Debaj mainstage production explores communication in ‘Crossing the White Line’

Playwright Michael Mulvihill, Debajehmujig Storytellers Tabitha Peltier and Bruce Noakwegijig, Debaj administrative director Johanna Berti and Associated Medical Services Phoenix North team lead Joyce Helmer pose with the poster background for the play ‘Crossing the White Line.’ The play will be this year’s mainstage production for the Debajehmujig Storytellers. photo by Michael Erskine

MANITOWANING – Sitting down with the Debajehmujig Storytellers to discuss one of their upcoming productions is always a fascinating experience as the pen is constantly challenged to keep up with the creative flow of the conversation. The conversation around this year’s production of Michael Mulvihill’s ‘Crossing the White Line’ provides fascinating insights into the genesis onto the stage.

The concept for ‘Crossing the White Line’ came to the playwright several years ago, but like so many ideas that flow to artists, the concept lay dormant buried somewhere on the back burner of Mr. Mulvihill’s desk as a “some day” project until a chance conversation around the dinner table with a group of friends.

One of those friends was Associated Medical Services (AMS) AMS Phoenix North team lead Joyce Helmer, who along with Marion Briggs and Michelle Spadoni were to make up the team collaborating with Debaj on the ‘Crossing’ project. 

“The discussion centered on the project that Joyce was working on,” recalled Mr. Mulvihill. “I mentioned I had a story that germinated 25 years ago while I was working with the Sudbury Fringe Festival.”

It was a lightbulb moment.

“That’s what we need,” said Ms. Helmer. “I asked ‘can you go ahead and write the play?’”

Mr. Mulvihill agreed, but noted that he would need an Indigenous support and input. Enter Debaj’s Johanna Berti who agreed to help make the connection.

Soon Mr. Mulvihill found himself working with the incomparable team of Debaj artistic director Bruce Noakwegijig and Debaj alum Tabitha Peltier on a two-hander play that explores communication between divergent perspectives. Two protagonists who have very different “truths” to tell, and who in the telling, discover much more about themselves than they could ever have had they remained as solitudes.

“Working with Tabitha, I have been quite impressed by her professionalism and abilities,” said Mr. Mulvilhill. “Bruce’s artistic vision for this production has been amazing.”

Ms. Peltier brought her experience in Pochinko Clown (named for Canadian clown trainer Richard Pochinko) and her studies under the inimitable John Turner of the Manitoulin Conservatory for Creation and Performance (MCCP) (aka the Clown Farm).

Spoilers—just a bit—the storyline revolves around a lost character who is drifting aimlessly and the discoveries about his perceptions of reality that come about through interaction with Ms. Peltier’s character as she “tells her truth.”

While a deep exploration of some difficult issues, as with most Indigenous storytelling there is a leavening of humour that plays a role in the storytelling. 

As a tri-partnership collaboration between the playwright, Debajehmujig Storytellers and AMS, the Debajehmujig mainstage production seeks to build bridges and explore the value in opening up lines of communication. 

AMS itself has an interesting history that stretches back to the scary days before Canada boasted a national health care system. The not-for-profit foundation was founded by Dr. Jason Hannah in 1937 as Canada’s first physician-sponsored, not-for-profit prepaid health care organization. An Ontario-based corporation, AMS served hundreds of thousands of people who would not otherwise have qualified for membership in a prepaid health insurance plan. The health services included those of a private physician chosen by the patient, diagnostic services, hospital care including surgery, as well as maternal and child-care and home visiting.

AMS’s role as a health care provider concluded on October 1, 1969 after the province of Ontario joined the national Medicare program.

In the end, ‘Crossing the White Line’ is a play about hope—a new story about redemption, recovery and love—that is shaping up to be a great summer diversion.

‘Crossing the White Line’ will be previewing at Debajehmujig Creation Centre at 43 Queen St, Manitowaning and opening on Thursday, July 18 at 7 pm. Performances will run from Wednesday through Saturday. One Sunday matinee will be offered at The Creation Centre on Sunday, July 28 at 2 pm. Additional performances will be hosted at The Holy Cross Mission Ruins on August 2, 3 and 4 at 7 pm. 

‘Crossing the White Line’ is suitable for general family audiences, groups and travellers, but reservations are encouraged. Tickets will be available at the door with general admission seating. For reservations please call 705 859 2317.