Stage Door News

Toronto: Native Earth announces the line-up for the 32nd Annual Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Native Earth Performing Arts is thrilled to announce the 32nd annual Weesageechak Begins to Dance. This year’s festival invites emerging, mid-career, and established Indigenous artists from across Turtle Island and Australia to develop and showcase contemporary theatre, dance, and multi-disciplinary creations on November 13 to 23, 2019 at Aki Studio (585 Dundas St East).

The festival opens with a music performance by contemporary roots songwriter Mimi O’Bonsawin (Abenaki), who was recently won Best Pop Album at the 2019 Indigenous Music Awards. Heavily influenced by her mixed heritage, her music embodies the powerful scenery of Northern Ontario and the beauty of its waters. Following O’Bonsawin’s soulful performance is the staged reading of Sonny’s Way by Jimmy Blais (Plains Cree), who originally developed the play at The National Theatre School’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program. Inspired by acclaimed writer James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, Blais’ new play highlights the opioid crisis through the story of two brothers who try to reconnect after many years apart.

The first week of the festival features theatrical creations-in-development by artists who are new to Weesageechak. Zach Running Coyote (Nehiyaw) shares a Greyhound Vision Quest through the spirit world in a virtuosic folk musical performance of Kohkum & me. Christopher Mejaki (Ojibwe/Odawa) tells a compelling story about a young man living in poverty who turns to dealing drugs as a way of survival in You the Guy?, which was developed at Native Earth’s 2019 Mskomini Giizis Summer Residency. Coming from Oregon, USA, Ed Bourgeois (Kanien'kehá:ka/ hunka Dakota) brings a story of an Indigenous man’s quest to identify the roots of his mixed-blood heritage in River of Blood. Saskatchewan-based artist Mark Dieter (Saulteaux/Plains Cree) comes to the festival for the first time as a playwright with A Path of Ghosts and Warriors, which begins on the eve of a historical Land Claim decision which is soon shadowed by a long history of social poverty, band office politics, and cronyism.

Following the development at Paprika Festival’s Indigenous Arts Program, a group of young playwrights bring their latest work to Weesageechak. After a successful reading of S.O.S. Saving Our Sovereignty at last year’s Weesageechak, Out of Sync Collective’s Theresa Cutknife (mixed Nehiyaw/Puerto Rican Iskwew) and Jesse Wabegijig (Ojibwe) return with Kisâkihitin/Gizaagin, a non-linear narrative reimagining love within colonial spaces, highlighting the best parts of being Indigenous when the world is focused so much on trauma, hate, and the darkness of the world – “What does Indigenous Love look like in our world today?” Emerging theatre artist Cole Forrest (Ojibwe) brings an excerpt of The Heels of Our Grandfathers, a journey of Little Eagle, an Indigenous youth who takes themselves from reserve reject to full-fledged drag queen.

The week also includes a staged reading of Tapwewin – Her Inquiry, a response to the official government-established Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Under the auspice of The Crossing Theatre Company, the play is written by Maria Campbell (Cree-Métis), award-winning writer, playwright, and elder who is known for her memoir Halfbreed, a foundational piece of Indigenous literature in Canada; Yvette Nolan (Algonquin), acclaimed director, dramaturg, and former Artistic Director of Native Earth; Marilyn Poitras (Métis), Director of the Native Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan; and Cheryl Troupe (Métis), a Métis history scholar at the University of Saskatchewan.

Native Earth is honoured to have BUNK #7 by the late and great Larry Guno (Nisga’a). Set to debut as part of Native Earth’s 2005/06 season after four years of development, the play is now represented by The Raven Collective with Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) as the living writer, Marianne Brorup Weston as the director, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard as the dramaturg. Based on a true story, BUNK #7 highlights the riot at the Edmonton Residential School in 1959 when students revolted and put the building and staff on lock-down until the RCMP intervened.

The second week of the festival begins with two evenings of dynamic theatrical and multi-disciplinary workshop performances by emerging artists from the Animikiig Creators Unit. After two years of development, the Animikiig participants are offered an opportunity to showcase an extended workshop version of their work at Weesageechak. Currently in its tenth season, the program features Jenn Forgie (Métis) who weaves physicality, vocal expression, and breath in Seven Pieces, an interdisciplinary play about a woman’s story of dissociation and disconnection. Two Spirit Non-Binary artist Ty Sloane (Anishinaabe/Chinese/Greek/Irish) presents Hummingbird which begins with a weekend of celebration and searching that soon turns into a weekend of tension and unexpected endings. After a successful run of her first new play Finding Wolastoq Voice, which premiered in Toronto as part of Native Earth’s 2017/18 season and is part of the inaugural season of National Arts Centre’s Indigenous Theatre, Natalie Sappier develops a multi-disciplinary story about MAW, a two-spirited being who travels different times, entering different bodies and minds to find answers about their mixed bloodline.

