It’s the 1950s at the National Arts Centre and audiences can expect poodle skirts, copious amounts of hair gel and diner milkshakes until Oct. 14. But this isn’t the classic production of Grease that most people know.

Instead, the production is called Bear Grease, an all-Indigenous take on the American classic, led by Crystle Lightning and Henry Cloud Andrade, an Indigenous hip-hop duo who have re-vamped and adapted the musical to be an homage to Indigenous culture and identity.

It’s an example of the growing success and creativity in the Indigenous arts and media world, these days, says Lightning.

“Simply put, representation matters. If you look, Indigenous representation makes up very little of media representation,” Lightning told Capital Current.

Initially written for a high school in Enoch Cree First Nation by Lightning and Andrade, Bear Grease gained traction when the Edmonton Fringe Festival asked them to perform. With one month of rehearsal, they staged the show.

Since then, Bear Grease has toured Canada and the United States.

Speaking to the CBC, Lightning said each production is unique, depending on the city it is performed in.

“We add to the show. We add different songs — we tailor to whatever community that we are going to. So for example, if we’re in Treaty 6 territory, in Cree territory, we’ll add some Cree words in there,” Lightning said in the interview.

In the 1950s, Indigenous people faced a lot of discrimination, and the teen livelihoods depicted in Bear Grease would not have been possible, Andrade and Lightning say, but the duo decided nonetheless to produce a show reflecting a positive environment for Indigenous people.

“I think that is pretty common, in high schools, the love story and all of that. It’s important to make it Indigenous, you know, and keep some of the songs in there but add, you know, change the words in there and maybe add some Indigenous humour in there,” Lightning said.

Bear Grease has been touring Canada and the United States. [Photo @ Kevin G Eilenberg/KGE Photography]

While the tour has stopped in Edmonton and Saskatchewan, its production in Ottawa is being hosted by the National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre department, which puts a spotlight on Indigenous works and actors by producing their plays.

Beginning in 2017, NAC’s Indigenous Theatre has partnered with theatres to have those works produced on a regional level as well as at the centre. That takes the works beyond Ottawa, with the intent of contributing to a rise in interest in Indigenous theatre throughout Canada, and works being performed more frequently.

“Since the creation of this department at the NAC, more Indigenous work has been presented across the country,” Kevin Loring, the artistic director for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre, says.

“Having that Indigenous representation I feel is very important to show our youth and our young people that it’s great to be proud of who you are, your identity and where you come from,” Dakota McGuire, who plays Patty Simcox in the production, told CBC last year.