Frances Koncan: “Embrace that discomfort”

Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance 29 is an annual two-week festival that brings together new and familiar faces to celebrate the latest in Indigenous performing arts. This year, over 30 artists will come from across Canada and around the world to share their work with audiences at the festival.

We are thrilled to welcome Frances Koncan to the festival for the first time. Koncan is an Anishinaabe writer and director from Couchiching First Nation, currently based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. For her first appearance in the festival, Koncan will share with audiences a fully staged reading of zahgidiwin/love, a dark comedy about trauma, genocide, and decolonization amidst an era of Truth & Reconciliation.

“Indigenous theatre is often reduced to a very specific type of play”

“I was inspired to create this piece after attending the Indigenous Writing Program at Banff, where we had the opportunity to learn about Indigenous writing across Canada and its multifaceted forms and shapes,” says Koncan. “It made me consider how Indigenous theatre is often reduced to a very specific type of play, and I wanted to challenge that form while also exploring issues that affect me and my family, through a contemporary lens that was relatable to as many people as possible.”

Earlier versions of Koncan’s zahgidiwin/love were included in bcurrent’s rock.paper.sistahz Festival and the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, where the CBC gave the play four stars. And as Koncan continues to develop the piece, she hopes bringing the work to Native Earth’s Weesageechak festival will help her to diversify her experience as an Indigenous playwright and theatremaker.

“The innovation of [Weesageechak Begins to Dance] and the kinds of work it supports and champions are so exciting! I think the feedback and exploration the play will receive will really help take it to the next level.”

zahgidiwin/love at Winnipeg Fringe Festival | Frances Koncan

Described by one reviewer as “a really good acid trip that suggests post-apocalyptic hope is possible,” Koncan has a clear idea of the impact she wants her work to have on audiences.

“Most of all, I want to encourage people to feel safe in exploring difficult, traumatic issues through the use of humour,” she explains. “I’d like people to feel uncomfortable, but to embrace that discomfort and let it be a useful starting point to consider their assumptions and prejudices.”

Koncan will develop zahgidiwin/love in Weesageechak Begins to Dance with the support of director/dramaturg, and Anishinaabe PhD candidate at UBC, Lindsay Lachance. The two will also take part in a pre-show talk, moderated by Native Earth before zahgidiwin/love on Saturday, November 12th at 7:30 pm in Aki Studio.

Something More from Frances Koncan

What piece are you looking forward to seeing
at Weesageechak 29?
Drew Hayden Taylor’s piece!
Also Gwen Benaway and anything Yolanda Bonnell does!

What are your thoughts on addressing political topics
through Indigenous art?

What superpower would you like to have? Why?
This isn’t a superpower, but I’d like the power to not be nervous around other people, and to know exactly the right thing to say to them so that they feel good about themselves but also love me.
Is that TMI?

What are you craving right now?
I am 100% always craving tacos.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Fake it ’till you make it!” was the primary anthem of my time in New York City, where everyone suffers from imposter syndrome.
I use it when I’m feeling like a fraud, which is often.

What is your favourite pastime?
I read this as pastatime and my answer was 5PM but only if I don’t have plans later (carb hangover). My favourite pastime is probably playing piano and writing songs, or organizing revolutions.

What is your most memorable performance?
I am not an actor but have recently tried to get on stage more to overcome my fears and to better understand what performers need from me as a writer and director. I did my first Fringe Festival show as a performer this summer, which was scary but so much fun! Now I do stand-up and improv on the reg, and every show is a good memory.

Who is an Indigenous role model of yours?
How do they inspire you?

Too many! My friend and journalist Angelia Sterritt, who uncovers and shares difficult, powerful stories in her work and in her art. Lisa Meeches is a Winnipeg-based producer who is a huge supporter and advocate for Indigenous artist and provides so many opportunities for our community. Sadie Phoenix Lavoie is a bad-ass Winnipeg activist who recently got arrested at Ottawa for peaceful protest, and inspires me every day with her bravery and courage. My writing mentors at Banff (Cherie Dimaline, Waub Rice, and Diane Glancy), who gave me such a foundational introduction to Indigenous writing that re-shaped my entire perspective of what theatre could be and what I could write. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, whose “Islands of Decolonial Love” basically changed my life. Joseph Boyden, for his advice about literary hustlin’. He’s Métis… kind of a superstar, and in a culture where humility is a virtue, he reminded me that it’s cool to be a little bit of a star too.

What is coming up next for you?
I’m currently an Associate Artist with Winnipeg theatre company, Sarasvàti Productions, and am focusing on developing free theatre workshops for Indigenous and Newcomer Youth. I’m also directing a production of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow in February 2017! I’m also working on several independent projects, including a play workshop series for emerging artists.
At some point, I plan on sleeping.

You can catch France Koncan’s zahgidiwin/love on
Saturday, November 12th @ 7:30pm