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Bear Grease comes to GP

A new take on the iconic musical Grease was revealed to Grande Prairie on Dec. 1.

Bear Grease, a touring show, made a stop at the Douglas J. Cardinal Performing Arts Centre at Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP).

Bear Grease is an indigenous version of the musical, written and starred in by the husband-wife team Crystle Lightning and MC Redcloud.

“We both love Grease, and we looked at each other and I said, wouldn't it be amazing if there was an indigenous version of Grease,” said Lightning in an interview with Town & Country News.

Her husband would responded by breaking out in song. “Summer Snagging having a blast,” he sang to the tune of the Summer Nights from the 1978 film.

“Summer snagging happened so fast,” responded Lightning, now also in song.

“I met a girl; she's Enoch Cree,” he sang.

“I met a boy; he's not related to me,” she responded in song and then the duo began writing.

The pandemic granted the duo time to develop and write the adaptation.

Lightning is a working actress originally from Enoch Cree First Nation in central Alberta and has worked in movies and television, including Yellowstone, Ghosts, and American Pie: Band Camp.

Bear Grease would premiere at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, and the show sold out in 15 minutes to a majority Caucasian audience, said Lightning.

“They (the audience) got every one of our jokes, and that's when we knew we had something special,” she said. Inquiries grew as word about the show spread.

On Friday in Grande Prairie, they performed the show for the 129th time. They were rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of the show.

“The harsh reality of our history is it's very traumatic and sad, so we wanted to make sure that we created something that brought joy and humour, and laughter is medicine, and so is Bear Grease,” said Lightning.

Bear Grease transports its audience to a world where colonization didn’t happen; instead, indigenous culture was embraced, and the 1950s still happened similarly.

“We set this in a parallel universe; what if we would have won? What if there was no colonization? This is how we would be,” she said.

It’s still a love story of Danny and Sandy, but indigenous culture and fashion are woven in as part of it. Poodle skirts now have an inspiration of ribbon dresses, and the men wear leather jackets and beads; although based on music of the 50s, this has indigenous drums and flutes.

“We're scratching the surface now with indigenous representation, and we're actually writing our own story creating it our own self, having indigenous people play the characters and written by directed by, choreographed by, so it feels really good and to have the reception that we're getting,” said Lightning.

Each show is crafted to incorporate local indigenous languages and names in Grande Prairie; mentions of Horse Lake and Goodswimmers were all present.

As patrons left the theatre, comments of “I have never laughed so hard in my life” and “I loved this so much” could be heard.

NWP Circle of Indigenous Students and Indigenous Services helped bring the show here, noting it wanted to bring something big, amazing and indigenous to the community, said Desiree Mearon, NWP Indigenous liaison co-ordinator.

“In June at the Grande Prairie Powwow, I asked members of the community what they wanted to see and what they wanted brought in, and everybody said Bear Grease,” she said.

“Many times when you see anything about indigenous people, there's a lot of sadness,” she said, “with this, it was just uplifting, and it was just amazing.”

There is a hope that the show can one day make it to Broadway.

Lightning says she also hopes that the show can eventually run on its own so that the husband-and-wife duo can begin to work on other projects.

She said they have begun looking into other projects like Bear Spray, an indigenous take on Hairspray, and Rez Side Story, a take on West Side Story.

“Those are the two that were flirting with the ideas of creating, “ she said.

She noted that Bear Grease tours with a cast and crew of 12 currently, but to pull off Rez Side Story would be a much larger production of over 20 people.

“It's going to be a big one.”

Lightning said the representation of indigenous content is less than one percent out of the whole pie.

“We have a long way to go, but I think that this is the way, as we tell our own stories.”

Bear Grease played two shows in Grande Prairie over the weekend.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News