Sheldon Elter’s autobiographical Métis Mutt not only tells his story, but a larger one as well
His comedy warms people up only to catch them off guard with some hard-hitting truths that really make you think. Sheldon Elter’s hilarious and thought-provoking Métis Mutt is coming full circle from its origins at the Roxy’s 2001 Nextfest, returning to the Roxy as a full-length show. Originally a seven-minute piece for his theatre class at MacEwan University, the play has grown and matured as Elter has over the last decade and a half.
“I now am a much older performer and I just didn’t want to keep doing the same thing,” he says. “And if it’s an autobiographical tale, it should grow in the same way I’ve grown as an artist.”
Which is exactly what he did. Elter composed a talented production team that could re-envision his work in a way that accurately portrays its evolution. He was also able to add some perspective and context to his 20-something racially-charged comedic musings, which is how the piece originated roughly 15 years ago.
His own growth over the years also inspired him to begin sharing his story with young people. After touring the play, Elter brought it to reserves as part of a drama and self-empowerment workshop he led to motivate teenagers looking for direction, as he once did.
As it stands today, the play holds a hybrid of multi-vignetted storytelling from his own experiences and stand-up comedy. Topics like intergenerational trauma, internalized racism, and dysfunctional family dynamics are all touched on, in various contexts and times throughout Elter’s life. But it wasn’t easy. When he first wrote the play, Elter struggled with understanding the fine line he was walking between trauma and comedy.
“It was about understanding that I can’t keep making these jokes and perpetuating negative stereotypes. That’s kind of what the play does,” he says. “It shows what I used to do and then at the end of the play I try to give a truth for all the negative things I was saying that Sheldon the man knows now.”
When he reads it now, certain parts of Métis Mutt make it feel more like a period piece, especially in scenes where he uses the term ‘Indian.’ But, he explains, it’s not meant to bring back the negative stereotypes. Instead, it’s meant to accurately portray his life growing up and the way society was back then compared to how much it’s changed.
Not only has Elter struggled with past to present comparisons and at what point to address very serious issues using comedy, but he’s also struggled with how he individually fits into it all.
As a Métis man, he grew up being teased for his Indigenous roots and was called an ‘Indian’ for most of his young life, and he identified as such for the majority of his life. But things have changed.
“Just because I was bullied for being an ‘Indian’ and being ‘not Indian-enough’ because I’m mixed blood, I sort of felt that I had a right to that word,” Elter says. “But then I realized as I got older, that times are changing and I’m gonna have to change as well as the political inaccuracies and social inaccuracies change as well.”
Terms like ‘Indian,’ ‘Native,’ and ‘Indigenous’ have all held their use at various points throughout recent history, and it’s good that change and progress has happened, but Elter also finds it’s important not to forget. The past is where we can often learn the most, and it’s where we come from.
“When I originally wrote this I didn’t know anything about residential schools, or that my stepfather had gone to one and all my aunts and uncles—his brothers and sisters—had gone to one,” he says. “As I’ve been learning a lot more about my own culture, and where I come from, and figuring out who I am, and understanding my own spirituality, I felt like I needed to somehow incorporate that into the show.”
Elter’s hope is for the audience to gain some perspective to better understand not only him as a person, but others who have lived similar struggles to his; and of course, also get some good-for-the-soul belly laughs out of it.
Thu., Feb. 15 – Sun., Mar. 4 (8pm and 2pm matinee)
The Roxy on Gateway