Weesageechack Begins to Dance celebrates Indigenous theatre, on stage in Toronto
The Weesageechack Begins to Dance festival, produced by Native Earth Performing Arts is a two-week appetizer of Indigenous theatre that leaves the sensory pallet receptive and excited for the feast to come. The annual development festival is in its 30th year and celebrates emerging Indigenous talent across multiple disciplines and Nations. Opening night of Weesageechack 30 featured a workshop style reading of an excerpt from Weaving Reconciliation, a new play by Renae Morriseau, Rosemary Georgeson and Savannah Walling of Vancouver Moving Theatre.
Seeing works under development offers wonderful insight into the creators’ creative process. We learned that the team of actors reading roles in this production had taken turns reading every role during the whirlwind rehearsal schedule. They had each learned what role they would be reading at the performance that afternoon. This led to some unexpected pairing of actors to roles and used the experimental nature of a workshop performance as an advantage rather than a liability. The reading had a fresh, spontaneous, confessional quality that could not have been achieved through rehearsal.
In this production, the central role of Old One was played by a charismatic young actor, Kristopher Bowman. Old One has just been struck in a car accident. As he lays dying, he has a final conversation with past and present loved ones. The audience looks through a window into relationships exploring our link to cultural history through personal memories.
One of the most memorable scenes in the excerpt was the dialogue The Trickster (Sam Bob) and The Youth (Binaeshee-Quae Couchie-Nabigon). The Trickster’s questions are scripted and The Youth’s responses are spontaneous and truthful. It was clear during the performance that the stories told by The Youth were real and treasured.
I had the opportunity to speak with lead writer Renae Morriseau at the opening night reception that followed. She revealed that actor and elder Sam Bob had played Old One in most rehearsals, but knew that he had The Trickster inside him and urged her to give him the role. His comedic timing and body language was a superb fit to the role and I’m glad that casting for the performance went the way that it did.
Morriseau told me that Vancouver Moving Theatre productions are usually community-theatre collaborations where roles are filled by a mix of community members and professional actors. According to Morriseau, one of the advantages of workshopping the play with a cast of professional actors was the flexibility to experiment with casting with performers who can all turn on a dime and sink into the emotional life of characters who are the opposite of themselves in terms of age and gender. This lends the opportunity to explore the boundaries of each role and discover nuances to each role that would not be revealed if Old One was always played by an elder and The Youth was always played by a millennial.
I am very excited to see Weaving Reconciliation when it is back as a full production next June. The festival opener was noteworthy not only for this tantalizing preview, but because of the riveting land acknowledgement by Bob Crawford and the welcoming acts: dancer Waawaate Fobister, and singer Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone.
Native Earth board member and elder Bob Crawford is clearly also an experience storyteller. He began his land acknowledgement by making the apt observation that while land acknowledgements are often done in this day and age, they are rarely understood. He then told the highly engaging and moving story of wampum belts, how his ancestors understood agreements to share land, and what it means when we say that we are standing on the historical territory of the the Huron-Wendat, Petun, Seneca and, most recently, the Mississaugas of the New Credit Indigenous peoples.
Waawaate Fobister’s dance was visually arresting and Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone’s song sent shivers down my spine. This was a truly impressive and compelling evening, and I would spend every night of the next week at this festival if I could. I will certainly try to make it back out for Ruby Comfort, Ian Cusson’s opera in development on November 21 or the 2-Spirit Cabaret hosted by Michael Washburn at Buddies in Bad Times for some Friday night fun on November 24.