Small but mighty local festival gives diverse and underrepresented voices a stage

The Shift Festival 12 packs a punch with its program of three short and sharp works

Writer/actor Tai Amy Grauman’s show Marie’s Letters embodies five generations of Metis women. The one-person show is part of Shift Festival 12 on in Vancouver July 11-13, 2019. Photo: Emilie Iggiotti Emilie Iggiotti / PNG

Shift Festival 12

When: July 11-13

Where: ANNEX (823 Seymour St.)

Tickets and info: $19

Actor/writer/director Tai Amy Grauman has turned to her Metis heritage for her new one-act play Marie’s Letters.

Premiering at the Shift Festival 12 on July 11-13, Marie’s Letters is the story, or rather stories, of three women in Treaty 6 — most of the central area of Saskatchewan and Alberta — in the years 1870, 1930, and present day.

They are all pregnant and they are all writing letters about the state of the world and their personal hopes and dreams for themselves and their offspring. They are also writing about survival — each woman with a different take on that topic.

“These are all very different periods for our people,” says Grauman who plays Marie, Alberta Rose and Rosemary Beauregard in the show.

Through their letters the women set the historical stage for the Metis during each of their eras. In one case, a part of the history is sadly still very much a part of the present.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but it starts in the fur trade. So, for the first woman, it was a time when our women were going missing everyday,” says Grauman, who is Haudenosaunee and grew up in Androssan, Alta. before moving to Vancouver five years ago. “The play starts with what it means to bring a Metis woman into the world and the way that daughter is going to have to be so careful for the rest of her life because of all the things that are happening around her and they are not going to change soon.”

Or change at all, as the national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women shows.

It should be noted that this Shift Festival 12 show is a spinoff of a full-length play that Grauman has been working on for well over two years. The play, You Used to Call Me Marie, is set to be workshopped in October.

In both of Grauman’s pieces, it is Marie — full name Marie Callihoo — who is the central figure and Grauman’s actual great, great, great grandmother.

Marie’s history is an anchoring one for the family and her Metis people.

She was married to Louis Callihoo, a Mohawk man who came to Alberta in the early 1800s and had the moniker of the Sun Traveller.

“He kind of brought the fur trade with him. Then Louis and Marie’s first-born son Michel Callihoo signed Treaty 6. So, that is why Marie is so important in the Metis history of the plains,” says Grauman, who is a graduate of the UBC acting program. “She was the wife and mother to two of the most important men in Albertan Metis history.”

Shift Festival 12 artistic director Coco Roberge says this year’s Shift Festival 12 once again delivers on the fierce truth-telling front. The festival runs July 11-13 in Vancouver at the ANNEX. Photo: Courtesy of Shift Festival 12 Courtesy of Shift Festival 12 / PNG

Grauman points out that in the Metis tradition women were very powerful and were decision makers something she says hasn’t made it’s way into historical writings and records.

“Of course my family is heavily archived because of who we were and because we were involved in all these large decisions. But part (of the reason) for me writing all these pieces about her is to tell her story because of course they only archive the men,” says Grauman. “There are about 15 women named after her in this large Callihoo family. So, all this is me trying to write her history.

“To me, Marie is the beginning, the generation that was the beginning of Metis. She was the beginning of what became Metis,” adds Grauman. “Also, I am trying to figure out who she was. To me, it is really important to build her life.”

For Grauman, telling Marie’s story is something she feels compelled to do, not just to preserve her family’s female history, but because she is capable to tell the story.

“I’m the first woman in my family that has been able to write these stories because of timing. I’m actually the lucky one,” says Grauman, who won the Jessie Award for Most Promising Newcomer in 2018. “I am the first woman to have the education to do what I do. That is my timing.”

Her timing is also good when it comes to landing a spot in the well-respected Shift Festival. Marie’s Letters is what you would call a perfect fit for the mandate of the now 12-year-old festival.

“We have a mission around supporting and representing the underrepresented voices, especially the voices of women and the Indigenous and the people of colour in our community,” says the festival’s artistic director Coco Roberge.

The festival, which comes with the subtitle of Fierce Truth Telling for Here, Now is made up of a three-show program.

Joining Grauman’s Marie’s Letters is ōpimātis, created and starring Kelsey Kanatan Wavey. The multidiscipline (poetry, projection and movement), Nyla Carpentier-directed story is about a complicated friendship between the last woman on earth and the last drop of water.

The third in the program is Sound Off! Developed for the festival by Claire Love Wilson and Sara Vickruck, the presentation is a mixture of sounds that are live and looped and are ultimately constructed and deconstructed into songs. Expect audience participation in this performance and to leave with a tune in your head.

Claire Love Wilson (left) and Sara Rickrack deliver the multi-disciplined show Sound Off at the Shift Festival 12 at Vancouver’s ANNEX stage July 1-13, 2019. Photo: Melissa Morton Melissa Morton / PNG

“I’m excited by the vigorous voices in our community making original work. That’s what excites me the most, especially original work by women. So I am looking at fierce truth-telling, even if a script is fictionalized, it is rooted — all the work we are doing in the festival is rooted in embodied experience, lived experience in the fierce truth,” says Roberge, who teaches theatre at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary.

“The idea is I am always looking out for the short, sharp, original show that resonates right here, right now, where we live. I’m seeking out these perhaps perspectives that may not be over-told or over-sold.”

The three-show program is held at the ANNEX in downtown Vancouver and runs around 90 minutes.

“You are going to be engaged in something provocative, passionate and interesting,” says Roberge. “Then you walk out, hopefully to the hot dry evening, and discuss it.”

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