The art of performance has the ability to unite people in a way that few other media can.
Whether it’s dancing, singing, or putting on a play, there is great power in being able to use one’s creative energy to connect with strangers on an emotional level.
Last month, Gord Billard retired as Arviat’s first drama teacher after 20 years in the role. While teachers come and go in the North, Billard was exceptional in his dedication to inspiring youth to achieve their full potential on the stage.
While not all students under Billard will pursue a career in the arts, the impact that creative expression has had on them is impossible to measure.
Among other things, drama and performing classes help improve communication skills, concentration and memory. It also aids in building confidence and allows youth the opportunity to explore new and exciting ways of expressing themselves.
Billard knew how important these things were, which is part of the reason he decided to stay in Arviat 18 years longer than he had originally planned.
His influence on youth extended beyond the classroom and into the community in many ways.
Although he was an anglophone working in an Intuktitut-speaking part of the world, he understood the fundamental value of producing plays in Inuktitut.
Not only did this allow the productions to connect with an older generation of Arviatmiut, whose first language is not English, it helped contribute to the preservation of language and bridged the gap between several generations of Inuit.
In addition to those benefits, the theatre productions also provided entertainment for Arviatmiut several times a year.
In an email to Kivalliq News, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main wrote that he personally came away with a better appreciation of artistic and technical initiatives within Nunavut’s schools thanks to Billard.
“Gord has shown me how beneficial they can be for those involved,” Main wrote.
Indeed, his initiatives went far beyond the classroom, and included his role in the Arviat Film Society.
Billard helped found the society with Main, Eric Anoee and Jamie Bell in 2010. The initiative even attracted the attention of the acclaimed film director Zacharias Kunuk, who travelled to Arviat several times over the years to mentor the group.
“It’s unreal that he was here to help us and teach us how to shoot,” Arviat Film Society alumnus Evano Aggark said of Kunuk’s mentorship.
Jordan Konek, who was part of Billard’s drama productions as well as the film society, has gone on to launch a career as a renowned storyteller. Meanwhile other film society graduates like Evano and his wife Nuatie Lucy Aggark have become the first ever team to host a nationally televised program produced in Arviat with the Tunnganarniq Live show.
Reflecting on Billard’s influence, Evano told Kivalliq News how much of an impact Billard has had on the community.
“He wasn’t just a teacher. His door was open to anyone who needed to talk. He was willing to help with everything and anything,” he said.
As Billard has noted, theatre production in the traditional sense of the word is not something that is part of Inuit culture. However, oral tradition and storytelling is. In recent years there has been a growing number of Inuit playwrights telling new stories through this medium.
The fact that Iqaluit is working toward building the territory’s first performing arts centre in the form of Qaggiq is proof that there is an increasing demand for Inuit-inspired performance art.
With the amount of Arviatmiut who have been introduced to the joys of the stage over the years, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the art form will continue to grow throughout the Kivalliq and the territory.