'The Glooskape Chronicles': First Musical Drama Based on Ancient Stories
Fewer than 50 people were expected to turn out for a staged reading of "The Glooskape Chronicles: Creation and the Venetian Basket," the only known musical drama based on an Indigenous People’s creation story and teachings of their culture's hero, but more than double that number showed up.
The Indigenous people are the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawn or First Light, in the northeast part of the United States and the playwright is Donna Loring, a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation. Loring is known throughout Maine and beyond as a Vietnam veteran, a former Penobscot representative in the Maine legislature, a former law enforcement officer, an activist, a radio talk show host, and an author, Her nonfiction memoir, In the Shadow of the Eagle: A Tribal Representative in Maine, which chronicles her time in the Maine legislature, was published by Tilbury House in 2008. Her papers are deposited in the Main Women Writers Collection at the university fo New England
Loring took a playwriting class two years ago at the University of Maine with William Yellow Robe, the famous Assiniboine playwright, director, poet, actor, writer, and educator. A year later, The Glooskape Chronicles had its first reading at the university.
The latest reading took place on February 22 at the Collins Center for the Arts at the university in Orono, Maine. Loring sent out an announcement on the morning of the reading. “We are doing the reading on stage and the audience will also be on stage,” Loring wrote. “The thought was that we would not have many people show up and that we could accommodate them on stage so that's what we are planning and doing at this point. We never have had more than 50 people show up so this should be interesting. I have a new director on board from Canada, her name is Yvette Nolan. She is a playwright and director as well as many other things in theatre. She is very well experienced. The reading tonight will be very different in that we will be using multimedia”
After the reading, Loring sounded elated. “It was awesome!” she said In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “The multimedia we used went really well, everyone was on cue and we had over 100 people show up in a space made for 50 or 60. Some people had to stand and stayed the whole hour and a half. Amazing how the Native community is so hungry for its stories and old times. When the play was over the whole audience stayed in their seats as if they didn't want it to end.”
The Glooskape Chronicles is set in the present and re-tells ancient traditional Wabanaki stories, drawing parallels and connecting the past with the present and the future. The plot involves three women friends named Hazel, Georgia and Jane, who are initially in a snow-covered cabin in the woods. Songs from different musical traditions are interspersed throughout the play.
Glooskape (or Glooscape, Glooscap, Klose-kur-beh) is the Wabanaki people's culture carrier who lived with the first Wabanaki people and taught them how to make stone tools, medicines from plants, fast, lightweight canoes, pouches to carry fire safely, and other useful skills. Stories about Glooskape’s teachings and activities are told in a remarkable book called ‘‘The Life and Traditions of the Red Man,'' written by Penobscot Joseph Nicolar and published in 1893. The book was lost for more than 100 years. A new edition was published in 2008, edited and annotated with a history of the Penobscot Indian Nation and an introduction by Annette Kolodny, University of Arizona College of Humanities professor emerita of American literature and culture. Nicolar's grandson, Charles Norman Shay, wrote the preface; and Bonnie D. Newsom, the Penobscot Nation's director of cultural and historic preservation, wrote the afterword.
The character Georgia in The Glooskape Chronicles is a master basket maker, basket making being one of the Wabanaki people’s traditional arts taught by Glooskape. Basket making is a thread throughout the play, Loring said. “The idea is that it’s actually a way of life. It’s how we learn things and pass things on from generation to generation,” Loring said. But with the introduction of the deadly emerald ash borer, an invasive ash-destroying bug from eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea, there’s a real possibility that the basket makers will no long have the traditional materials for their baskets, she noted.
“The symbolism is regardless of whether we still have the ash tree, we still need to hold onto the old ways, we need to find another material, find another way to do it,” Loring says. “I don’t want to give the play away but the Venetian basket is made out of Venetian blinds.”
So the play itself is a way of holding on to the ancient stories and cultural traditions.
“The old stories – people refer to them as legend, but they’re our stories and for us, they’re true and that’s part of the message of the play,” she says.
The next task is to raise money for set designs, costumes, music and other necessities for a full production which will take place at the University of Maine at Orono. “There are state grants and we’re going to go after them, absolutely!” Loring said.
Anyone interested in investing in the production may contact Loring by email at ddl[at]roadrunner.com.