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Young actors deliver another humour-filled performance
Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company (SNTC) performed their annual "Rez Sisters" Christmas Play this year, a revamped version of a play from the beginning of what has become an annual tradition for many.
"A Rez Christmas Carol" features a Scrooge-like band finance manager who has married into the Kiweetinook reserve. The miserly Purdy (played by multi-talented actress Krystle Pederson) is withholding Christmas cheques until spirits from the four directions show her what Christmas and love is really about, and help her find compassion for others, while addressing her own pain.
The 10 characters are performed by only 5 actors Pederson's "Purdy" is the only role which doesn't double up, while SNTC veteran Jennifer Bishop plays two additional characters besides Zula, the Kohkum who loves Tom Jones.
The other two Kohkums, Seegoose and Clare, follow the tradition of being played convincingly and enthusiastically by cross-dressing men.
"Cross-dressing is the fun part," noted Waylon Machiskinic when asked if it was a challenge. A talented actor and aspiring rapper, Machiskinic played Kohkum Seegoose as well as the hiphop West Spirit. "Rapping is a favourite part for me, too."
And it was an audience highlight as well; over the course of the one hour adaptation of Dicken's classic, there were plenty of laughs, a few surprises, a song or two, observations and traditional teachings in English and Cree, and even a bit of eye-wiping at some of the moving dialogue and events.
"It plays a little different for every audience," noted Bishop, adding that humour is found in different spots - some of the urban audiences might miss some of the jokes in Cree, for example. "But we always get such a great response."
"It's a good time you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll throw your knickers on-stage," joked Machiskinic, holding up one of the Kohkum's spare pairs.
This year their two week road-trip tour of the play took them to ten different locations, including Buffalo Narrows, Paul Lake, North Battleford, and Duck Lake.
"We load up a 15 passenger van with everything, and away we go," Bishop explained. Audience response is always enthusiastic, though the road trip runs on the bare minimum.
Each actor does costuming and props, plus hauling set, lighting, and sound equipment. "And they love it this is our 9th year, and it's a favourite of the Christmas season every year we're already booking for next December."
Lance Larocque, who plays Stan as well as the comic South Spirit, says like many of the other actors he first got involved in theatre through SNTC's Circle of Voices program, which he highly recommends.
"It's not like other programs it's very hands on, learning through experience," said Larocque, adding it was the best way to learn later sharing with a young fan that it wasn't so much about acting as becoming someone else for a time. "If you're into it, you learn lots, fast."
Pederson echoed his comments, noting ages in Circle of Voices range from 16 to 32 anyone who's not in school and can dedicate 8 months to extensive life-learning through theatre.
"The program covers all aspects - producing, writing, acting, technical, directing there's no other school where
you're putting your hands on all the equipment so quickly," Pederson said, adding she'd heard from drama students elsewhere it takes at least 2 years before students are allowed hands-on access to the areas SNTC starts with.
Aaron Shingoose, who plays the third Kohkum, Clare, as well as the East Spirit, said that with SNTC, cultural teachings are front and centre, and connections are made with the past which make the theatre experience a very grounding one with a strong base for both participants and audience.
Curtis Peeteetuce, the playwright, is also a Circle of Voices alumni who acts, writes, directs, and is a musician. In his program message he said SNTC will soon celebrate 10 years, then he thanked the five actors, new stage manager Sheena Sanderson, set and costume designers Mark Eriksson and Jeff Chief, and the two assistant dramaturgists Rob Roy (director) and Kennetch Charlette (lighting designer).
But most of all he sends thanks and "nanaskimon" to audience members who have made the Kohkums of Kiweetinook Christmas plays an annual tradition. As one young audience member was overheard saying, "It just doesn't feel like Christmas until it's been a Rez Christmas."
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