By Crystal St.Pierre
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Carousel Theatre for Young People in Vancouver is getting set to stage FROZEN RIVER NIKWATIN SIPIY, an award-winning play scheduled to run Sept. 28 to Oct. 16 at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.
It’s a Manitoba Theatre For Young People Production written by Carrie Costello, Michaela Washburn and Joelle Peters. The play focuses on the issues of reconciliation, environmentalism, and interconnectedness in a way that children five years of age and up will understand.
“I’m not sure what (audiences) are going to walk away with, but I hope they enjoy the storytelling. I hope they come away with questions,” said Metis-Cree director Katie German.
The story begins with two young girls, age 11, one of Scottish descent and one of Swampy-Cree. They are born under the same blood moon, but in different parts of the world.
They meet in a forest, and then their descendants meet in the present day in what is known as Manitoba.
A broken promise from the past can be righted when there is finally an openness to learn, reads the play’s description at Carousel Theatre’s website here: FROZEN RIVER nikwatin sipiy 5/8 Shows for Kids & Youth 5/8 Carousel Theatre for Young People.
“The story is about two people who find each other in the 1850s and they make a promise to find out about each other’s lives and live with each other in each respective home and then the promise is broken,” German said.
“I hope (audiences will) see the way this relationship builds and then breaks and then starts to mend again. It’s a really lovely way to start talking about what that word reconciliation means and it’s a really lovely way to start introducing these concepts, especially to young ones,” German said.
Throughout the play Krystle Pederson, who plays the Grandmother Moon, narrates the play and helps the audience travel through time and understand the relationships that are developing onstage.
“The moon is the storyteller, so she’s the one that takes care of the audience. She’s the one that brings them through gently to bear witness to the friendship that grows and then breakdowns and then starts to grow back up again,” said German.
“There’s moments where the moon helps the two people come together and connect? She has a really important part. She is kind of like the circle. She brings it from the start all the way through and then back to the start.”
Pederson, a Cree-Metis actress originally from Buffalo Narrows, Sask., auditioned for the part more than two years ago and said the experience of being part of the production has been very meaningful to her personally.
It was very important for the play to be authentic, and many language keepers were brought in to teach the cast how to properly pronounce the words and even understand the language.
“One of the things I really enjoyed about the play was all of the Cree,” she said. “You know language is important, especially as someone who didn’t have that in my life growing up. I think language is something we need to preserve always. And because our language as Cree people and as Indigenous people is leaving us, and our Elders who speak it, so it’s kind of our responsibility as the younger generation to keep that going.”
Another important aspect of the storyline for Pederson was reconciliation and showing how despite individual differences and broken relationships there needs to be respect for each other in our modern world.
“Sometimes we don’t all think the same things, but we all need to understand each other as best as we can and how friendships and promises are always very important,” she said.
Both Pederson and German are advocates of having more Indigenous faces on stages whether it be theatre, television or other media.
German, who is the owner and director of the Junior Musical Theatre Company, has also filled positions as the assistant program director of Pimootayowin Creators Circle with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and as the artistic associate with the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
When she was young, her parents were involved in the arts and so she spent a lot of time watching various plays and productions, she told Windspeaker.com. However, she could never see herself on stage as there wasn’t that representation of Indigenous actors or actresses at that time.
“I never saw Metis or Indigenous people on the stage. That just wasn’t extremely common and so I was constantly looking for me to be reflected on the stages and I didn’t see that. So I don’t want that to be a thing for other kids,” said German.
“I am Indigenous so that is something that I am really excited by and passionate about. I like amplifying Indigenous voices and Indigenous stories, so if there are ways that I can support them and get them out there, that’s something that I think is really important.”
Frozen River will travel across western Canada for the first leg of a tour, making stops at various schools and theatres along the way in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and then goes to Toronto.
Crystal St.Pierre is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter who works for Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.