The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre is showcasing the works of Indigenous playwrights to allow hidden voices to be heard.

Pimootayowin: A Festival of New Work is a space that is led by Governer General award-winning playwright, Ian Ross. The program allows people who wish to try their hand at playwriting, develop their artistic skills and enter the artistic world. The word, "Pimootayowin" means journey in Anishinaabemowin and Ross chose this word because "the creation of new art is often described as a journey, so too, our lives. In any journey, we often don’t know what lies ahead but we can emerge enriched by them."

This year, participants met online every Wednesday, from October of 2021 to May of this year. The theatre festival will be held from September 27 to October 1 at the Tom Hendry Warehouse, 140 Rupert Ave.

"We just talked about playwriting and how to build plays, how to structure them, and then everyone brought some stories to the table and started working on their own plays." says assistant program director, Katie German. "People just kept rewriting and rewriting and now we have a whole bunch of work that's going to be showcased at this, like, final wrap up."

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German and Ross have collaborated on many other projects in the past, and German is very excited that she got to work with him again. She describes him as being encouraging and legendary.

"He's a legend in storytelling and all of his plays are really awesome and he just has so much to offer story-wise that you can just get lost in, in the way that he's telling things in the end and then you get to the end and you're like, oh, that's what you're saying about that. It's really exciting to hear the way that he crafts his words and the way that positivity that he brings to every single piece that was brought up in the classes and he always sees the potential in every single thing that was brought in, it was thrilling."

This is the second year of Pimootayowin, there are still aspects being developed but German hopes that the program will continue and become an annual event. She says that this program is always looking for new playwrights, and no experience is needed. 

"The only expectation is to come and be part of a community and learn what it is, and if you have a story to tell, bring it and we'll figure out how you want to tell it."

Being given a voice

Elizabeth Denny is a freelance writer, an independent consultant and a member of the Red River Métis. She says this is her first time writing a play, which is the same for most of the other five playwrights who joined her in the program. 

"I've written in different genres, but this really interested me when I heard about it. Ian Ross, he's very well known in these parts and probably across Canada as an Indigenous playwright, but that really attracted me to the program. Then we were invited to share out new works with the Manitoba Theatre Centre as part of this so it's nice to see it come to fruition."

Denny's play is titled Blood Sisters, and it is about two women who are close, they are described as sisters, but not by blood. 

"They share a bond based on childhood trauma and coping with that trauma in not very healthy ways, but they validate each other and support each other through thick and thin. Supporting each other through struggles and trying to get healthy as most of us are. It's how you can be close and validating to each other, but also validating unhealthy parts when you love somebody unconditionally, you love all of them."

The first-time playwright says that being able to work with other Indigenous creators is an amazing privilege. She is amazed at the talent that all of them had and how everyone wrote something completely different and unique to themselves. 

She does admit that she started to doubt her talents when surrounded by the other six playwrights: Bridget Courchene, Cynthia Wolfe-Nolin, Nova Courchene, Trevor Greyeyes, and Rhonda Apetagon.

Denny also notes that it was nice to see people when the program was online due to the pandemic. 

"It was nice because then we could see people that weren't necessarily just city-based. There were people from all over the province, so that was really nice as well to be able to engage with them. For years things were always so urban-centred, and you hardly ever got to mix with people in a classroom or in this type of setting. I can't say enough good about it really. It's an amazing experience." 

Pimootayowin: A Festival of New Work offers Indigenous creators the opportunity to make the voices of those who have not always been heard, be heard. 

"The idea of emerging playwrights, new work being shared like this and given a stage, being given a home to be showcased where for so many years we weren't hearing that. When we would be reading together and hearing the voices and thinking, wow, these are phrases and these are ways of speaking, ways of interacting that not everybody has seen in the media for so many years, not to this degree."

For more information about performance times and dates, visit the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre website.