All posts by Native Earth

James Dallas Smith: A Magical Place That Shouldn’t Exist

“I want it to be born here…I want them to laugh, learn, and be amazed.”

A familiar face at Weesageechak, we’re delighted to have multidisciplinary Anishinaabe theatre artist James Dallas Smith return to the festival for the first time as a playwright. His first full script, Crossroads follows two Indigenous brothers who haven’t spoken in ages are trapped in a magical place that shouldn’t exist and forced to confront deities, their personal failings and their own complicated history. In this world, deities come in various different forms and lead the brothers through mysterious doors.

With history at its core in a fantastical world, this new theatre-musical promises to make you laugh. Crossroads will fill the evening of Friday November 22, alongside international artists Jasmin Sheppard (Sydney, Australia) and Dakota Camacho (Seattle, USA). You don’t want to miss it!


Learn more about James Dallas Smith

James Dallas Smith in Ipperwash (Native Earth). Photo by Kaytee Dalton

What inspired you to create the piece you’re bringing to Weesageechak 32?
I was lucky enough to be included in a piece called, Ipperwash that Falen Johnson and Jessica Carmichael co-created at the Blyth Festival. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story; the way Jessica cracked it open and presented it intrigued me. So it got me thinking about mine and as a middle aged man with a family if perhaps I was ready to tell a version of it. That same fall, I returned to Weesageechak for the first time in almost twenty years and was received by artists Monique Mojica, Gordon White, and Keith Barker in a way that felt like a homecoming. This encouraged me to start creating.

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
At its heart, this is an Indigenous story and this is a festival that has supported this sort of creation for more than 35 years. I want it to be born here.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I want them to laugh, learn and be amazed a time or two. I think humour is so important in telling our stories because they’re often challenging subjects to witness.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
Seeing, reading or hearing the stories of others – in books, plays, movies – often sparks something for me.

James Dallas Smith and Michaela Washburn in Almighty Voice and His Wife (Soulpepper). Photo by Dahlia Katz

Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
Currently, I have two: Keith Barker and Jani Lauzon. Beyond being incredible, gifted artists, I am in awe of the way they conduct themselves. They spread joy, remove fear, and just make everything they touch better.

What are you craving right now?
Pizza. Usually pizza.

What is coming up next for you?
I’m performing at Soulpepper in The Almighty Voice & His Wife by Daniel David Moses, which runs until November 10th.


Friday November 22, 2019

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Natalie Sappier: Unveiling the Vocabulary of the Land

Following the successful run of her first play, Finding Wolastoq Voice, at the National Arts Centre, which was also in our 2017/18 season, Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahq comes to Toronto to present her latest theatrical creation in development, MAW. Hailing from New Brunswick, this Wolstoqiyik artist shares a story inspired by her family, community and ancestral landscapes.

Aria Evans in Finding Wolastoq Voice. Photo by Andre Reinders

MAW is a two-spirited being who travels in different times, entering different bodies and minds to find answers and understanding of community history, upbringing and the magic of land connection. “I discovered that MAW carried an entity of more then one person and carried a spirit of many. It was more than telling a story of someone who had mixed blood.”

Following her development at the Animikiig Creators Unit, Natalie will bring MAW to Memorial Hall at the UNB Art Centre in December. But before that, catch the workshop performance on November 20th at Weesageechak Begins to Dance!


Learn more about Natalie Sappier

What inspired you to create the piece?
Writing my first play, Finding Wolastoq Voice, brought much healing into my life. I discovered a new way of sharing story. I began seeing stories in everyone and everything. I became fascinated with the magic of traveling into story with imagination and intention as I journeyed on my ancestral landscapes with Indigenous eyes and spirit. The lands hold many stories. The more I connect with it, the more I understand the importance of sharing them. MAW connects us to land, people and sky. With creating stories through MAW, it keeps my spirit open to what I feel needs to be heard and remembered.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I hope the audience will see the magic that lives in our environment and in ourselves.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
On the land. In the water. Harvesting Medicine. Listening to my Wolastoqiyik Language. My Mother’s hair.

