Dov Mickelson, Lisa Nasson and Cheri Maracle in a scene from Munschtime! at Young People’s Theatre April 17 – May 14. Photo by Ali Sultani.

By Barb Nahwegahbow

TORONTO—Toronto’s Young Peoples Theatre (YPT) wraps up its 2016-2017 season with a performance of stories by children’s writer Robert Munsch. The world premiere of Munschtime! is directed by Herbie Barnes, citizen of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation. A seasoned actor and director, Barnes has 30 years experience both on stage and on screen.

Munschtime! runs from April 17 until May 14 on the YPT Mainstage and features stories by the internationally renowned Canadian author Robert Munsch including classics like Love You Forever, Pigs, and Too Much Stuff! At the centre of the production is A Promise is a Promise which Munsch co-wrote with Michael Kusagak, a story focused on Indigenous people and based on an Inuit tale. The stories speak to all generations and remind us of the connections we all share with each other, said YPT.

Along with Barnes, several highly acclaimed and accomplished Indigenous artists are involved in the making of the show including Gemini Award-nominated actress Cheri Maracle from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and Toronto-based Lisa Nasson who studied acting at George Brown College and has numerous acting credits in her portfolio.

Michel Charbonneau, who is Mohawk and Anishinaabe, is the lighting designer. He’s designed over 100 productions and has been nominated for numerous awards for his work both in Canada and the U.S., including six nominations for Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards.

“Sage Paul, from Dene Nation who designed the costumes was a pleasure to work with,” said director Herbie Barnes.

Paul makes fashion, costume and craft and she’s exhibited her work at the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Woodland Cultural Centre.

Director Herbie Barnes has played many roles on stage and film. Some of his best-known stage roles include Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, and Norval Morrisseau in Copper Thunderbird. He’s had principal roles in films such as Dance Me Outside, Spirit Rider and Spirit Bear and his television credits include Murdoch Mysteries among others. Barnes has directed both large stage productions like The Music Man and Alice in Wonderland as well as one-man shows for Native Earth.

When Barnes was approached by YPT, he jumped at the opportunity to direct Munschtime!. He loves doing children’s theatre and Robert Munsch is a great writer who knows how to touch on children’s ideas in a fun way, he said. He enjoys working with YPT and he’s been associated with them for over 25 years.

“Working on this production has been so much fun and a lot of laughs,” Barnes said. “Every day, we’re exploring new places to go.”

Barnes describes the fun the crew has on and off the stage.

“They brought in these incredible puppets and we started playing with them. That was an amazing day!” And two days ago, the cast got to walk on the stage for the first time. There’s an incredible stage that was designed for them and they go, ‘holy smokes’. And last night, I got to see the lighting that Michel Charbonneau designed.  Every day, you start to recognize that the show is getting better and better and stronger and more unbelievable. It’s just so much fun to be playing in that playground. The cast and crew is starting to bring this show alive and I love working with all of them. All of it is coming together. I can’t wait for it to open. It’s totally like a kids’ playground.”

YPT is located at 165 Front Street East. For tickets, call: 416.862.2222 x2, and for more information, visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca.