The Griff

Café Daughter explores identity and racism in rural Saskatchewan

Culture

Café Daughter explores identity and racism in rural Saskatchewan

The play tells the story of a young woman coming to terms with her Cree-Chinese heritage.

It’s Shawn Gan’s first theatre gig, and after the interview that landed him the job, he still had one question.

“How did you find me?” he asked, since he hadn’t applied in the first place.

“We Googled ‘Edmonton Chinese musician,’ and your name came up,” the interviewers told him.

It was a little confusing at first, until the interviewers clarified their intentions. Café Daughter, which is showing in The Backstage Theatre from Nov. 25 to Dec. 6, is about nine-year-old Yvette Wong, a Cree-Chinese girl who struggles with her identity after her mother tells her not to reveal her indigenous heritage.

The director, placing authenticity on the top of the list, looked for a local musician of Chinese descent.

Gan, a graduate of the MacEwan music program, has been implementing traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu into his compositions. He’s also tried his hand at fusing some traditional, local indigenous music.

“This project is not just an experience for me. It’s an opportunity for me to show off the different cultures, sound-wise,” says Gan.

“For people who [who aren’t accustomed to it], the Aboriginal music is a bit of an acquired taste, mostly because it’s not what they normally hear.”

But Gan is proud of the work he’s done for the play so far, as the entire crew continues to ready themselves for the 12-day marathon of shows. The play is inspired by the story of Lillian Dyck, a Canadian senator that has been in office since 2005.

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Wong is told not to tell people about her Cree heritage.

“You’re not one of them. Understand me? You’re not an Indian. You never, ever tell anyone that you are,” Wong’s mother tells her.

As the play progresses, so does the character, coming to terms with the world around her and, perhaps most of all, her heritage.

“We want to merge different worlds together — the Chinese world, the Aboriginal world, the Western world,” says Gan.

Alongside Allan Gilliland, chair of the MacEwan music program, Gan is working to bring the perfect blend of atmosphere to the audience.

“There’s a certain aesthetic we want to bring out,” says Gan.

With that aesthetic, Gan and the rest of the crew hopes to bring out important messages: messages of hope, truth and coming to terms with who you are.

Photo supplied.