Natalie Sappier, Teachings along the River, 2013

Who is your role model and how do they inspire you?
My mother. She is my number 1 teacher. She is my number 1 storyteller. She is my number 1 healer. Many of my stories through songs, painting and writings are inspired by her. When I sit beside her I feel like I am on a canoe floating down a river so calm that you see the sky and the water becoming one.  Her guidance keeps me grounded and her love gives me perseverance.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Take care of yourself, it is your transportation.”

What are you craving right now?
Sushi

What is coming up next for you?
I am currently the Artist in Residence at the University of New Brunswick’s Arts Centre where I am focusing on creating my stories as well as I headlining the New Brunswick’s College Gala to raise funds for Indigenous Bursaries.


Wednesday November 20, 2019

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Ty Sloane: “Like all family reunions, it was a wild mess”

You may have caught a glimpse last year, and after another year of development at Animikiig Creators Unit, Ty Sloane presents his latest theatrical piece which has further bloomed and extended. 

Nick Nahwegahbow and Yolanda Bonnell in Liminal (Hummingbird), Weesageechak 32. Photo by Kaytee Dalton

Hummingbird is a compelling story on discovering the truth and complexity of Indigenous identity sparked by a family reunion and the messiness that ensues. Inspired by Ty’s own experience, the story is told through the eyes of Ethan Par who returns to his birthplace of Winnipeg where he reunites with his mom, Sharon, from Edmonton to celebrate the wedding of his godmother, Asha. On his journey to find proof of his Indigenous identity, Ethan encounters a series of events. What starts as a weekend of celebration and searching, soon becomes a weekend of tension and unexpected endings.

Check out Ty Sloane’s Hummingbird on November 20th, alongside Jenn Forgie and Natalie Sappier!


Learn more about Ty Sloane

What inspired you to create the piece?
I was motivated by my friend Daniel Carter after I experienced a weekend in Winnipeg during 2017. My mom and I were going to my godmother’s wedding and at the time I’d recently been in contact with my womb-bearer. So, I decided I wanted to meet them, especially because I’d been on my journey to finding my status as a means of claiming my identity as an Indigenous person. Like all family reunions, it was a wild mess.

How did the piece change/evolve/develop from last year’s presentation at Weesageechak?
The first tipping point was when Yolanda Bonnell mentioned how I represented Indigenous women and also how complex the story was because it was actually mine. Since then, moving away from the source into one that would still touch on complexities of queerness, identity, families, intersectionality and also showing growth has been a challenge. I think the characters have grown more; they are more alive. My biggest challenge is making the protagonist show growth and separating myself from that journey.

Cole Alvis and Brendan Chandler in Liminal (Hummingbird), Weesageechak 32. Photo by Kaytee Dalton

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
There are so many stories right now about queerness and Indigeneity. But I haven’t seen much representation of a story like mine. I want to add to these ongoing stories to talk about mixed-race identity, the lateral violence I’ve faced from Indigenous folk, and the complexities of having a white, black, and Indigenous mother(-figure) in my life and how that’s shaped me as a person. I’d like the reaction to be one of questions and conversation.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
Music like Nomvdslvnd, Jeremy Dutcher, Flume, and Khalid. Burlesque & Drag performers like Ravyn Wngz, Brad Puddin, Halal Bae, and Mx.Wolverine. Queer love stories. Theatre artists like Yolanda Bonnell, Saga Collectif, Raf Antonio, Jenn Forgie, Cole Alvis, and Kevin Matthew Wong.

