“Children of God,” an Urban Ink company musical written and directed by Corey Payette, will be performed at Surrey Arts Centre on March 22 and 23. (submitted photo: David Cooper)

THEATRE

‘This story needed to be told’: Musical in Surrey shines light on residential-school horrors

Corey Payette says he wrote the acclaimed ‘Children of God’ from a place of ‘anger and frustration’

In describing Children of God, his acclaimed theatre production, Corey Payette says he wrote a story he and others needed to see.

The Vancouver-based playwright’s musical drama, about an Oji-Cree family whose children are taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario, offers a narrative about resilience, healing and reconciliation.

It’s heavy stuff, and it put Payette on a seven-year journey from script conception early this decade to first staging in the spring of 2017 at a theatre in Vancouver. This month, as part of a B.C. tour, the musical debuts in Surrey at the arts centre’s main stage, on March 22 and 23.

“Back in 2011 when I started writing it,” Payette told the Now-Leader, “it was from a place of anger and frustration that this history had been silenced, and that even I had little knowledge of this history.”

Brave, powerful, emotional, healing, beautiful – these are just a few of the words used to describe Children of God, and even Payette himself calls his play intense.

“The reactions to it differ,” he explained. “The response I get is that so many people needed a show like this, to see a show like this. This story needed to be told, and people need to understand the history.”

The characters, which Payette says are not based on real people, include Rita, “a mother who was never let past the school’s gate,” and her kids, Tom and Julia, “who never knew she came.”

With song, Children of God promises “a thrilling blend of ancient traditions and contemporary realities, celebrating resilience and the power of the Indigenous cultural spirit,” according to promoters of the Surrey dates.

The show’s study guide explains how Canada’s residential school system was designed to “steal” Aboriginal children from their home communities and forcibly turn them into Euro-Christian citizens of Canadian society. “As former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s famous epithet from his 2008 apology to residential school survivors goes, the residential schools were meant ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’”

Produced by Urban Ink, Children of God has a content advisory: “This play contains explicit descriptions and depictions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide, which can be distressing, traumatic, and/or triggering for members of the audience.”

At Surrey Arts Centre, emotional support workers will be on hand to provide support to audience members who may require it.

“Everywhere we go, we travel with an emotional support team,” Payette said. “These triggers can happen at any time. The show works really well when there are a lot of Indigenous people in the audience, and some of them will need those services, but others won’t. But it’s there if needed, and also for people who have had other traumas in their lives. We know that sometimes the show can become too much.”

Payette said he’s thankful that operators of Surrey Arts Centre “recognize the need for this kind of work to be shown in the community. That’s important. This is a chance for community building, a discussion about this subject, and we do have a post-show discussion about it, a 30-minute conversation about reconciliation.

“These days,” he continued, “the subject of residential schools is talked about, but when I was writing this play, the topic really wasn’t discussed. It was a great shame of our country, and I imagine that’s why people didn’t want to talk about it.”

The Surrey stagings are at 8 p.m. nightly on March 22 and 23. Tickets range in price from $29 to $49 via tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566.

The current touring cast includes Dillan Chiblow (as Tom/Tommy), Michelle St. John (Rita), Michelle Bardach (Joanna/Secretary), Sarah Carlé (Sister Bernadette), Aaron M. Wells (Wilson/Fight Captain), Cheyenne Scott (Julia), David Keeley (Father Christopher), Jacob MacInnes (Vincent) and Kaitlyn Yott (Elizabeth).

• RELATED STORIES:

Prominent puppeteer coming to Surrey with ‘Metamorphosis’ show for adults

SURREY EVENTS GUIDE for Feb. 27 and beyond



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Just Posted

South Surrey senior says violent bike crash was a ‘blessing in disguise’

Six people stopped to help Dave Rogers after he crashed his bike and broke his collarbone

Mistrial declared in Jamie Bacon murder plot trial

Bacon was on trial for counselling to commit the murder of Person X

Public hearing planned for Campbell Heights development

Project to see the removal of more than 500 trees

City of White Rock tells residents to keep distance from pier project

Residents and tourists are asked to stay at least 100 metres away from barge

White Rock students deliver donation to low-income families

Seniors, kids and more to benefit from Peace Arch Elementary students’ efforts

Police say it’s “impressive” no arrests were made after Raptors celebrations

Toronto will play the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors next

Semis catch fire at wrecker off Highway 1 in west Abbotsford

Crews called to scene at around 2 p.m., finding up to six semis that had caught fire at the wrecker

Social media giants in hot seat as politicians consider regulations in Ottawa

Committee members will also grill representatives from Facebook, Twitter

Wildfire crews watching for dangerous wind shift in High Level, Alta.

The Chuckegg Creek fire is raging out of control about three kilometres southwest of the town

UN urges Canada to take more vulnerable Mexican migrants from Central America

The request comes as the United States takes a harder line on its Mexican border

B.C. VIEWS: Money-laundering melodrama made for TV

Public inquiry staged to point fingers before 2021 election

Canadian homebuyers escaping high housing costs by moving to secondary cities

In British Columbia, exurbs have grown in the Hope Valley and Kamloops

Feds lay out proposed new rules for voice, video recorders in locomotives

Transport Canada wants to limit use of recorders to if a crew’s actions led to a crash

Most Read