Theatre group takes on Colten Boushie’s killing in documentary play Reasonable Doubt

Photo by PHILIP ADAMS

 

Saskatoon-based theatre artist Joel Bernbaum wanted to make a work about Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in his province; call it a truthful play about reconciliation.

A journalism school graduate and playwright, Bernbaum set out to create a piece of verbatim theatre, where the script is created entirely from actual things people have said – kind of like a documentary for the stage. Bernbaum did the first 50 interviews in 2015, funded by the Saskatchewan Arts Board Independent Artists program, and then he was commissioned by Persephone Theatre to continue the project. But where Bernbaum had hoped for truthful disclosures and real emotion – anger, grief, whatever – the responses he received were instead mostly banal.

Things like: “Oh yes, there are some challenges, but we’re getting along,” recalls his creative collaborator on this project, Yvette Nolan.

“Everyone was willing to talk and everyone was polite,” Bernbaum says.

“And then Colten Boushie drove onto that farm.”

On Aug. 9, 2016, Boushie, a young Cree man from the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed on a Saskatchewan farm belonging to Gerald Stanley. Boushie, 22, was shot at close range in the back of the head. Stanley, who is white, testified that it had been a freak accident, that the gun went off accidentally after he had fired two warning shots.

Stanley was charged with second-degree murder. On Feb. 9, 2018, Stanley was found not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter – by an all-white jury. The courtroom – the country – erupted. The deeply upsetting case polarized and galvanized Canadians.

Those polite interviews? “They got really real,” says the show’s other co-creator, Lancelot Knight.

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