OTTAWA— The show must go on, but sometimes working through tragedy can be a very tough go. The Debajehmujig Storytellers brought their Global Savages production to the Magnetic North Festival in Ottawa concurrent with the events surrounding the ceremonies surrounding the submission of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Executive Summary in Ottawa, with two new members of the cast following the sudden departure of key cast members Josh Peltier and Jessica Wilde-Peltier.
Mr. Peltier departed on his spirit journey following a sudden illness and his spouse Ms. Wilde-Peltier is on a healing journey recovering from the loss of her soulmate.
“It was tough with the loss of Josh and Jessica,” admitted Debaj Artistic Director Joe Osawabine, “but we did awesome.” The production had recast the role of Giizhigokwe (Sky Woman) with Debaj training alumni and veteran actress Tabitha Peltier, while the role of Maudjeekawis (First Born Son) was filled by current student Jesse Wabegijig. “They had big shoes to fill for sure, but they did an amazing job.”
Ms. Peltier’s stage experience made a tremendous difference. “Tabitha really made the role her own,” said Mr. Osawabine. “Jess was very regal, while Tabitha is a little more ‘rez.’” Ms. Peltier’s earthier Sky Woman was grounded in a different way than Ms. Wilde-Peltier’s interpretation.
“Jesse is a young, up-and-comer,” said Mr. Osawabine, who noted that the part will be recast for the permanent cast. “Jesse is currently off at Native Theatre taking part in studies at the Centre for Indigenous Studies with Mariel McGill.” Ms. McGill is one of the leading lights of indigenous theatre and the driving force behind Spiderwoman Theatre.
Mr. Osawabine noted that although the gig in Ottawa was tough, “it was also healing.”
The troupe performed at the docks below the Parliament buildings. “It was right at the time of the TRC events,” he said. “So there were all these non-Native people coming down to see us and expressing their thoughts on how they had been misled in their history. They would say things like ‘I’m Christian and I’m sorry’,” he laughed.
The spirits were in play as well during one performance especially, recalled Mr. Osawabine. “They were calling for rain, so they were going to cancel the show,” he said. “We said no, we will go on.” The troupe set up under the shelter of a bridge and got underway. “Then it began to thunder like crazy,” said Mr. Osawabine. “It is so fitting since thunder plays such an important role as part of the theme of Global Savages.”
The popular Debaj production ‘Elders Gone AWOL’ was also screened at the festival.
Global Savages will be headed to the Prismatic Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on August 19-23 and the Debaj crew are being kept very busy in the meantime with a series of workshops and other events. ‘Lunch in Language,’ a traditional storytelling workshop, takes place Thursday, July 16, every Friday at 11 am the big doors at the Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre open on the Seven Minute Sideshow (the doors close at 11:07 so be on time), stiltwalking workshops are from 9 am to noon on July 19, 20, 21 and 22, traditional storytelling takes place 1 pm to 4 pm on July 27, Lunch in Language takes place again on July 29. For those who have never partaken of the phenomena that is the Global Savages, an opportunity will take place at the Holy Cross ruins in Wikwemikong on July 31. A host of opportunities for enrichment workshops also takes place through August. The fee for the workshops is $20 for one or four for $50.