‘A space of possibility’: The Péhonán Series at the Fringe

Dallas Arcand Jr. in the Fringe’s péhonán series. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The TeePee: there it stands, a striking 16-footer right in the heart of the Fringe, a tangible symbol of Indigenous presence at our summer festival of artists.

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Péhonán (Cree for gathering place, waiting place), last year’s initiative in dedicating a venue to Indigenous programming, was a grand success, says Josh Languedoc, the Fringe’s director of Indigenous Strategic Planning. For this year’s 41st annual edition of the Fringe, péhonán expands its reach outdoors, and weaves its way through the festival. It’s an eight-show series with performances on the ATB Outdoor Stage, the péhonán TeePee, the KidsFringe stage — all featuring local Treaty 6 artists.

Josh Languedoc in Rocko and Nakota: Tales From The Land. Photo supplied.

For Languedoc, an Anishinaabe playwright/ performer whose own hit Rocko and Nakota: Tales From The Land arrives back at the Fringe (Stage 16) from dates across the country, péhonán “is a space of possibility.” He thinks of it as “an incubator” for Indigenous artists, “a showcase to highlight them and let try out their ideas.”  

That’s what happened last year, in the series of one-off performances at the Roxy on Gateway (this year, the Gateway Theatre). Bear Grease, for example, a 10-actor Indigenous adaptation of the famous musical, “was an immediate sell-out, every performance,” says Languedoc. And the show has since played to sold-out houses on both sides of the border. “And now he’s taken the next step,” says Languedoc. A new solo play from its creator MC RedCloud, Evandalism, inspired by his own story — “he’s a charismatic, natural storyteller,” says Languedoc — will premiere in the upcoming Fringe Theatre season of curated productions.

Poet Naomi McIlwraith’s part in The Sash-Maker, with Rebecca Sadowski, at péhonán in 2021,  “has taken on a life of its own, too,” says Languedoc. This time the poet brings a performance of her own, The Language of Silence, a poetry collection which touches on reconciliation and is as current as the Pope’s recent visit, is at ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11∞ Aug. 19 at 9 p.m. 

The series opens Friday on the ATB Outdoor Stage with a performance by Chubby Cree, a four-member family drumming group, followed by singer-songwriter Kaeley Jade and her band. Sampler Cafe has “a drop-in jam” at the TeePee Saturday afternoon, with a concert in the evening on the ATB Outdoor Stage. 

Omisimawiw by Shyanne Duquette, Péhonán Series, Fringe 2022. Poster image supplied.

Shyanne Duqette’s Omisimawiw (Cree for elder sister), which got a staged reading at Nextfest in June, gathers an audience to hear the second draft ( River Lot Aug. 19). Her play about Indigenous identity tells the remarkable true-life story of how she met her sister for the first time — in a chance encounter on the LRT. 

The series also includes a matinee performance Aug. 20 on the Kids’ Stage by Dallas Arcand Jr., a world-champion hoop dancer and musician who has just produced a kids’ album. And the grand finale Aug. 20 is a 12-performer spectacular from Indig-Hauz of Beaver Hills, an Indigi-queer collective of 2Spirit and drag performance artists, featuring  Indigenous “kings, queens, and everything in between.”

Seelee Matreese, a member of Indigi-Hauz of Beaver Hills, Péhonán Series at the Fringe. Photo supplied.

Each Friday and Saturday of the Fringe (6 p.m.) there’s a gathering at the TeePee, with smudging, bannock, and a sharing circle. “We’ll gather,” says Languedoc, “and travel together to the (evening’s) performances. 

All péhonán performances are pay-what-you-will, with gifts welcome in lieu of financial contributions. “It’s more about an exchange between audience and artists,” as Languedoc puts it. “It’s a softening” of the Fringe free-enterprise marketplace. “No, a kind-ening.” 

More information about the péhonán series, and a full schedule: fringetheatre.ca.  “Tatawaw. Welcome. There is room.” 

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