To risk stating something obvious, life sucks for the average Indigenous North American. Those who lived in Canada and the United States before Europeans ever stepped foot on the continent have had a long history of persecution and cultural erasure, and continue to struggle in the modern era. Their communities are overwhelmingly poorer than those that surround them, they are plagued by substance abuse and systemic mental health problems, and they are being pinched ever inward by governments that don’t see them as important. Huff, Cliff Cardinal’s new solo play, isn’t here to preach at you about how bad things are though. Instead, Huff provides a clear look into this community through the imaginative eyes of a boy growing up, his mind bounding with the natural possibilities of imagination, and riddled with the effects of solvent. I interviewed Cliff to ask him his thoughts on writing indigenous characters, the struggle of bringing small stories to a big audience, and most importantly, how excited he is to be in Scotland.
That’s a lot of what fiction is: the personal experienced mixed with the imaginative.
Have you been to the Fringe before?
CC: Never to the Edinburgh Fringe before. Is it cool?
Without a doubt- one of my favorite places in the world to be, for sure. Are you excited for the possibility of having your show seen?
CC: Yeah, I guess so, I hope it goes well. I’m just excited to be in Scotland for a while, even if the show does poorly.
You wrote Huff and you’re the sole performer- do you think it’s harder to watch someone perform your work or do it yourself?
CC: Well, it’s hard both ways. I’d say it’s harder to perform because you’re doing two jobs.
What’s it like bringing something so personal as an indigenous experience for you to such a big audience?
CC: I don’t think the indigenous part of me is the biggest thing that’s being exposed. It’s hard to tell any personal story of the stage, indigenous or not. That’s a lot of what fiction is: the personal experienced mixed with the imaginative. No matter what, there’s always some vulnerability. You expose some part of yourself, and so, y’know, even though I’m indigenous at heart, there’s no indigenous artists coming to the fringe who aren’t shit terrified too. [Laughs]
British audiences may be unfamiliar with indigenous narratives. What do you hope audiences take away from the play?
CC: Well, the indigeneity part of it isn’t as big as it is made out to be. The issues for the kids- being in poverty, where there’s despair and hopelessness- are the same issues of solvent abuse, drug and sex abuse, and suicide. I don’t think a UK audience is gonna have any trouble sort of catching on with the jist of what the kids are up to.
There’s a character in here called The Trickster. Is he a reference to folklore characters?
CC: Yeah, well, he’s a character from a bunch of different forms of indigenous mythology. He’s known as a bunch of different things: The Raven, Nanabozho, The Coyote or Nanabush, and he’s basically a fool who orchestrated the creation of the world. My use for him in my play is as a way of saying that people shouldn’t be so predictable. Your greatest moments will come from the destruction of your best-laid plans. So have a good time! We’re all going to the big dirt nap in the end.
As a writer, do you find implementing folklore-based characters into your play more fun?
CC: Well, it’s not fun either way. Writing isn’t really a fun thing to do. It can be fun sometimes, and not that I should complain. The reason they happen in this sort of way is because of the imagination of the kids. You have this story of being a little kid, who has a huge imagination. Manifestations become quite cartoonish, quite terrifying and dark, but larger than life. But for a little kid, where he’s always looking up at bigger things, it’s important that these people I represent, these poetic manifestations of young kids living in a really heightened world, with the stakes so much higher, are well represented. So, y’know, different stories call for different treatments, but for this one, a play that focuses primarily on the world of kids, it just felt right.
So your main character is a kid named Wind. What makes his story worth following?
CC: Well, you meet him in the midst of a suicide attempt, and we’re letting you know what brought him to the moment. The audience becomes a friend, someone who can see him through that moment.
With things as bad as they are for indigenous communities, both in Canada and the United States, how do you think other writers and directors confront the history and issues brought up in Huff?
CC: They can hire me more? Beyond that I really have no idea [laughs]. Definitely an important question though.
Are you working on anything else you might be tempted to share with us?
CC: I do music as well, I have some new stuff coming out on Spotify soon. I’m gonna be directing my new play, Maria Gets A New Life, at the VideoCabaret, a great theatre who really took me in and helped me get where I am today.
Finally, if you could pitch your show in one short sentence, how would you do it?
CC: Indigenous solvent abuser living in a hopeful imaginative world.
Huff is on in the CanadaHub showcase at the King’s Hall at Summerhall at 16:15 from 1st-26th of August. Tickets can be purchased through the Summerhall Website or through the Fringe Box Office Website.