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‘It helps empower you to have a voice’: USask alumna touts benefits of theatre training, Department of Drama's wîcêhtowin program
From left: Aaron Marie Nepoose, Wanita Singing Bird and Cory Dallas Standing star in Luff Actually: A Rez Christmas Story. (Photo: Britainy Zapshalla)
By Shannon Boklaschuk
The passion for theatre is evident in Wanita Singing Bird’s voice when she talks about her time as a drama student at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).
“I always sing the praises of drama,” said Singing Bird, a mother of five children.
“I’ve tried to convince a lot of youth (to) try theatre,” she added. “Theatre is awesome. Theatre is a wonderful experience. I totally believe in theatre and how it just takes these shy little people and just helps them bloom and blossom.”
Singing Bird’s youngest child, a 13-year-old daughter, is now interested in theatre. That pleases Singing Bird, who is set to star this month in Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre’s upcoming production of Luff Actually: A Rez Christmas Story.
Written and directed by Curtis Peeteetuce, Luff Actually also stars Aaron Marie Nepoose, Krystle Pederson and Cory Dallas Standing.
The cast and crew are now gearing up for the show’s Saskatoon run at the Broadway Theatre from Dec. 10 – 15. Before that, however, Luff Actually will hit the road for performances outside of the city, in communities including Atahkakoop Cree Nation, La Ronge and Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation.
Luff Actually is the sixth installment of 10 in Peeteetuce’s popular Rez Christmas series and features the well-known kohkom characters of Clare, Zula and Sihkos.
“It’s a wonderful show,” said Singing Bird.
While Singing Bird has worked with Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre previously, it is her first time starring in a Rez Christmas production. She’s finding acting in a comedy “to be a lot different than doing just straight drama.”
“I’m having an excellent time—lots of laughs,” she said.
Singing Bird earned her Certificate in Aboriginal Theatre in 2017 while also studying sociology in USask’s College of Arts and Science. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology a year later, in 2018. A member of the first wîcêhtowin Theatre Program graduating class, Singing Bird was named one of seven deserving students to receive a 2018 Indigenous Student Achievement Award in the area of academic excellence.
Singing Bird said her time in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Drama enabled her to connect with other theatre artists in Saskatoon and throughout the province. In Cree, wîcêhtowin means “we are inclusive; we help each other.” The two-year program was developed as the first of its kind at a Canadian university.
“I feel like I have a theatre family now,” Singing Bird said.
“I feel really, really blessed to be part of the first graduating class of the wîcêhtowin program,” she added.
Singing Bird said her theatre training complements her sociology degree, and she will use the knowledge and skills she developed through both programs when she soon starts a new job at the Saskatchewan Health Authority as a consultant and facilitator.
“I would totally recommend theatre to anybody—even just a few theatre classes for whatever career they’re going into, because I find it very beneficial,” she said. “It just covers a lot; it’s like play therapy. It helps you discover yourself, and it helps empower you to have a voice.”
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