At our Engage talkback last Friday evening, an audience member highlighted the importance of land in Outside Mullingar. John Innes (the actor playing Tony) shared his experience visiting the geographical Mullingar (in Ireland) and his revelation that passing the land within his family was critical to his character’s journey. I waded into the fray to talk about growing up in rural Alberta on land homesteaded by my Grandfather – land passed on - now owned in-part by my son and daughter-in-law. Their daughter will be the 4th generation to plant vegetables in a garden first tilled by her great-grandfather.
I read an article in Macleans this morning about the troubled First Nations souls that live in Attawapiskat, whose youth live on the brink of suicide - a direct result of residential school practices that tore generations from their families and homelands. And many other stories on the news illustrate our connection to the past, families, and the legacy of land that sustained them.
In Outside Mullingar, Tony talks about “standing on the earth and drawing strength from it.” On my own father’s tombstone (split and polished from a stone he pulled out of the earth) are these words: “I reach into the earth and touch my father’s hand.” My mother’s says, “Together we sit on a stone in a field.” It is likely she sat on that very stone with cows milling and bawling all around her. Genesis says humankind was created from the dust of the earth. First Nations' healing is rooted in an understanding of the land that sustains life. And the words spoken over my parents, and many others at the end of their lives, is simply “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” From the land we were created, we live, and return.
A few years ago, we produced a play called The Quarrel, by David Brandes. David himself came to see the production and we spent a day together talking and exploring the landscape around Drumheller. He also believes his children receive something from an ancient place where generations share a collective history. Identifying as a secular Jew, he celebrates the fact his children spent extended periods of time in their homeland, Israel. How can a place thousands of years old tug at the heart of descendents who didn’t grow up on it? What is it that calls so many to return?
The journey to Rosebud involves travelling across rolling prairies that inevitably connect many to their roots. Family and place are critical to emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. And so is the tradition of Storytelling. First Nations communities winter-camped in the valley. Farmers abide close by. And the artists involved with our production serve the theatre the same way so many others served the land – passing the art of storytelling on to those that come after. With Outside Mullingar, we connect people to the idea of family and legacy through a roller coaster ride of romance, revelation and laughs. It’s worth the trek. This play is likely to be produced time and again in a host of theatres, but Rosebud’s rural setting makes our “Mullingar” something very special indeed.