Actor Erroll Kinistino calls himself “the new old dude on the block.” An apt description, given his fame as construction worker Leon Deela on the long-running North of 60 series. And his latest role as 81-year-old aboriginal elder Charlie Running Dog in the upcoming Theatre North West production of Generations.
For Kinistino, the role of Charlie is a challenge. And an honour. “I have to get into the mindset of an elder. Where I come from, Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan, there are not many elders left. Some people who attend the spiritual lodge even started calling me ‘young elder.’ And I’m only 52.”
Kinistino said his character brings depth to the play. But the message that unfolds through dialogue between two older men – Charlie and Eddy Nurlin played by veteran stage actor Bill McFadden – may be subtle. “As an elder, one of the things my character brings to the play is a study in contrasts between native concept of land ownership and the rancher’s concept of ownership. There is a difference historically. We didn’t think of the land as belonging to us, just that we took care of it. We didn’t have the British mentality of certificates of ownership. That’s why we ended up colonized. We believe in spirituality, that the blood and bones of our ancestors, and animals like the buffalo, are part of the land.” Kinistino makes his comments not as a political statement but rather from his perspective as an artist. Charlie and Eddy, if not admitted friends, share mutual respect and past experiences, he said.
Generations by Sharon Pollock is the compelling story of an Alberta farming family, the Nurlins, who must make decisions about the land. The play centres around two brothers with different visions for the farm’s future.
“The play has context for today’s farmers,” said Kinistino. “There are present day themes running through it. Like people with traditional farming and ranching backgrounds who are up against outside influences like BSE where their cattle can’t be sold.”
The play has other themes as well, adds McFadden. “The play is also about knowing who you are and what you want. There is a young woman in the play who is learning about self-discovery.”
McFadden hails from PEI but looks forward to playing Prince George where he is much loved by audiences. The actor is always busy. “This is my seventh play this year. My first was in 1959 and I probably average at least three a year.” Lately, he has been playing older roles. “It seems I’m always playing old guys here. In On Golden Pond I played an old professor from New England. In Over the River and Through the Woods I played an old Italian immigrant to New Jersey. Now I’m playing old Eddy Nurlin,” he laughs.
The actor has great respect for TNW productions. “The sets are always incredible. They don’t get any better than here.” Kinistino agreed. “It’s lumber country out here, that’s why they’re good. When they were constructing the house, it looked like they were building a big dollhouse and they took the back doors off so you could see the landscape.”
Kinistino plans on spending time before opening Wednesday night, getting to know McFadden so they can relate well on stage. He is confident in his role.
For Kinistino, less experienced than McFadden in live theatre, the play presents a new challenge. And new rewards. “In live theatre you are more intimate with the audience. On North of 60, I could have questioned the writers but you have to trust the process and leave them alone to work their magic. It’s the same here.”
His roots as an actor began early. “My father was a janitor at our school and part of his job was to construct sets for our Christmas plays. So I was always around there, playing roles like the Wise Men or something. My mother made costumes. She made a clown costume for me and I created a character and performed as a comedian. Really both my parents got me into the business.”
Generations will be playing Theatre North West, Parkwood Centre, nightly from Sept. 29 to Oct. 17 (except Mondays) at 8 p.m. Sunday Matinees at 2 p.m. on Oct. 10 and 17. Tickets for adults, weekdays and Sunday are $22. Students and seniors $20. Friday and Saturday performances are $25 for adults, $22 for students and seniors. Call Bern Whelan at 563-6969 for more information.