country, when dozens of women are being killed so terribly and mercilessly?” They then went on to the farms and found out the rest of the story.
QDF: Why tell this story now?
Reneltta: I don’t think there is any story that is as relevant as this one right now considering that we have over 1000 murdered indigenous women in this country and that women are still going missing. They are missing in all kinds of different ways. They are missing through the sex trafficking, they are missing through violence and they are missing through being targeted. Sex workers, drug addicts, and indigenous women are a targeted demographic in this country. I am really happy now that there is an inquiry into the MMIW now touring the country: it is getting attention and the government is getting to hear from the families that are impacted. I think one of the greatest things I learned by being a part of this play and doing this research, especially through the sister character played by Julie Tamiko Manning, is that you can’t write off a woman, no matter her present situation, because that woman has a family. That woman has a family and has children. And it is not only that woman that is murdered, but also, in a way, anyone that cared, loved and worried about her. And those stories are also very important.
QDF: How has the rehearsal been with the creative team around you?
Reneltta: I feel really taken care of. It wasn’t an easy decision to do the play because of its content, but you realize that it wasn’t an easy decision for any of us. We are all responsible and I think that’s pretty important: we need to show the audience that we are all responsible for this situation. It has been really great. Micheline is super amazing: she is an amazing director. She is talented and fearless. This is her vision and we’re here to support the vision. And she also has an amazing team who feels passionate about the project and dedicated to the vision.
QDF: Who needs to see this show?
Reneltta: I think the best audiences are the people who are not directly impacted by attacks on indigenous women in this country. I am an indigenous woman myself, I am impacted, not daily, but there have been many times where I have been affected by it. I have a cousin who is missing, a man, which also proves that there is an issue with missing indigenous men in this country. And there are hundreds of them. That’s my connection and why I am driven to be part of this story. And when you talk to people who are impacted personally by a missing and murdered woman, they say “I don’t need to see that play.” That’s valid: you don’t need to see the story because you know it well. But people who need to see the play are those who only read the articles in the paper or see the little snippets on the news. The media draws a superficial picture of a drug addict, a sex worker, or an indigenous person. They never go into who that person was prior to having that label. What this play really does is deal with a woman’s life story. Fully. You need context when you hear those labels on the news, you need to go beyond those labels. I think every “Canadian” needs to come and see this show.
QDF: What should the audience be prepared to see?
Reneltta: The text is beautiful. Beautiful might not be the right word, powerful may be more accurate. There are four of us on stage the whole time with no intermission. And all of us are present, 110% present! This is not ‘kitchen sink’ theatre. The way Micheline has envisioned it makes it almost like a Greek tragedy. The text is powerful and has a rhythm to it. You’re going to feel it, you have no choice but to feel it. But it is not gratuitous, it is necessary.
There are talkbacks every night. And there will be different guests, panelists from different parts of the community, so the audience can have the opportunity to discuss the play. That is a part of the production’s format.
Pig Girl is playing from January 28th- February 6th
Produced by Imago Theatre
Playing at Centaur Theatre
Tickets are Pay-What-You-Decide