Who is your role model and how do they inspire you?
A year ago I’d say someone like Leelee Davis, Naty Tremblay, and Kent Monkman. A few years ago I’d say Daniel MacIvor, Tanya Ryga, and William Esper. All my life maybe I’d say, my mom in different ways. Right now I feel the most teaching and the most inspiration from the water. That may be weird, but… I always find the most answers, the most peace, the most inspiration, the most therapy in a way from being at the water. People are too complex and human to be a role model anymore.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My mom said “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” and when worrying about other people’s decisions to just say, “whatever” in letting go.

What are you craving right now?
I’m craving Indigenous Queer Art Parties, Group Choreo in Burlesque, Theatre shows that have alarming and exciting levels of sex, intersectionality, and bodies similar to my core group, and follow-up action from people who choose to go to marches/strikes.

What is coming up next for you?
I’m part Chinese and have the immense pleasure of being part of the ‘Invisible Footprints’ series where I’m doing a photography project called ‘Fruit Basket’. It’ll be a project that highlights mixed-race East Asian and Southeast Asian folks. Too often I enter ethnic-specific spaces – like Indigenous ones – and have to erase parts of my mix in favor of the critical mass of Indigenous identity in a room. This series explores how mixed-race folk visibly show their ethnicity in their own way as an act of commentary on erasure.

I also want to continue Hummingbird. It’s a trans-national, intersectional story outside of what’s been offered to me, about identities and moms that need love and support.


Wednesday November 20, 2019

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Jenn Forgie: Disconnection and Un-Belonging

This is a story I’ve wanted to share for many years, because I wanted to bring voice to the experience of disconnection and un-belonging, starting first with the Body.

Seven Pieces is an interdisciplinary play that explores the effects of dissociation and the steps to healing one’s Self and Body, after childhood abuse and cultural erosion. Through dynamic and nuanced physicality, vocal expression and breath, Jenn Forgie tells the story of Kate and her child self Katie, guiding us through their childhood home, moments of denial of their Métis roots, the dull disconnect to their French Canadian culture, and the powerful force of religion as the shield between secrets, truth and what remains unseen.

Jenn Forgie and Lisa Nasson in Seven Pieces, Weesageechak 31. Photo by Kaytee Dalton

Developed as part of Native Earth’s Animikiig Creators UnitSeven Pieces is a revealing tale of courage, healing, and reclamation of a woman who must face her past.

(Snippet from Seven Pieces)
CHILD KATIE: I’m an Indian? 
MOTHER: We’re not Indian.
KATE: The je ne c’est quoi of shushed hushed languages
MOTHER/CHILD KATIE: Kilts and bagpipes and filthy Scots and—
KATE: The jagged lines of tight lips and severed bloodlines.
MOTHER: Before the long fade out buzz of the heat bugs in the maples

Since last festival’s short reading, the piece has bloomed further. Catch the extended version on November 20th!


Learn more about Jenn Forgie

What inspired you to create the piece?
I did not discover the “way in” to how I would tell it until I had a life changing experience with elephants in Thailand who were no longer free.

How did the piece change/evolve/develop from last year’s presentation at Weesageechak?
The story has evolved to a full, complete play; one character was revealed to be not their own character but to exist in the bodies of the two main characters. We have also been engaging in workshops, thanks to Canada Council for the Arts, exploring and developing the physical and vocal languages of the characters and integrating this with the script. I hope to continue to develop Seven Pieces this way through 2020. In addition, I am gaining clarity about the underlying theme around identity for the main character and I’ve been exploring the ways of weaving this into the script.

Cheri Maracle and Jenn Forgie in Seven Pieces, Weesageechak 31. Photo by Kaytee Dalton

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I hope to offer a glimpse of the interdisciplinary aspects of the play; I hope they see the Light of this story and have a sense of the container it is built around. I hope they have a sense of the theme around Belonging and that they relate in some way, within themselves, to their own desires for belonging and experiences of un-belonging. I hope they want to see more of this play!

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
I find it in myself first, in my own lived experience, and respecting that and in coming from a place of truth and integrity. I am also inspired by the incredible artists I am privileged to work with.

