There’s a positive energy coming from MC Red Cloud when he talks about the inspiration and creation behind the hit musical, Bear Grease.
Playing at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 6, the musical was adapted from the original musical, Grease, and features a wealth of Indigenous inspiration. It’s a show that started out as a 45-minute sold-out special at Edmonton Fringe, and grew into a full touring musical performance, explains Cloud.
The seeds of the show developed when Cloud and his wife, Crystle Lightning, were watching the movie on television. They joked about how the musical could easily be adapted to an Indigenous version. They threw a few jokes around and just couldn’t stop laughing at their ideas.
Taking that first seed of humour, Cloud and Crystle started work-shopping Bear Grease together during the pandemic.
“We just put our nose to the grindstone and just went nuts and started punching it up and creating this this beautiful, twist on Grease.”
There is a double meaning to the show title:
“Bear grease is a medicine. It’s really sacred and strong to Indigenous peoples and we wanted to make sure that the musical was full of laughter.”
This humour stems from a history full of trauma for Indigenous communities. Bear Grease was a way to create a full musical production while also recognizing the past and celebrating the present.
“We wanted to make sure that we reflect upon that, because that’s also our reality,” said Cloud. “We are great people. We’re funny people, and we use laughter as healing.”
Bear Grease has evolved into much more than a parody, says Cloud. “It’s almost become its own thing. It’s set in a parallel universe where colonization never existed.”
The idea resonated. The actors have performed more than 110 shows already and they’re booking into 2024.
“It started with a little 45-minute show for the Edmonton Fringe Festival that sold out in 15 minutes, and that’s where we were like, ‘OK, maybe we’ve got something good here,’” he explained. “So, we booked the Garneau and then we sold out the Garneau and then we booked the Westbury Theatre, and then we sold out the Westbury Theatre.”
Cloud says their focus is on continued growth. Touring in front of Indigenous communities brings its own share of fun and laughter. Crystle and Cloud left enough room within the script to allow for name changes to match the communities they’re performing in as well as for some improv lines.
“That connects us directly with the audience,” says Cloud.
Everyone in the production crew has a background in the performing arts in one form or another. Among them, Cloud grew up performing in plays and is an accomplished rapper while Crystle is an actress who continues to expand her portfolio.
Their skills translate well on stage as audiences find themselves folded over in laughter at every performance.
If anything, Cloud sends this message to those interested in the play: “You are safe to laugh and enjoy yourselves.”
Having a full Indigenous cast is also something that Cloud says helps change people’s perspectives regarding the performing arts. It helps people ask questions about their initial assessment of how Grease will look with an Indigenous cast. Cloud says it doesn’t take folks long to realize how great of a show Bear Grease is.
Cloud’s thoughts on buying tickets to the show?
“Come out and see Native excellence and top-notch musical theatre.”
Following the performance will be a special artist talk back with the Bear Grease cast members. The talk back is hosted by Augustana Campus Assistant Professor Willow White ’15, as part of the Campus’s 2023 Indigenous Speaker Series.