Legacy Story Overview
Centre for Indigenous Theatre
The Centre for Indigenous Theatre (CIT), formerly known as Native Theatre School, was founded by James (Jim) Buller under the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts (ANDPVA) in 1974 in Toronto, Ontario. ANDPVA is the oldest Indigenous arts service organization in Canada.
Native Theatre School began as a four to six-week summer program in the beginning. Jim Buller’s vision for the program was to offer Indigenous actors, playwrights and Directors an opportunity to explore Indigenous theatre practices. Previous Artistic Directors and leaders of Native Theatre School/CIT included Marrie Mumford, Cat Cayuga, Floyd Favel, Carol Greyeyes, Jani Lauzon, and Rose C. Stella. Lee Maracle and Edna Manitowabi also worked closely with CIT as Cultural Advisors over the years. Under the artistic direction of Carol Greyeyes, CIT extended its programming to a full year, and the organization grew from there.
CIT previously operated out of different spaces over the years, including 401 Richmond and the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto.
Centre for Indigenous Theatre at Artscape Youngplace
In 2014, CIT secured a permanent space at Artscape Youngplace. Their suite at Artscape Youngplace provides CIT with office space, kitchen, a studio designated for classes, and rentable studio space used by other organizations such as the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and Native Women in the Arts.
An image of Artscape Youngplace.
Centre for Indigenous Theatre today
CIT offers comprehensive three and four-year full-time post-secondary education programs. Designed to train and prepare students for careers in theatre and the performing arts, CIT’s training is rooted in Indigenous knowledge and teachings to encourage the development of young Indigenous performing artists in a culturally appropriate and welcoming setting. Professional development opportunities such as mentoring and working collaboratively with Indigenous actors and creators are also offered through CIT.
Legacy Story Circles
On Friday, January 28, 14 staff, faculty, students, and founding members of Native Theatre School and CIT came together virtually. A second conversation also took place on Thursday, February 17, 2022 with Board member Diane Pugen, who spoke to the early years of Native Theatre School and its transition to CIT.
The early years of Native Theatre School
The Legacy Story Circle shared stories of how Native Theatre School was created under ANDPVA by Jim Buller, and the many fond memories of Circle members working with Jim. In its beginnings, Native Theatre School collaborated with NDWT Theatre to tour festivals and bring their plays to many different stages. With Jim Buller’s passing in 1982, Marrie Mumford helped to raise the money needed to re-open Native Theatre School. With its reopening, Native Theatre School toured and brought its programming to different communities, such as Attawapiskat and in the Northwest Territories in 1991.
From Native Theatre School to the Centre for Indigenous Theatre
With the guidance of Marrie Mumford, Native Theatre School was managed by a Board under ANDPVA. The Board also established a Community Committee of Indigenous artists and Administrators such as Jani Lauzon and Monique Mojica. By the 1990s, the Committee understood that Native Theatre School’s programming needed to be extended, and there were organizational capacity limits to what could be done under ANDPVA, who managed many Indigenous arts programs at the time. In 1994, the Committee decided to separate from ANDPVA and become its own entity, and it was renamed the Centre for Indigenous Theatre.
Partnerships and current work
CIT often works closely in partnership with other Indigenous arts and community organizations, such as Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto, Nozhem: First Peoples’ Performance Space in Peterborough, and Aanmitaagzi at Nipissing. In recent years, CIT has taken classes up to Big Medicine Studio in Nipissing to perform on the land. Many students who graduate from CIT are also work with other performing arts organizations such as Clay and Paper Theatre, Jumblies Theatre, and Shadowland Theatre in Toronto. There is a need for CIT to partner with more Indigenous presenters over time to strengthen their organizational capacity.
CIT is adapting to the digital landscape by holding virtual classes, and only utilizing space, such as Aki Studio operated by Native Earth, when it is safe to do so. Ange Loft, a teacher and alumni of CIT, noted that online teaching models gave CIT opportunities to work with students in different ways. For example, students produced several radio plays in the past year that were met with success and their Year End Showcase was held online in December 2021. Ange is currently looking into more opportunities for outdoor processions as a safe in-person alternative for in-person learning during the pandemic.
Vision for the future
The Legacy Story Circles spoke to the needs of Indigenous artists and community members, as well as organizations like CIT. Each Legacy Story Circle noted a need for increased funding for Indigenous arts, as well as healing for Indigenous artists and community members. Conversations shared that funding sources outside of the arts can support Indigenous artists and arts projects. CIT has accessed federal funding to support the integration of Indigenous healing in their programming in previous years, and Circle members identified there is a need for more.
CIT offers graduation certificates to students who graduate from the school, but are unable to offer degrees. The need for accreditation stems from the difficulty for young Indigenous performing artists to develop their career without a degree from CIT. Some organizations such as the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium can help to accredit certificates; this was identified as an optional route for CIT to consider.