Who is your role model and how do they inspire you?
This is a tricky question for me because I don’t have one mentor I am inspired by. I have several and they influence and inspire me in such varied and unique ways. I suppose in general I am very inspired by women who find their ways home to themselves, however and whatever that means. Their strength and courage inspires me every day and they are everywhere.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Of late, the best advice I’ve been given and I’m finally allowing myself to receive is that I don’t need to work so HARD! I can trust…I can relax into the work. As an actor in my own written piece, it is encouraging to hear “you don’t need to work so hard, Jenn. The writer has given everything you need right there in the text and breath.”

What are you craving right now?
I am craving the resources, space and time to further expand the interdisciplinary elements and languages of Seven Pieces, with the artists I want to work with. I’m craving clarity about one character in particular, though I’m trying to relax and let her reveal herself to me when she’s ready.

Jenn Forgie and Lisa Nasson in Seven Pieces, Weesageechak 31. Photo by Kaytee Dalton

What is coming up next for you?
I will be launching my website in the next few months, focused on my work as a writer. Primarily, I will be diving deeper into the next phases of writing and dramaturgy of Seven Pieces. And who knows what else is coming! I can’t wait to embrace it all!


Wednesday November 20, 2019

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Frances Koncan: Weirdly and Unnecessarily about Louis Riel

Photo of Erica Wilson, Frances Koncan, Erin Meagan Schwartz by Leah Borchert for 2018 Toronto Fringe

Winnipeg-based Anishinaabe playwright Frances Koncan combines humour with satire and history to deliver a poignant insight into the Canadian fur trade. As part of Animikiig Creators Unit, she has been working with mentors Jessica Carmichael and Lindsay Lachance for the past two years to develop Women of the Fur Trade, a story about the cultural inheritance of three 19th century women as they navigate the tumultuous world of the Fur Trade. “It’s also about the power of friendship and the tragedy of bad facial hair,” says Frances.

Women of the Fur Trade is an invitation to review what historical narratives we know of this land, and recognize the Indigenous and Métis heroes and leaders, all the women and two-spirited folks who were behind the image.

The play won first place at the 2018 Toronto Fringe New Play Contest, and second place at the Winnipeg Fringe New Play Contest. And in February 2020, it will premiere at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre as part of their season. 

Catch the workshop performance of Women of the Fur Trade before its world premiere on November 21st!


Learn more about Frances Koncan

What inspired you to create the piece?
I was reading about Canadian history, especially the history of Treaty 1 territory and every story was told by men! Further, every story about the fur trade was somehow about Louis Riel, as if he was the only person who existed. I thought that was both hilarious and very annoying and wanted to write something else about it that was also as weirdly and unnecessarily about Louis Riel, yet not about him at all.

Photo of Erica Wilson, Frances Koncan, Erin Meagan Schwartz by Leah Borchert for 2018 Toronto Fringe

How did the piece change/evolve/develop from last year’s presentation at Weesageechak?
Last year the piece was a 60 minute work. Now it clocks in around 90 minutes. There are two new characters and a more linear and familiar narrative path through the story as opposed to how abstract it used to be. I think it’s sharper and smarter. I wrote the first draft in October 2017 and have changed a lot as a writer since then, which I think is evident in the script.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
Anything but boredom. I never really set out with an expectation of what I want the audience to experience beyond simply a lack of boredom. Whether that’s anger, laughter, confusion, intense hatred…anything but boredom.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
Deep inside my constant low-grade anxiety. I love generating weird ideas for absolutely no reason. Like fake Hallmark movie titles. Sometimes the ideas work and give me inspiration for a project!

Who is your role model and how do they inspire you?
Keanu Reeves. He’s a good, respectful person who works in a variety of genres. He doesn’t dismiss his less critically-acclaimed work. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s a vampire who is going to live forever. I aspire to be all of that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t do it.”

What are you craving right now?
Affection.

