TSF’s Salt Baby searches for identity

By Alexander Varty at Georgia Straight

Scientists have practically traced the human genome all the way back to our unicellular ancestors, but our pesky genes are still not above playing the occasional trick. Falen Johnson, for instance, was born on the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario to parents of Mohawk and Tuscarora descent. Somewhere in the colonial past, however, European blood entered the family gene pool.

“I looked more like Shirley Temple than I did Pocahontas, I guess,” she explains with a laugh, in a telephone interview from Brantford, Ontario. “I had light, curly hair and fair skin.”

Johnson allows that, on the reserve, she was sometimes teased about her distinctive looks. A less confident person might have taken that hard, feeling that they didn’t fit in, but for the 31-year-old actor and playwright that wasn’t the case. “I know there’s this other side of me, but I’ve always just fully identified as First Nations, as Mohawk and Tuscarora,” she says. “That’s just who I am, so this idea of a split identity was never really part of the way that I felt about myself.”

The title character of Johnson’s play Salt Baby—which makes its Vancouver debut this week, as part of the Talking Stick Festival—isn’t quite so self-assured. The role, and the play, were definitely inspired by Johnson’s own experience, but both conflicts and comic elements have been exaggerated for theatrical impact.

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