Frances Koncan (Anishinaabe/Slovene) brings Women of the Fur Trade, which explores the cultural inheritance of three 19th century women as they navigate the rapidly changing world of the Canadian fur trade. This comedic theatrical piece won Best New Play at the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival and plans to premiere at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre as part of their 2019/20 season. Quelemia Sparrow (Musqueam Nation) highlights the battle at Stanley Park in Women of Papiyek, which forcibly removed the mixed race families of Papiyek and burnt their homes to the ground.

Following the Animikiig presentations, the festival features an evening of multi-disciplinary work by artists from across the world. Hailing from Australia, contemporary dancer and choreographer Jasmin Sheppard (Tagalak/Kurtjar/Irish/Chinese/Hungarian) brings her latest piece, The Complications of Lyrebirds, which uses the lyrebird as a metaphor to explore the very prerequisites of identity. The lyrebird adopts the calls of other birds to appear more attractive, but the authentic identity of the bird is no mimic – just like the external pressures thrust upon Indigenous people to prove their ‘blackness’ and adopt certain ways of talking and appearing.

Multi-disciplinary artist Dakota Alcantaro-Camacho (Matao/CHamoru/Ilokano/ European) comes from Seattle, USA, to share MALI’E | Tåno’ Uchan, an embodied meditation on ancestral lineage, responsibility, and relationship to home/birthland. Converging oral history, hip hop and capoeira, Camacho imagines the traditional Matao practice of improvisatory collective singing. A familiar face of Weesageechak, James Dallas Smith (Mohawk) returns, not as a performer, but with his first full scriptA comedic, fantastical, and historical theatre-musical, Crossroads follows two brothers who haven’t spoken in fifteen years and are thrust into a magical place that shouldn’t exist, forced to confront deities and mythical beings, their personal failings, and their own complicated history to save the world.

The festival ends with an exciting new initiative by the hit CBC podcast, The Secret Life of Canada. Co-hosted by Falen Johnson (Mohawk) and Leah-Simone Bowen, this alternative history podcast looks at our nation’s untold and under-told histories. With special guests, Johnson and Bowen present a live workshop performance featuring the terrible, hilarious, dirty, and wonderful history of this land with some pop cultural references from the early 2000’s.

For the 2019/20 season, Native Earth proudly participates in Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), a biennial initiative by the New York-based theatre company, The Arctic Cycle, which aims to foster non-partisan local and global conversations about climate change. CCTA commissions professional playwrights from all continents, several cultures, and Indigenous nations to write short climate change plays. Throughout this year’s Weesageechak festival, the audience has the chance to witness four five-minute plays by Canada-based Indigenous playwrights: Yolanda Bonnell, David Geary, Yvette Nolan, and Corey Payette.

Native Earth is honoured to partner with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre once again to bring back the 2-Spirit Cabaret, a celebration of the strength, beauty, and talent of queer and 2-Spirit Indigenous people. Sold-out for three years in a row, the fourth edition promises an electric line-up of artists showcasing music, dance, performance art, spoken word, and comedy, curated by award-winning theatre artist Michaela Washburn(Cree/English/Irish/French).

Wednesday November 13, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Music Performance by Mimi O’Bonsawin
Sonny’s Way by Jimmy Blais
Thursday November 14, 2019 @ 7:30pm
You the Guy? by Christopher Mejaki
The Heels of Our Grandfathers by Cole Forrest
River of Blood by Ed Bourgeois
Tapwewin – Her Inquiry by Maria Campbell, Yvette Nolan,
Marilyn Poitras, Cheryl Troupe

Friday November 15, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Kohkum & me by Zach Running Coyote
A Path of Ghosts and Warriors by Mark Dieter
Kisâkihitin/Gizaagin by Theresa Cutknife & Jesse Wabegijig (Out of Sync Collective)
BUNK #7 by Larry Guno, presented by The Raven Collective
Saturday November 16, 2019 @ 8:00pm | Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Curated by Michaela Washburn
Presented in partnership with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Wednesday November 20, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Seven Pieces by Jenn Forgie
Hummingbird by Ty Sloane
MAW by Natalie Sappier
Thursday November 21, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Women of the Fur Trade by Frances Koncan
Women of Papiyek by Quelemia Sparrow
Friday November 22, 2019 @ 7:30pm
The Complications of Lyrebirds by Jasmin Sheppard
MALI’E | Tåno’ Uchan by Dakota Alcantara-Camacho
Crossroads by James Dallas Smith
Saturday November 23, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Co-Hosted by Falen Johnson & Leah-Simone Bowen

View the full festival schedule at

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Single Tickets $15 (incl. HST) for festival performances at Aki Studio. Single tickets to the 2-Spirit Cabaret are on sale at

Weesageechak Festival Pass $60 (incl. HST). Discounted rate of $50 is available until October 20, 2019. The Festival Pass is valid for all festival performances at Aki Studio.

Call Aki Studio Box Office at 416-531-1402;34, or purchase online at