What is coming up next for you?
The play is premiering at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. I kind of quit doing theatre and am working as a journalist at the Winnipeg Free Press right now. But I did get roped in to directing a production of Othello this winter. I also want to have a baby with a sperm-donor, on or before January 1st 2022. Mindy Kaling did it. Why not me?


Thursday November 21, 2019

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Mark Dieter: Is money really the solution?

Hailing from Saskatchewan, the Saulteaux and Plains Cree actor and director, Mark Dieter, returns to Weesageechak for the second time as a playwright. Following RRAP, which was at Weesageechak in 2005, A Path of Ghosts and Warriors is a sequel which takes place on the same Canadian reserve.

The play is inspired by the current situation in Mark’s community, Peepeekisis First Nation, which is in its final stages of land claim negotiations with the federal court. “This play is a reflection of what I have seen and witnessed within my community in the last 30 years since we had first filed for our claim in 1986.” Exploring the effects of colliding interests, external influence and systemic change, we discover a community in the grip of reassessing its values.

Don’t miss the staged reading of Mark’s new play on Friday November 15th, alongside Zach Running Coyote and The Raven Collective representing Larry Guno.


Learn more about Mark Dieter

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
Native Earth has always been a great place to have new works developed and showcased for as long as I have known (since 1993). I have been privileged to participate in numerous festival events throughout the years as both a workshop participant and now as a playwright.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I am open to all forms of response, but I feel that laughter will be the one factor that connects everything; that laughter and the absurdities of life are important because they have been a part of our enduring legacy and our storytelling. I want the audience to look into their own communities and question whether the details of the plot are similar to their experiences. I want them to see their family, their brother, their sister, and all the people they know in their communities and ask themselves, “Is money really the solution?”

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
My community, no question.

Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
My late father was a company man. He tried to provide a service and promote business on-reserve.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“You’re going to meet a lot of people in this business. Always keep one foot on your base,” from Tantoo Cardinal, 1993. Epicure Cafe, Toronto.

What are you craving right now?
The best development and support possible to make a better and marketable script for company submissions.

What is coming up next for you?
I have two other projects in development—Loaded which is an independent feature film, and an online web series titled, Kevin Stone. The latter project just had some recent movement with an interested company in Saskatoon who are looking to fund production.


Friday November 15, 2019

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Jasmin Sheppard: No straight and easy answer.

If you family was denied its culture by the impact of colonization, what then makes you Aboriginal?

As a Tagalak and Kurtjar Aboriginal woman with Irish, Chinese and Hungarian ancestry, Jasmin Sheppard‘s newest creation, The Complications of Lyrebirdsexplores the impact of colonization and cultural suppression. Australia’s best-known native birds, lyrebirds have a superb ability to mimic the calls of other birds in order to appear more attractive. Using lyrebirds as a metaphor, Jasmin draws a parallel to the external pressures thrust upon Indigenous people to perform ‘blackness’, including adopting a certain way of talking and appearing. Her work speaks for people who are denied a voice and uncover an untold side of history.

Internationally acclaimed contemporary dancer and choreographer, Jasmin spent the last twelve years dancing for the renowned Australian company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, and earlier this year, completed a residency at the Campbelltown Arts Centre. Returning to Toronto after a riveting performance at Fall for Dance North Festival, we are delighted to have this award-winning artist at Weesageechak 32

Photo by Pati Solomon Tyrell

Don’t miss The Complications of Lyrebirds on November 22nd, alongside Seattled-based multi-disciplinary artist Dakota Camacho!


Learn more about Jasmin Sheppard

What inspired you to create the piece you’re bringing to Weesageechak 32?
As an artist who has spent the last 12 years with Australia’s premier Indigenous dance company, Bangarra Dance Theatre, I’ve been able to witness through the many people who have seen our work the expectation that is held on what makes a person a ‘true Aboriginal’.
With each of us coming from many different nations, backgrounds, family experience, it is clear that there is no straight and easy answer for us to provide white Australia. This work is a statement that says we don’t need to exemplify our Indigeneity.

