Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reenacting Neptune

Through the years we have have hosted a lot of historical reenactments in Annapolis Royal. We have had the landing of the French, the landing of the Scots, the baptism of Membertou, the Nova Scotia Pony Express and the British capture of Port Royal to name but a few. Another event which has had a few reincarnations through the years is the Theatre of Neptune. Written by the Parisian lawyer Marc Lescarbot, the Theatre of Neptune was the first European theatre production in the new world. The play was written to celebrate the return of Samuel de Champlain from an exploratory voyage along what is now the New England coast. The play was staged on the waters of the Annapolis Basin with the actors standing in canoes. Neptune emerges from the water and sings the praises of the European adventurers.

When we last held a reenactment of the Theatre of Neptune in 2006, there was a touring company who had a production lampooning the original play. I suppose that they had a point to make but, then as now, I felt that they had chosen a fairly slow moving target for their attack. Is the Lescarbot play in any way politically correct to a modern sensibility? Nope. Do the European characters display an unjustified cultural superiority at the expense of the Mi'Kmaq? Of course they do. Is this a piece of theatre that would be remembered if it was not a first for the New World? Probably not. Is it a great play? Not really. Is the play an interesting and important historical document that should be seen and interpreted as a historical document? Most certainly.

This collection of images comes from the Annapolis Heritage Society's Tommy Rose Collection. While they are undated, I believe that these were taken at the 350th anniversary of the play which would have taken place in November 1956. The original images were slides and they show some signs of deterioration. When slides break down the first colour to fade is usually red. This leaves the image with a blue tinge that you can see here. While the play may have some flaws, I hope to be at the 450th anniversary of the Theatre of Neptune in 2056.

All for now,
RGS





2 comments:

  1. Hey,

    I was one of the actors who took part in the "lampooning" of the original play and I would like to say that I'm very happy to hear these words:

    "Do the European characters display an unjustified cultural superiority at the expense of the Mi'Kmaq? Of course they do"

    And ...

    "Is the play an interesting and important historical document that should be seen and interpreted as a historical document? Most certainly."

    Because that's exactly what we at "Optative Theatrical Laboratories" did. And even though our interpretation wasn't well received by all the members of the reenactment team, I'm glad to see that now, 5 years later you acknowledging both the orginal play's racism and the importance of our critical analysis.

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  2. First off I should make some efforts to distance myself from the cast and crew of the 2006 Theatre of Neptune reenactment. My use of the word "we" was as a community event rather than signifying my participation. My role on February 14, 2006 was to shiver on the shores of the Annapolis Basin with the remainder of the cast.

    I actually do not think that I have changed my opinion substantially over the last five years. Both the "Theatre of Neptune" and "Sinking Neptune" have a role to play as they share the cultural sensitivities (or insensitivities) of their time. Both productions also provide a framework for discussing the French settlement at Port Royal and its interaction with the Mi'Kmaq.

    RGS

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