By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO—A story based on an Inuit tale, A Promise is a Promise, is one of five stories that are part of a production called Munschtime! at Toronto’s Young Peoples Theatre. Munschtime! features stories by internationally-acclaimed Canadian children’s writer, Robert Munsch and ran until May 14.
The stories are presented as bedtime stories to a young girl camped out in the backyard of her grandparents’ home. Three actors bring the stories to life as they skillfully play multiple roles on a set described by director Herbie Barnes as a playground.
Barnes, a citizen of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, has over 30 years experience both stage and screen. The chance to direct Munschtime! was too great an opportunity to pass up, he said. He enjoys doing children’s theatre, working with YPT and of course, working with Indigenous artists.
The central characters of A Promise is a Promise are a young Inuit girl and Qallupilluit, a mythical sea creature who steals young children. When Qallupilluit entered the stage, there was a collective gasp from the opening night crowd which included a high percentage of children. Menacing and beautiful in a jaw-dropping costume of fur, swinging black fringe, long fingernails and a silver crown, Qallupilluit has come to collect on a promise rashly made by a young Inuit girl. The gasp turned to giggles as Qallupilluit began to dance and play with the father of the endangered children and there’s a sense of relief as it seemed Qallupilluit had forgotten about the children.
A Promise is a Promise is based on an Inuit tale and the story was co-written by Munsch with Michael Kusagak.
The character of Qallupilluit is played to perfection by Cheri Maracle, a Gemini award-nominated actress from Six Nations of the Grand Territory. Maracle plays several roles in the production but this is where she absolutely shines. The strong sense of menace with which the character is introduced to the audience becomes overpowered by fun and joy.
Toronto-based Indigenous actress Lisa Nasson, who plays the older sister who bargains for her life, is very believable in this role as in all the other roles she plays. The father, played by Dov Mickelson, is suitably thoughtful, clever and loving as he works to outwit Qallupilluit.
Other Indigenous artists involved in the production include lighting designer Michel Charbonneau, Anishnaabe and Mohawk, whose work has been seen or heard internationally in France, Haiti, Brazil and the United States.
Sage Paul of the Dene Nation is the costume designer. Well-known for her work in designing fashion, costume and craft, Paul is also the co-founder of Setsune Indigenous Fashion Incubator, a platform to foster and present Indigenous women artists working in fashion, textiles and craft.
All of the stories in Munschtime! include a strong sense of play and there are lessons to be learned from all of them – lessons about relationships between parents and children, the importance of promises, and the benefits of giving. Recommended for ages four to eight, it will be enjoyed by everyone, no matter the age.
YPT is located at 165 Front Street East. For more information, visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.com.