All the world’s a stage for Indigenous stories

Pandemic forces Sarasvàti to take its collaborative production outside

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced theatres to go dark for the rest of 2020, but for Sarasvàti Productions, the show must go on — even if that means performing in a park.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/08/2020 (825 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have forced theatres to go dark for the rest of 2020, but for Sarasvàti Productions, the show must go on — even if that means performing in a park.

The theatre company is bringing a new play, Songide’ewin (which means “courage” in Anishinaabemowin), to the outdoor environment of Whittier Park in St. Boniface from tonight to Thursday.

Theatre preview

Songide’ewin

● Whittier Park, 836 Rue St. Joseph

● Today to Thursday, 7 p.m.

● Tickets $20, online tickets pay-what-you-can; available at Sarasvati.ca or 204-586-2236

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Songide’ewin’s ensemble cast (from left) Jessica McGlynn, Josh Ranville, Braiden Houle, Aqqalu Meekis and Sara Demers rehearse a hip-hop scene at Théâtre Cercle Molière.

The park — which is home to the annual Festival du Voyageur and the site of historic Fort Gilbraltar — has been a gathering place for centuries, so it seems fitting that a play inspired by the stories of Indigenous youth on the theme of reconciliation would mark one of the early returns of theatre gatherings since March.

Director Tracey Nepinak worked with an ensemble cast of five Indigenous and Métis actors — Sara Demers, Braiden Houle, Jessica McGlynn, Aqqalu Meekis and Josh Ranville — on the production, which emerged from a partnership among seven local organizations, Sarasvàti Productions and guest artists, with the intention of offering safe and supportive creative spaces for Indigenous youth.

Through workshops that examined the concept of reconciliation, more than 70 young people shared their stories about what it means to them.

“My school was one of the youth organizations Sarasvàti approached to be involved with this very important project,” says Jo MacDonald, 57, who co-wrote the show with Darla Contois. “I initially was the liaison for the school and supported the students who created some of the work being presented.”

For McGlynn, a recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg, performing in Songide’ewin is a dream come true. She had wanted to work with actor-director Nepinak since seeing her perform in Ian Ross’s play The Third Colour at Prairie Theatre Exchange last fall.

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“I was crying at the end of it,” says the 25-year-old, who plays multiple roles in the show. “I called my mom and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ “

For McGlynn and the rest of the cast, rehearsing for the play — which will be performed under a tent in the park, as well as being livestreamed for audiences at home — has been anything but business as usual.

“It’s been really interesting and very different than what a lot of us are used to,” she says. “We’re in masks unless we’re further than six feet apart from each other and feel comfortable.”

“We have a health and safety officer who is there to sanitize high-traffic spaces and give us a tap on the hand if we’re too close without masks.”

“It’s a little different, but we kind of forget it,” adds francophone actor Demers. “We’re having lots of fun.”

The 34-year-old actor travelled all the way from Quebec just to take part in the production — and landed a day of shooting on the series Edgar, currently filming in Winnipeg, along the way.

Both Demers and McGlynn agree this is a timely story that needs to be told now.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Josh Ranville rehearses a scene in the play Songidewin at the Théâtre Cercle Molière.

“We have a lot of discussion about what reconciliation is for us and how we can integrate our personal stories into the show,” says Demers. “There’s a really beautiful and powerful message of reconciliation and how we can get together to help each other to change the world.”

“The biggest thing I want audiences to take away from the show is learning to listen to the youth voices,” McGlynnis says. “Adults need to… understand that they have opinions, they have solutions, they have answers to all these questions adults are struggling with.”

Author MacDonald agrees with the actors, stressing the importance of turning to Indigenous young people for solutions to how reconciliation can continue to move forward.

“Our children are gifts to a community,” she says. “If we listen they can teach us many things.

“I hope the audience will connect with our youths’ vision, their truth, but most of all their hope regarding reconciliation, so we can move forward in a good way.”

Live performances take place at Whittier Park. Online performances are Pay-What-You-Can; the link will be emailed after ticket purchase.

Frances.Koncan@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FrancesKoncan

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Frances Koncan

Frances Koncan
Arts reporter

Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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