September 21, 2013


By Steve Locke

Last night, Thin Air kicked off with an event that inspired audience members with ideas that are at the very heart of the festival. At the Salle Antoine Gaborieau in the Centre culturel franco-manitobain, the festival was introduced as an occasion for isolated readers and writers to interact in a rich diversity of what director Charlene Diehl referred to as “story traffickers”. Despite representing a small sample, “Opening Night” also established the Winnipeg literary community at large in the best possible, most inclusive use of the word “us”. And the prevailing message to us (you too!) was “welcome”.

Thin Air Director, Charlene Diehl with Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb (both in the centre), and The Urban Indigenous Theare Company at "Opening Night".

The evening was a special opportunity to consider these very ideas with the deeply personal readings and discussions of The Urban IndigenousTheatre Company’s The Moving Gallery: Beyond Survival. Spearheaded by actor and playwright Columpa Bobb, and written by Bobb’s mother and celebrated storyteller, Lee Maracle, Beyond Survival was a massive, multidisciplinary and multi-generational project that could not possibly fit on the Antoine Gaborieau stage. With the full production including live painting, film clips, and 30 different performers, it was boiled down to core series of excerpts performed by 6 impassioned individuals. And at no point did anyone consider that anything was missing.

On stage, Bobb and Maracle were joined by actor Phillip Duncan and three young cast members/co-creators who navigated indigenous history in cultural and personal realms. Using the voices of residential-school survivors as a jumping off point, the narrative later manifested in a present-day urban setting, with themes of dissonance, alienation, and identity.

In fine spoken-word style, the storytellers fully utilized their range of voices to explore the “us” in great emotional detail, creating vocal harmony between elder and youth while each endured great internal dissonance. As Bobb, Maracle, and Duncan explored a history of indigenous struggle, the youth discussed personal narratives on enduring displacement and racism within modern social contexts. And despite overwhelming insecurity, inherited rage, and ever-present issues of inequality, these bold, intergenerational artists offered the hope it is possible to live free in the universal vastness of the moment. What’s more, they proved that with such courageous, competent, and truthful contemporaries, the future of indigenous culture is in good hands.

An intimate and heartfelt discussion.

Following the reading, festival Director, Charlene Diehl, engaged in a discussion with the creators about the impact of writing about such intense personal issues, and the prevailing emotional truth that attracts and compels listeners to create for themselves. Such was the case for Mary, an audience member who was herself compelled to ask for the opportunity to reciprocate the stellar storytelling with a song of her tribe. According to her grandfather, one could not exist without the other, and by the second chorus, the entire room was singing along. It was the perfect end to the evening, as therein lay the heart and soul of the festival, in the exchange of ideas, art and culture, and the enduring hope possessed by every one of us.

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