Indigenous theatre show explores identity through characters and cast

13 September 2023 / by Owen Thompson

The upcoming theatre production Canoe is exploring Indigenous identity and culture on and off the stage.

Canoe is a two act musical theatre show which premieres on Sept. 12; it has a cast and crew of Indigenous people. The show is about twin Indigenous sisters travelling through Northern Ontario as they discover their identities and their past. The show deals with heavy topics such as self-harm and the legacy of residential schools.

Spy Dénommé-Welch, University of Western’s Canada Research Chair in Indigenous arts, knowledge systems and education, is the mind behind the show. They wrote the script by themself and the music with Catherine Magowan.

As the premier looms closer, the cast and crew are hard at work rehearsing. Kristine Dandavino, an Indigenous musician and vocal coach, plays Constance, one of the deuteragonists in the story.

“I have never done what I call ‘straight theater,’ meaning just regular lines. Canoe does explore a bit of that perspective of a regular theater approach, even though we are singing. In a way I know I was selected because I have diverse approach,” says Dandavino.

Dandavino originally was not interested in auditioning for the production. She says that she was sent the call over ten times before seeing it as “a sign.” The show while containing singing has a lot of spoken lines which she has been exploring with this production.

As a vocal coach, Dandavino says that she was able to use experiences as one to help herself during the singing portions. She says that she used techniques she uses with her students to find the right vocals for each song.

“’I’m kind of coaching myself. I caught myself at some point. And the directors were looking at me like and I said, ‘I’m overreacting here, I’m just doing too much.’ They were like, ‘yeah, you’re killing yourself, we don’t know why you’re doing this.’ So I’m being my own vocal coach and practising what I teach in my own studio,” says Dandavino.

Rehearsals have been going on for over a month so they are prepared for the day of the premier. For Dandavino this is the first time she has worked with more than one Indigenous artist. She says that working on Canoe has been a healing experience and a way for her to connect with her culture. She says that with the high number of Indigenous people working there was a sense of safety and understanding between everyone.

“I’ll be very honest, at the beginning of my career, I never said I was indigenous. I didn’t feel safe saying that. And I kept that part of my heritage very to myself,” says Dandavino. “There are a lot of triggers in this show. We were able to just say we need a moment, we need five minutes or ten minutes or right now we just need a break, it is too much. It’s important, and that process has to happen for the healing to happen. For the stories to be shared and experienced. It’s not just shared but experienced with every one.”

Canoe will be playing from September 12-16 at Trinity St. Paul’s 427 Bloor St. W.

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