Photo by Jeff Busby. Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
I have had the opportunity to work and get to know many Indigenous Canadian artists, and I believe that our experiences share a great deal of likeness. My work will be supported and received with understanding by the community there in Toronto at Native Earth.

My work is still in its seed development stage, and to expose my creative process and a work in development will contribute to a stronger work by having its progress performed and shared.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
For Indigenous audience: I hope to embed a sense of pride and self worth, despite personal histories or inter-generational trauma. For non-Indigenous audiences, I hope to shed some light on the historical experiences of First Nations Australians and create some understanding for the pressures that a lot of Indigenous people feel.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
In my cultural heritage. In the everyday simplicity that strikes me. In my body.

Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
My grandmother, Ivy, who has experienced an enormous amount of hardships and trauma, but whose beautiful, soft spirit has never bent to the harsh reality of being a fair skinned Aboriginal woman in Queensland.

Photo by Pati Solomon Tyrell

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t rely on motivation, it is fickle! Build self determination.

What are you craving right now?
Mangoes and Summer.


Friday November 22, 2019

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Zach Running Coyote: Hum my songs the whole bus ride home

In theatre, a triple-threat performer is one who can act, sing and dance…He can act, sing and dance, but he’s also an accomplished composer, lyricist, playwright and a born storyteller.” – Calgary Herald

Calgary-based Nehiyaw artist, Zach Running Coyote comes to Weesageechak for the first time with his debut work as a playwright. Kohkum & me is a virtuosic folk musical about an adopted young Indigenous man who is headed to Vancouver on a Greyhound bus in search of his birth mother. A whirlwind journey filled with biting humour and powerful songs, we discover ancestors using payphones, David Bowie as an Ice Monster and Jesus as an Indigenous Grandmother.

Kohkum & me was inspired by Zach’s own endless bus trips and the numerous people he met, including an elder who survived the residential schools and has learned to heal herself. Featuring Zach himself, the play premiered at Calgary’s Motel Theatre in August as part of his graduating project at Rosebud School of the Arts. We’re excited to see Zach take this piece to the next step at Weesageechak!


Learn more about Zach Running Coyote

What inspired you to create the piece you’re bringing to Weesageechak 32?
“I have been stripped of knowing where I come from. Lies are written in the pages of a colonizer’s ledger that threaten to determine my place. But it is my ancestor’s blood, not a white man’s ink that runs in my veins.”

Growing up in a Christian home with no connection to who I am, Kohkum & me is my autobiographical myth of how I learned to look into a mirror and recognize a child of Creator.

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
I did a project on Native Earth Performing Arts in my theatre history class, and I’ve been pretty obsessed ever since. Many of the artists I admire the most have developed work through Weesageechak, and it’s so very fulfilling to do the same!

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I hope my truth is met with listening, open hands. I hope that you learn something about yourself. I want you to hum my songs the whole bus ride home. I want to inspire the child and elder within each person, and invite the audience into a healing circle where we all, in the words of the show’s final song, “Listen to the Old Ones breathe.”

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
The hidden elders living on the streets. They are the glowing embers of a sacred fire.

Who is your role model? How do they inspire you?
Buffy Sainte Marie who said, “Take a chance on the spirit of the wind.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
To eat before going to bed. Keeps the nightmares away.

What are you craving right now?
A trip to some hot springs.

What is coming up next for you?
The Napi Project with Making Treaty 7 and Lunchbox Theatre, as playwright and performer.


Friday November 15, 2019

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Ed Bourgeois: Honouring those who continue to whisper in our ears

“In a world with increasing ties through technology, many of us remain painfully disconnected — from our homelands, our predecessors and the touchstones that ground us in a shared reality.”

