I don’t remember the last time I saw a more incredible, moving, beautiful or powerful theatrical production, as that of the Children Of God Musical put on by Urban Ink Productions, in collaboration with the National Arts Centre and in association with Raven Theatre and The Cultch. And I say this having grown up in the theatre and having been fortunate enough to have attended theatrical performances around the world. That is how incredible the Children of God Musical is.
Now, I should note, that this is not a light hearted piece of theatre and it does contain mature content, but it is a story that needs to be told, and the way it is told in this piece of theatre invites you in, has you smiling and laughing at points, creates connection and understanding, is heartbreaking creating empathy, and at times makes you angry. You see, this is a story that has remained untold for far too long, of a piece of Canadian history that we wish never happened, and should never have happened, but it did, and to heal from it and move forward, we need to talk about it and we need to learn from it, to allow people to heal and so that such histories never again repeat themselves.
This is the story of the Canadian Residential Schools – the places where many Canadian First Nations children were sent to, against their will, having been taken away from their families. They were sent to these places to ‘take the Indian out of them’, to get them to forget their traditional way of life, instead being ‘assimilated into Euro-Canadian culture of the time’ in government-sponsored religious schools run by Christian churches.
I am in awe with how Writer, Composer and Director Corey Payette told this story with the support of his talented cast and crew, as it was done in an absolutely beautiful manner that invited everyone in, and at times created empathy for the antagonists within the story. Now, I know that this is what a good storyteller does, but when you think how recent this was in Canadian history with the last residential school closing in the 1990s, and how the impacts of what happened in those residential school still effect many (if not most) First Nations families in Canada, this is truly something to marvel at. And this approach was not just adopted by Corey, but by his entire cast and crew. And they succeeded in making everyone in the theatre feel welcome and a part of working together to create future solutions and healing together. This is truly a gifted group of storytellers.
In the course of the production, we learned more about First Nations culture in Canada, we learned ways of showing respect in the First Nations culture, we learned some of the First Nations language, and we learned a bit about the First Nations history and the current day impacts of that history. And all this was shared in a beautiful story about a First Nations sister (Julia) and brother (Tommy) living in a residential school, along with the story of the First Nations brother and his mother (Rita) today. The talented actors on the stage transformed themselves from children to adults in the blink of an eye, and took us between the beautiful make-believe worlds of children to the all too raw reality of adults. They had us smiling, tearing up, and grimacing. For me, they had me understanding, with a level of depth that I previously did not have. And as the whole production grew to a close, they had all of us connecting, as organically we all began singing together for Julia (and all the children of residential schools and their families), linking hands and standing together. I truly have never had a more magical and unifying experience in the theatre. We were all there together, supporting one another. And it didn’t end there. After the ‘curtain closed’, Kim Harvey returned to the stage followed by other members of the cast and crew to talk, to share, to allow the voices of the audience to be heard. It was unifying, heartbreaking, and healing; and I was in awe, starting to fully understand what the word ‘survivor’ truly meant. It is really an incredible act of resilience of spirit that these children and their families survived the genocide they experienced. I have always had a great deal of respect for Canada’s First Nations for their cultural believes, knowledge, teachings, storytelling, and approach to learning, but as my depth of understanding of what they survived has increased, thanks to this production, that respect has expanded into those new layers of understanding.
Everyone involved in the Children of God Musical deserves an enormous thank you and should be very proud of their work, as it was all so incredible from the set dec to the lighting to the music to the choreography to the costumes to the acting to the singing … Wow, just wow! I do want to say a special thank you to the actors, as I know how exhausting performing such an emotionally charged production can be. You have my respect. Herbie Barnes (Tom) and Cheyenne Scott (Julia), you captured my heart with your connection and the love you shared between one another in your performances together, and might I say, you both sing beautifully. Herbie (Tom) and Kevin Loring (Wilson), your transformations between your childhood and adult characters was done so seamlessly and powerfully. Cathy Elliot (Rita), you created so much empathy and understanding of how it was not just children that were impacted, but the layers of misunderstanding and disconnect created within the families. Kim Harvey (Joanna), Kaitlyn Yott (Elizabeth) and Aaron M Wells (Vincent), your youthful selves had me smiling and connecting, as I saw schoolmates I grew up with within your characters. Also, Kim – you did an incredible job of leading the post-show discussion and making everyone feel included and respected. Michael Torontow (Father Christopher) and Trish Lindström (Sister Bernadette), and Kevin (Wilson) and Aaron (Vincent), you all had to do things and play the part of characters that I imagine at times would have torn you up inside, but were integral to the story. Thank you for being brave enough to do that. Also thank you for your incredibly beautiful singing voice, Trish.
My hope is that the Children of God Musical will have a long run around the country and the world, as this is a theatrical production that I hope every Canadian gets the opportunity to experience, as well as other people from around the world.
If you are in Vancouver, you can catch Children of God Musical at The Cultch’s York Theatre, now until June 3rd. Between June 7th – 18th, if you are in Ottawa, you will be able to see the Children of God Musical at the National Arts Centre.
And again, thank you to the entire cast and crew for this incredibly beautiful and powerful theatrical production! Hych’ka Siem!