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'The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It" written and performed by Cliff Cardinal

A David Mirvish and Crow's Theatre production onstage at Toronto's CAA Theatre

Dahlia Katz

Joe Szekeres


In the fall of 2021 at Crow’s Theatre, I saw Cliff Cardinal’s smouldering ‘William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a radical retelling’ which turned out to be a bait and switch. It was all a ruse. We were asked not to give the surprise away. I did not see ‘As You Like It’ but instead bore witness to Cardinal’s Land Acknowledgement.

Was I happy about this bait-and-switch then? Absolutely not.

In this time of truth, then reconciliation, this dramatic ploy did not sit well with me. I remember the variety of responses, and many were justifiably annoyed and rightly so. I counted myself among those annoyed.

I get it – the bait and switch were done on our First Nations people. The atrocities and the horror at that time of the residential schools, the Catholic Church and children who were taken away from their families. Having the spirit of the First Nations beaten out of the people. Yes, this historical truth is a terrible time in Canadian history. We can’t ignore it. Cliff Cardinal allowed me to experience that same emotional impact if only for a few moments while our First Nations peoples lived with this emotional turmoil for years.

But I refused to participate in the ruse at that time. When people asked me what I thought of the production, all I said was I did not see ‘As You Like It’. I saw something else and was not happy about it. If this 2021 production might be a possible indication of what is to come in future First Nations plays, how are we ever going to reconcile if we are continually pummelled and made to feel some kind of responsibility for something over which we were not present and had no control?

Would ‘truth, then reconciliation’ ever be possible with our First Nations people?

I held my breath in wondering if I would feel the same upon seeing tonight’s opening of this subtle evolution of the 2021 work, according to Chris Abraham, Crow’s Artistic Director and co-conspirator of the play.

The Mirvish production:

Gorgeous deep red curtains adorn the stage with footlights running along the apron. During the preshow soundscape, I heard birds twittering in what I imagined to be a beautiful pastoral setting akin to that in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. These are all dramatic elements that have been maintained.

Cliff Cardinal enters with much applause. He is dressed comfortably in the clothes one might wear in going to have a beer with someone and just shoot the breeze about everything or anything. He’s thankful he has the opportunity to share the story with the Mirvish company, but Cardinal does one thing. He changes the title so there’s no implication or misunderstanding at all that we are involved with another ruse again.

Thank you for doing that.

Cardinal amiably set me at ease as he introduced what this performance would entail – a land acknowledgement about stolen land which became a metaphor to remind us to be grateful for Mother Earth. With his impish grin (which set me at ease) he still tells us how he hates land acknowledgements as he considers them patronizing. But we’re still spreading awareness of them everywhere. The question is – who should deliver these acknowledgements?

I don’t have an answer to this. However, when I listen to another acknowledgement, I will certainly find out who is delivering it.

Personally, in this Mirvish/Crow’s production, there’s something different compared to 2021.

Cliff Cardinal doesn’t appear to reflect such a brooding intensity. Mind you, he’s still angry and rightfully as he should be because he gives us much to ponder. For example, why didn’t Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau do more when he could have done more? Why didn’t the Catholic Church do more than it did? Times and context were so different compared to now. These are questions that I hope to delve further into as I try my best to place them into context for my own understanding.

Another question was raised that I don’t recall from 2021 – Are we acknowledging the land or the majestic people who wanted to live in equilibrium with nature and Mother Earth?

Again, I don’t have an answer to this but it’s one that I will sit with for quite some time to think about.

Final Comments: ‘The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It’ is that much-needed Canadian history lesson. I hope its messages and emotions will be heard and felt, especially in age-appropriate school settings. The production is justifiably thought-provoking and often unnerving. Listen, just listen, to what Cliff Cardinal has to say. This is the first step.

Running time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

‘The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It’ runs to April 2 at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, or call 1-800-461-3333.

‘The Land Acknowledgement or As You Like It’

Written and Performed by Cliff Cardinal
Creative Co-conspirator: Chris Abraham
Lighting Designer: Logan Cracknell
Stage Manager: Jennifer Stobart

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