This past month we’ve been excited to welcome Jessica Lea Fleming to the Native Earth team as the new Artistic Associate. We thought the Native Earth community would like to know a little bit more about Jessica, so we asked her to tell us a bit about where she’s come from, what she’s working on, and what excites her about working with Native Earth. Here is what she told us:
… it was my introduction to traditional, Indigenous practices and knowledge, and it ignited in me a profound desire to learn about my own culture and family history…
I am Métis from Penetanguishene (French and Wendat) and am happy to have had a small-town upbringing on beautiful Georgian Bay. As a teenager, I gave pioneer tours in full costume and worked as a swimming instructor at the local pool. When I was 18, I was hired to work at a Healing Lodge just outside my town, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in my development as a young person: it was my introduction to traditional, Indigenous practices and knowledge, and it ignited in me a profound desire to learn about my own culture and family history – something I’m still pursuing whole-heartedly to this day!
I studied Psychology and Drama at the University of Guelph and for a term at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. After graduating University, I lived and worked as a dance and drama teacher in Spain for several months, which made for many Sangria-induced jazz routines. When I returned to Canada, I began interning for film companies in Toronto where I was mostly called Jennifer or “the skinny girl”. Things eventually fell into place, and I was lucky enough to be hired on at GAT PR and then imagineNATIVE where I gained important skills as an arts and project manager, not to mention good friends. While working for these great companies, I began investing in my own artistic practice. I studied acting, writing and directing with some of Toronto’s greats. A few years ago, I was accepted into the Second City Conservatory Program, and reconnected with my lifelong love of writing. I began developing plays, short stories and film scripts.
While working for these great companies, I began investing in my own artistic practice. I studied acting, writing and directing with some of Toronto’s greats.
Currently I am writing my fifth play Without Icing with support from Native Earth’s Animikiig Program and dramaturg Andrea Romaldi (who I am pretty sure is an angel in disguise). I will be producing and directing my second short film this summer, Scales, and am writing a feature screenplay, Maison Métisse, with much excitement, frustration and coffee. I have to say that I am really lucky to be surrounded by supportive friends and mentors who encourage me to keep at it when all I want to do is eat chips and watch Wayne’s World.
I have always greatly admired Native Earth and its commitment to Indigenous artists. There is such a rich and important history attached to the organization. This is the company that gave life to so many important works and careers!
I recall attending the Weesageechak festivals in my first years in Toronto and experiencing a deep understanding that the work taking shape was bigger than any one storyteller. Native Earth was helping my community speak up, be heard, be brave, be strong! I felt like a lost deer who had finally found the heard!
Things came full circle for me as an artist when last year I was fortunate enough to be programmed as an emerging writer, and cast as an actor in the 27th Weesageechak Festival. The timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous as I was going through a bad patch of “I suck”, which I know is part and parcel for many creatives. Working alongside great actors, playwrights and seasoned professionals inspired me all over again and reminded me to shut down my sensitive ego and focus on the work. I got a lot of love and support and I hope that during my time at Native Earth, I can give that back and help to build something beautiful.
I got a lot of love and support and I hope that during my time at Native Earth, I can give that back and help to build something beautiful.
What excites me right now about Native Earth is our renewed interest in working with artists from all over the country, from all disciplines and backgrounds. When we talk about upcoming seasons there is energy in the room and a recognition of our distinct position to bring exceptional works to Toronto! Being part of the next phase in Indigenous theatre is equally exciting and humbling. I have joined a strong team, and I can’t wait to get cookin’! By the way, please come say Hello or Aanii or Tansi or Shé:kon so I can get to know more of the lovely people who are part of the community we call Native Earth. And I wouldn’t be terribly upset if you brought me chocolate while you’re at it.
Marsi and Hugs,