Oregon-based playwright Ed Bourgeois comes to Weesageechak 32 with his latest creation, River of Blood. Set in the early 18th century, Joseph, a modern Indigenous man, confronts the true nature of his mixed ancestral heritage through his relationship with his daughter. 

We don’t always recognize or know how to relate to the trauma, the memories, the dreams and the voices that reach out to us from the past. River of Blood honours the ancestors — those who wished us love, those who sent us messages, and those who continue to whisper in our ears.

Catch the staged reading of Ed’s play on November 14th, alongside Christopher Mejaki, Cole Forrest and Maria Campbell, Yvette Nolan, Marilyn Poitras and Cheryl Troupe.


Learn more about Ed Bourgeois

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
The specific historical setting of River of Blood — New England, New France and Iroquoia in the early 18th century — represents an interweaving of cultures that is barely mentioned in US textbooks today, despite that fact that so many of us have all three roots in our family trees. The complexity and subtlety of multilingualism and diplomacy are far removed for US audiences, but I expect them to play better with Canadian audiences, whose ears are more attuned to the many shades between black and white.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I hope the audience will see themselves in the mixed people on stage, and have an understanding that those people are dealing with gifts over which they do not have control. We are made up of all the things that have flowed downriver to us.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
To be inspired is to be in spirit. The work comes from listening carefully to the spirit world and then not getting in the way with our egos.

Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
Oglala Lakota visual artist Walt Pourier. “To be inspired is to be in spirit” is his quote. Walt reminds me to work from our values.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Stop acting and just do it!”

What are you craving right now?
Quiet time to get the next three plays in my brain down on paper.

What is coming up next for you?
Coordinating the pilot Native Artist Residencies + NPN Creation Fund project: The Indigenous Road Show, devised with Indigenous artists and director in residence at Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer, Alaska. The work will premiere in Portland, Oregon next summer.


Thursday November 14, 2019

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Jimmy Blais: How do we judge the ways people take on the world?

“[It’s] a story about how we choose to see people, how we judge or not judge the way they take on the world.

In Sonny’s Blues by award-winning writer James Baldwin, two brothers who grow up under the same circumstances in Harlem, end up living entirely different lives. As one brother becomes a teacher, the other struggles with addiction, incarceration, and redemption through his musical talent. Jimmy Blais’ adaptation takes the core of this story and explores it through an Indigenous perspective.

Originally developed at The National Theatre School’s Indigenous Artists in Residence program, Sonny’s Way follows two Indigenous brothers, Jeff and Sonny who try to reconnect after life has dealt them many difficult cards. Blais’ new compelling story challenges how we perceive addicts and questions why certain ways of dealing with trauma are considered “better” than others. How do we judge the ways people take on the world — ourselves included? 

Catch Jimmy Blais’ newest creation on the opening night of Weesageechak 32!


Learn more about Jimmy Blais

What inspired you to create the piece you’re bringing to Weesageechak 32?
I saw so many similarities between the characters in James Baldwin’s beautiful short story, Sonny’s Blues and the characters in my life.

Why is Weesageechak the right place to present your work?
An opportunity to work on an Indigenous piece, alongside Indigenous artists and present it in a festival that celebrates new Indigenous works and works-in-development…uh yes, yes and yes…it’s a no brainer.

What kind of reaction or effect do you want your piece to have to the audience?
I want people to laugh when it’s funny, tear up when it’s moving, and think when it’s over.

Where do you find your inspiration for your creative work?
In the banality, the beauty, and the complexity of people.

Who is your role model? How do they inspire you?
The joker who laughs when they are alone. They carry the fire, always.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
You are not stuck in traffic.
You ARE traffic.
Know your place.

What are you craving right now?
A hammock by a lake.

What is coming up next for you?
Tomorrow.
Also, Porte Parole’s The Assembly at The Segal Centre, National Arts Centre and multiple cities in Germany.

Photos by Laurence Plouffe


Wednesday November 13, 2019

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