The Swamp Dwellers awakens onstage

By Alicia Ward

Although it might sound like a cheesy horror flick, The Swamp Dwellers is actually a widely acclaimed play by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. The University of Calgary’s drama department’s production of this play, directed by MFA student Edward Ogum, is sure to offer up important, emotional and perhaps controversial conversation topics for audiences to carry with them long after the play finishes.
The play involves an elderly couple living in the Niger Delta and their stuggle to relate to their son in the face of spirituality, modernization and the tension between rural and urban.

Conflict is a major theme in The Swamp Dwellers, and since conflict is the backbone of drama, audiences are already set up for an exciting night of theatre just based off the script. Cast member and U of C drama student Jon Molinski elaborates on the different types of conflict found within the theatrical text.

“There’s a lot of clashing of two different dichotomies. There’s the old versus the young, the spiritual versus the real and the city versus the village,” explains Molinski.

While explaining the changing world that the play explores, Molinski uses a number of large hand gestures, giving a physical idea of how riddled with conflict this play is. While conflict in drama can be entertaining, it can also be thought-provoking and emotionally stirring.

“The journey towards the city, and all the young people going to the city — it’s kind of like abandoning your cultural roots. That’s the major over-arching undertone of [the play],” Molinski notes.

“There’s this whole underlying theme of how oil and greed corrupt,” he adds. “The corruption of power and greed is probably the most prevalent theme of the entire play.”

Many Calgarian citizens have close links with the oil industry, which might open doors to negative community reviews of The Swamp Dwellers — but this is familiar to the actors.

“Alberta’s an oil province, so I feel like [the play] will maybe bring awareness to what’s going on . . . I feel like there are similarities between [Calgary and the Niger Delta] — this more advanced, urban out-sprawl versus being more natural and holistic,” says Molinski.

Besides opening up a dialogue about corporate hierarchy and issues involving the oil industry, The Swamp Dwellers will also touch on humour and various aspects of religious symbolism — all with the help of a new projection system. The entire play is sure to be visually pleasing.

“[Masquerade dance sequences] were added onto the text by Edward. It’s one of his directorial choices and I feel like it really adds something to the entire play as a whole,” adds Molinski.
Actor Mya Campbell coins this “something” Molinski mentions as a “spiritual cool.” Audiences should expect to be taken into a world of spirituality and Nigerian culture. Molinski enthusiastically exclaims that the entire play is “definitely not Canadian.

“I’ve learned a lot about Nigerian culture, which I definitely had no idea about before,” confesses Campbell.

As drama students at the U of C, Campbell and Molinski are encouraged to audition for the three main stages offered by the Department of Drama. Performing in university onstage shows has afforded the two actors not only creative challenges, but a chance to be exposed to outside-the-classroom learning.

“Working on shows is the best experience I have as a drama student.” says Molinski. “You learn so much from them . . . I may be stressed out to all hell but I would not change it for all the world.”

“I’ve taken each one of those [experiences] and brought it into the next show so I can continue to grow.”

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