Marie Clements' searing artistic vision
Evoking the traditions of her Aboriginal roots and drawing from her experience as a radio news reporter in the 1980s, Métis playwright Marie Clements has mastered a unique style of storytelling by linking the past with the present.
In her 2003 play, Burning Vision, she traces a chilling line of death and destruction caused on both sides of the Pacific as a result of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War and the uranium used to make those weapons, which was extracted from mines on Dene land in the Northwest Territories.
"An exciting and imaginative exploration – and excavation ... Burning Vision skillfully intertwines First Nations history and world events," said the jury that awarded Clements the Canada Council's 2004 Canada-Japan Literary Award. The prize recognizes literary excellence by Canadian authors writing on Japan, Japanese themes or those that promote mutual understanding between Japan and Canada.
Also nominated for the 2003 Governor General's Literary Award for drama, Burning Vision was commissioned by Rumble Theatre in Vancouver, where it premiered in 2002 (with Canada Council assistance). It later toured across Canada, with productions at the prestigious Festival de théâtre des Amériques in Montreal and the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Ottawa. A Spanish-language version was presented in Mexico City during the spring of 2005.
Meanwhile, Clements has adapted her 1997 play, The Unnatural and Accidental Women, into a screenplay for a forthcoming Canadian film bearing the same title and starring Gemini Award-winning actors Tantoo Cardinal and Callum Keith Rennie. Clements is once again inspired by history – by the "unnatural and accidental" deaths of ten women, most Aboriginal, in Vancouver's Lower East Side between 1965 and 1988. Clements describes their deaths as “a drowning of hopes, despairs and wishes."
As well as having written 10 plays, Clements is the founder and artistic director of Vancouver-based urban ink productions (urbanink.ca). The First Nations theatre company was created in 2001 to create, develop and produce Aboriginal and multicultural works of theatre, writing and film that "celebrate and bring together different cultural and artistic perspectives and inter-racial experiences."
Born in Vancouver in 1962 and now living on BC's Galiano Island with her husband and son, Clements has diversified her career to include directing (in both theatre and radio) and acting. She earned critical acclaim for her solo show, Urban Tattoo, about a young Métis woman in the 1940s who adopts the persona of Hollywood pin-up girl Jane Russell as she embarks on a journey from a small town in the Northwest Territories to the bright lights of Edmonton. The production toured across Canada and the United States between 1999 and 2003.
Clements is currently developing a play based on the life of Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau. Scheduled to premiere in fall 2006, Copper Thunderbird is a joint production of urban ink, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and the Playwrights' Workshop of Montreal. She's also working on a script ("Tombs of the Vanishing Indian") commissioned by Los Angeles-based Native Voices at the Autry and scheduled to premiere in L.A. in spring 2007.
In the words of Rumble Productions, Clements blends "a wry sense of irony with an impassioned humanism." These characteristics have become her signature.- Christopher Guly