November 14, 2019

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Playwright/director's fur-trade era comedy goes beyond history books

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/12/2018 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/12/2018 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the past few years, Winnipeg playwright Frances Koncan has enjoyed a hometown advantage when she premièred two of her works at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. 

In 2016, she presented her dark comic fable Zahgidiwin/love and won the Harry Rintoul Award for best Manitoba play. The following year, she presented Riot Resist Revolt Repeat, about a young Cree woman searching for her sister, to general acclaim.

But in 2018, Koncan had to go to the Toronto fringe to première her new work, the comedy Women of the Fur Trade — a story of three 19th-century women who communicate in the idioms of 21st-century women. She acknowledges that was a scarier proposition outside her home turf.

"It was the first time I ever had a full show in Toronto, other than a reading at a festival, and I was really nervous because I didn’t have tons of friends in Toronto," she says. "I felt like in Winnipeg, you always have a community that backs you up and your friends will back you to and in Toronto I didn’t have any of that really."

Women of the Fur Trade actresses Katie German (from left), Erica Wilson and Kerri Potter with director/writer Frances Koncan (front) at Dalnavert House. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Women of the Fur Trade actresses Katie German (from left), Erica Wilson and Kerri Potter with director/writer Frances Koncan (front) at Dalnavert House. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

In fact, the show won over the Toronto crowd in the large Theatre Passe Muraille venue, and scored a couple of four-star reviews (although Koncan also perversely enjoys blurbing the two-star review that ran in Now magazine, which complained the play "sheds light neither on (Louis) Riel nor on women of either century").

"For the most part it was really well received," she says. "The audience really seemed to enjoy it. There was a lot of laughter."

Next week, Koncan finally brings the show to Winnipeg, specifically the Dalnavert Museum, under the auspices of her company Vault Projects. The location provides a certain irony given its connection to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who was, historically, something of a villain pertaining to the story of the Riel Rebellion. Koncan spoke to the Free Press at the Little Sister coffee shop in her Osborne Village neighbourhood about the show.

Free Press: So how was Women of the Fur Trade received in Toronto?

Frances Koncan: "I was actually really worried about getting people to come to the show. I was at some shows at the Toronto fringe that had five people in the audience, including me. But it was good that we always had at least 40 people in the crowd.

"There’s a lot of jokes that I wasn’t sure would land very well and a lot of really vague references and you never know if people are going to get it. But a lot of people were getting it."

"It was nice to hear from a new audience. It’s nice to see they’re open to anything and they are excited to see something new."

Women of the Fur Trade is being produced at the Dalnavert Museum, providing a certain irony given its connection to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Women of the Fur Trade is being produced at the Dalnavert Museum, providing a certain irony given its connection to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

FP: Is the version we’ll see at Dalnavert a finished play?

FK: It’s still a work-in-progress play, currently just over an hour. I’m still workshopping it to be about a 90-minute show for regional theatre consideration, something you might see at the Warehouse or PTE. That’s the end goal."

FP: What inspired the show?

FK: "The first time I had the idea for it was just after seeing Sarah Ballendon at RMTC, which I thought was a really interesting play. There were a couple of characters I thought were so intriguing and I wanted to know more about them. So I started digging into that history. I started reading a bunch of books that I’ve never read before about the fur trade.

"And it was really interesting to me that all the written records are by men, so women never have their stories told in these history books. We’re just guessing what they were doing and what they thought of things and so I thought that would be really fun to play with."

Koncan imagined what it was like for women in the fur-trade era whose stories weren't written about in history books. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Koncan imagined what it was like for women in the fur-trade era whose stories weren't written about in history books. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

FP: Why did you decide to do the show at Dalnavert?

FK: "I was interesting. I was looking at other more traditional proscenium-style theatres and Dalnavert was interesting to me because originally it was Hugh John Macdonald house — he was John A. Macdonald’s son. So with the history of the house, I thought it was hilarious because we often go after John A. Macdonald. So it’s fun to do it surrounded by all these artifacts and objects from history.

"Dalnavert is really interested in holding more events like this. They’re really committed to that. We can fit 25 people, which is not very much, but since it still being developed, I thought it would be great to have kind of a smaller crowd and get more focused feedback. I’m interested in playing with that closeness."

Women of the Fur Trade stars Katie German, Erica Wilson and Kerri Potter and is directed by Koncan.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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