At Banff Playwrights Colony, sociology honours alumnus pens play about the haunting true story of the “starlight tours”
There are moments in university when you learn something, and you may not realize it at the time, but it sticks with you. Whether it’s a chemistry formula or a personal story from a faculty member, sometimes a piece of information just clicks and it’s with you forever.
Sociology honours alumnus Josh Languedoc knows what that’s like. Since taking Sociology 368: Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada, he has been haunted by the tragic story of Neil Stonechild. In 1990, 17-year-old Neil was picked up by two Saskatoon police officers, driven out to the middle of nowhere and left to fend for himself. Neil died of hypothermia. He wasn’t the only one.
The practice of police driving Aboriginal people out of the city and abandoning them in sub-zero temperatures came to be known as “starlight tours,” a picturesque name for the brutal practice.
“Partly because I’m Aboriginal and just the fact that someone would do that to people of my blood descent really infuriates me,” says Josh. “It’s amazing how we blindly trust people that have power in society. We’re not taught to say, ‘No, I have my rights.’ That this was allowed to happen has always made me sick to my stomach.”
For years Josh, who teaches drama as a substitute teacher, mulled over the idea of writing a play about the starlight tours.
“I’ve seen theatre that has had profound impacts on people,” he says. He names the Laramie Project as having such an impact on him. “When I came across Neil Stonechild’s story, I got thinking about how it was similar. He was 17 and didn’t get a chance to live his life. That’s worth talking about. That’s worth showing people that this happened.”
It wasn’t until his writing mentor encouraged him to apply to the Banff Playwrights Colony that Josh decided to make a serious go of telling this story.
“The timing was perfect,” says Josh. “So I applied for it—100 per cent thinking I would not get in, but I did.”
His love of theatre has been with him since his youth, and going to the Banff Playwrights Colony was an opportunity to combine his passions for social justice and theatre. He describes the experience as an “awakening” in which he met other artists, made connections, researched and wrote, and watched professional actors read his play.
“To be able to focus on my work as an artist was eye-opening,” he says. “I am passionate about social justice. I love to write. I want the flexibility to focus on my art. I had forgotten that was me because the last two or three years have been about lesson plans.”
One important aspect of the workshop allowed Josh to bring a collaborator with him. He chose Assistant Professor Fiona Angus, his Sociology 368 teacher.
“Fiona’s done a lot of research on the subject matter and knows a lot,” he says. “She’s outside of the theatre world and comes at it strictly from an academic and research point of view. I found it really beneficial to hear what was sticking with her and what wasn’t working for her. She helped me a lot with the research.”
By the end of the two-week workshop, Josh had a draft of the play, which he continues to work on. Once he has a draft he’s satisfied with, he plans to send it to theatre companies in Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and the United States. Several theatre companies are already inquiring about it.
“It’s nice to have that affirmation that I can do this, and that there are others who are passionate about this story like I am. I think it’s something that will really resonate with people.”
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