Prudat one of two Yvettes in Blyth Festival's 'Café Daughter'
BY DENNY SCOTT
Eight years after first portraying what would be one of her most daunting roles, PJ Prudat is returning to the stage as Yvette Wong in the Blyth Festival’s production of Café Daughter.
Prudat, who is Cree and Métis on her mother’s side and Scandinavian and French on her father’s side, played Wong when Café Daughter was produced by Gwaandak Theatre and presented by Native Earth Performing Arts at the Aki Studio Theatre in 2013. She said that, at the time, it was a role unlike anything she had ever tackled before.
“It’s a very special piece to me personally because it was a game changer,” she said in an interview with The Citizen. “I had never done anything of that calibre before, in terms of navigating a whole solo show.”
Prudat said the show was also special because it was couched in such a rich history, both in the laws and culture that created the plays and the person that Wong is based on, Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, a former Saskatchewan Senator, neuroscientist and associate dean of the University of Saskatchewan.
“She’s a remarkable human,” Prudat said of the recently-retired Senator of Cree and Chinese descent who is now working tirelessly towards reconciliation efforts.
The play, Prudat said, is built around a relatively unknown history in Saskatchewan and Canada where a law prevented white women from working in Chinese restaurants. As a result, Indigenous women worked in the restaurants and Prudat said that many people can trace their heritage to relationships forming in those restaurants, just like Dyck.
Prudat was part of the show from its beginning, saying it was workshopped on the move in Northern Canada where it was shown to different First Nations audiences across the area before it was produced with Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto. It was then shown across the country.
It’s a surprise to be preparing for the role again, Prudat said, because she has changed since the first time she portrayed Wong.
“I’m really curious as to how it will sit and feel eight years later,” she said. “It is a gift to be asked to do the show many years later.”
She said the play, which addresses both Indigenous and Asian cultures, is a timely piece given the political and cultural climate of the past several years and how they have impacted those groups.
Prudat is originally from Treaty 6 Territory in Northern Saskatchewan and “normally” lives in Toronto but recently moved to the Trent Lakes area. She studied drama at the University of Alberta and has worked with organizations Native Earth Performing Arts, the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre ensemble, Shaw Festival Theatre and others.
She works as a playwright and is currently in residency at Nightswimming, having recently produced a show called Kiskisiwin Nimihko, which translates to “Remembering my Blood” and is now viewable on the Toronto Fringe Festival website. The play has been a unique experience for Prudat as she really had to think outside of the theatre to get it made.
She’s also working with fellow playwright Jonathan Seinen on À la façon du pays, which translates to “The Way of the Country”, a time-travel piece that “starts with the fur trade in Canada and moves around”.
Prudat is excited to be working in Blyth, as this will mark her first time on a Festival stage, but she has experience with Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt, having worked on Ipperwash at Native Earth Performing Arts in 2018 after the play premiered in Blyth in 2017.
She said she’s excited about how the Blyth Festival is going about having a theatre season, and said she’s excited to be outside, saying it will be a phenomenal experience.
As to why people should attend Café Daughter, Prudat said the play has a unique relationship with the history, culture and law of Saskatchewan, and she loves being part of such a one-of-a-kind story.
“The whole way this story has come about within the history of the prairies is quite inspiring and intriguing,” she said. “Indigenous families began because of this law that was put into place… Many families came together as a result over time. There is a real wealth of community and story and a truth to be unravelled. It’s very exciting in terms of what this piece is.”