Indigenous stories on stage

The Winnipeg Foundation

Nanabush and the Drum
Artwork by Cash Akoza, commissioned by and courtesy of Cercle Molière.

Cercle Molière’s production of Nanabozho et le tambour / Nanabush and the Drum broke new ground in several ways for the local French-language theatre company: it was the first play that was bilingual in English and French, the first collaboration with Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, and the first performance at Westminster United Church.

“We’re really hoping the way the playwright signed the piece [was] so people who either only speak French or only speak English [were] able to understand and comprehend the full piece,” says Artistic and General Director Geneviève Pelletier.

Nanabush and the Drum was authored by local playwright Rhéal Cenerini with music by internationally-renowned composer Michael Oesterle. Ms. Pelletier describes it as “a love story for all ages,” a storytelling-focused piece interspersed with music.

The play, which ran June 7 and 8, was a collaborative effort from the beginning, when the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra approached Cercle Molière with the idea to work together three years ago. A grant from The Winnipeg Foundation helped fund workshops that led to creation of the text and its adaptation to music.

For Ms. Pelletier, who is of Métis descent, the production of Nanabush and the Drum represented an opportunity to explore Francophone Métis identity and culture.

“Francophone Métis have been sort of amalgamated with the Francophone community and there’s a re-appropriation of who we are within that framework, I feel, that is coming forth now,” says Ms. Pelletier. “In exploring who we are, I think the idea is to go back to our roots and try and figure out where we come from because we’ve lost a bit of that and we’ve lost a bit of the teachings.”

Collaborators from the Indigenous community also contributed to writing the play and an Elder followed the project. Ms. Pelletier noted these partnerships have been enriching both for her and for the theatre in general.

“It just feels like a natural fit,” says Ms. Pelletier. “It feels like we have this long history of working together and I think that’s just something that goes in the movement of what’s going on right now today.”