“There is one thing we know attracts Trickster: fear.” Native Earth Performing Arts is currently presenting Huff written and performed by the award-winning Cree playwright Cliff Cardinal. The darkly comic, fantastical and heart-wrenching one-man play explores the lives of Indigenous youth battling addiction, and systemic injustices while dreaming of a better life.
This new production of Huff, with an all-star design team, is currently on-stage at Aki Studio. Following a three-week run in Toronto, Huff will embark upon an eight-city national tour from Quebec to British Columbia.
Cliff Cardinal (Playwright, Performer), and Karin Randoja (Director) both took time out of their busy schedule to answer a few questions about this latest incarnation of the production.
HM: In the first run of HUFF, at SummerWorks in 2012, the characters were very raw. Their core is fragile, full of turmoil, with an array emotions. How have the play’s characters changed, if at all, since then?
Karin Randoja: One of the significant changes has been a very subtle but powerful depth that Cliff has reached in the playing of so many diverse, complex characters. I think when you create something that is intense and asks a lot of one, and then have a extended period of time where one doesn’t actively work on the play…well, in this passage of time the way the stories and acting live in the body and psyche and then become reactivated again when one gets back into rehearsal is pretty fascinating to witness. All the characters have gotten deeper, more real, more human and at the same time, Cliff’s skill and strength as an actor in portraying them has also achieved an even higher quality. It’s such a testament to the power of returning to an original work and being given the opportunity to go further.
HM: Given this play is about Indigenous youth battling addiction and systemic injustices while in search of a better life; how have young people in First Nations communities & throughout Canada responded to the show?
KR: This is more a question for Cliff than me. But I can say that the warmth, humour and understanding that First Nations audiences have shown in responding to the show has been awesome. There are certain characters and themes that give rise to an instant, recognizable rapport within First Nations culture and life. And I hope that the play speaks to anyone dealing with addiction, racism, and/or abuse. There are often tangible responses of shock or upset in the audience, and white or First Nations, that is a sign that the play is working on a very human level.
HM: In collaborating with Karin Randoja, what has been your focus for this production?
Cliff Cardinal: Probably the design. We’re working with really inspiring designers, Jacki Chau, Michelle Ramsay, and Alex Williams to create a compelling new world for the play. I’m very excited about sharing huff again with these artists and at Native Earth.
HM: What can we expect from you next; any projects you’d like to hightlight for us?
CC: Yeah some stuff. I’ve got an album coming out next month: Cliff Cardinal and The Skylarks: This Is Not A Mistake… and also next month I’m acting in a play that Michael Wheeler is directing, Objections to Sex and Violence, by Caryl Churchill – that’s gonna be pretty cool. I wrote a play for kids called Sidewalk Chalk that is currently on tour with Geordie Theatre. If you are an english speaking, quebec elementary school student, watch out for that one.
Having seen Huff twice (on its first run and now), I can honestly say it is a must-see. The themes depicted are so poignant and so very important to address, especially in current times. Regardless of creed or culture, the real issues of addiction, abuse, suicide, and youth dreams are relatable to anyone in any place. Cardinal portrays each character honestly and with raw emotion. You may want to close your eyes and look away at times, but do not, every action and word are important. I highly encourage you to make your way to Aki Studio for this play. Huff is on-stage until Sunday, October 25th; visit nativeearth.ca for full details.
And be sure to check out for Cardinal’s album release in November, and more great productions from Randoja and Native Earth.
*Photos by akipari