Trailblazers 2019: Theatre artist Corey Payette breaks new ground for Indigenous storytelling

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      When Corey Payette set out in 2010 to write an ambitious musical called Children of God, he was driven by the fact that nothing like it had existed before.

      Residential schools were rarely talked about in the classroom, in the community, or even in his own mixed Oji-Cree and French-Canadian family, let alone on stages. So when his song-filled story of one family’s experience debuted at the Cultch in 2017, it broke new ground.

      Why use the musical form for such a dark subject?

      “How I understand musicals to work best is they express emotions that are beyond words, so when characters can no longer speak, they sing,” he told us when the work premiered.

      Children of God has gone on to tour the country, as the writer, director, composer, and lyricist has watched the awakening of a country to reconciliation.

      In the ensuing time, he’s also cowritten a critically acclaimed follow-up, Les Filles du Roi, with Julie McIsaac, about the relationship between French settlers and Mohawks. And in December at Caravan Farm Theatre, he debuted Sedna, created with Reneltta Arluk and Marshall McMahen, about a pipeline on Indigenous Arctic land.

      Meanwhile, Payette is steering his Vancouver company, Urban Ink Productions, and helped found Raven Theatre—both focused on boosting Indigenous theatre.

      “There is more Indigenous work happening, more voices, more perspectives coming out,” he told the Straight earlier this year during the Talking Stick Festival. “The biggest thing that inspires me about the cast for Children of God is these are our next leaders. I know in 10 or 15 years they will take up roles in artistic leadership and they’ll be the game changers.”

      This fall, Payette takes on another trailblazing project: kicking off the Cultch’s 2019-20 season by curating a new multidisciplinary festival with executive director Heather Redfern.

      The Raven Transforming Cabaret Festival happens from October 2 to 12 and will span dance, music, comedy, burlesque, and theatre, with Indigenous, local, and international work.