By Shannon Boklaschuk
As the new coordinator of the wîcêhtowin Theatre Program at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), Deneh’Cho Thompson is looking forward to working with Indigenous students and theatre professionals in Saskatoon and beyond.
“It’s such an exciting opportunity,” said Thompson, who took on the role in January 2020. “It’s the only Indigenous theatre training program housed in a university in Canada.”
The wîcêhtowin Theatre Program (WTP), located in the Department of Drama in USask’s College of Arts and Science, is a 21-credit certificate program for Indigenous students. Students can take the certificate on its own or in combination with another degree.
WTP offers an intensive applied approach to training emerging Indigenous theatre artists in the areas of performance, playwriting and theatre design. In addition to his new role as WTP coordinator, Thompson will also serve as an assistant professor in the drama department.
Thompson is a Dene director, actor and playwright and a member of the Pehdzeh Ki Nation who spent his earliest childhood years living on a farm south of Edmonton, on the Louis Bull First Nation. His grandfather worked for the Louis Bull band while his grandmother taught at Maskwacis Cultural College.
When Thompson was around five years old he moved to Calgary for about 12 years. After spending some time during which he “traipsed around the world,” Thompson decided to go back to school, studying theatre performance at Simon Fraser University.
Thompson has focused on Indigenous theatre for the last decade, and was drawn to WTP because of what it offers to students.
“A program where Indigenous mentorship is built in and Indigenous knowledge systems are central to the learning was very important to me,” he said. “I thought with my young exuberance and ambitions, I might be able to help steward that along.”
Thompson is currently in his final year of a Master of Fine Arts degree in Indigenous theatre at the University of Alberta. His artistic practice focuses on new play development, Indigenous dramaturgies and Indigenous pedagogies, while centering the values of reciprocity, respect and reflexivity.
Thompson’s recent acting credits include the world premieres of Iron Peggy, by Marie Clements; REDPATCH, by Sean Oliver Harris and Reas Calvert; and Thanks for Giving, by Kevin Loring. Directing credits include Institutionalized, by Kelsey Kanatan Wavey; The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine (written by Thompson, and the winner of the 2016 Playwright Theatre Centre’s Fringe New Play Prize at the Vancouver Fringe Festival); and The Governor of the Dew by Floyd Favel.
Although Thompson is new to USask and to WTP, he already has many ideas for the program. He wants to help grow and strengthen it and to help it gain additional recognition.
“As my research suggests, there are aspects of Western theatre training that neglect an Indigenous holistic world view,” he said. “I’m trying to, with my work, kind of bridge that.”