Debajehmujig Storytellers knock one out of the park

Waawaatesi (Ogeequa Williston Osawabine), front, and her imaginary protector Ogichidaao (Daniel Recollet-Mejaki). photo by Kristin Pitawanakwat

MANITOWANING—A bright new star arose with the launch of Debajehmujig Storytellers latest collaboration with Manifesto Poetico, ‘If I listened…’ (‘Jiishpin Bizindimaa…’), which premiered on July 27. While the entire production was outstanding, the incredible performance of nine-year-old Ogeequa Williston Osawabine presages great things to come—it is well worth catching the production just to watch this amazing young kwe in her leading role.

It isn’t too surprising that Ogeequa is a consummate performer at such a young age, being the daughter of Debaj stage manager (and knowledge keeper) Sunny Osawabine, she grew up in the embrace of the theatre company.

The production was directed and written by the Manifesto Poetico co-direction team of Carlos Garcia Estevez and Paige Allerton, but as actor Samantha Lynn Brennan explained, the company themselves contributed the dialogue, making the production quite organic. “We don’t have a script,” shared Ms. Brennan following the opening show. Ms. Brennan, for her part, provided a wonderfully villainous portrayal of an alternately bored and disengaged yet fanatically zealous children’s services worker as seen through a child’s lens.

Mr. Estevez commented that working with a very young lead actor was sometimes challenging. “There is a lot of energy there, sometimes too much,” smiled the director. But he added that it was wonderful and, harnessed onstage as it was during the opening, that energy translated into pure magic.

Speaking of magic, sometime magician Ashley Manitowabi was his usual brilliant self, filling in a host of roles through the production with chameleon-like finesse.

A host of actors in the production provided background action, moving in the background, disappearing with skill as the main action takes place downstage.

Daniel Recollet-Mejaki, Ogichidaao (protector), was the perfect imaginary friend/foil for Ogeequa and the chemistry between the pair was electric. Tyler Pangowish played her heroic uncle to perfection.

Musician Marsha Coffey took a small turn onstage, but her musical accompaniment to the production was another full-fledged contributor to the magic that was taking place onstage. Her versatility with keyboard and drum is outstanding.

In an interesting facet to this multi-surfaced production is the work of artist Courtnee Osawabine, an exhibition of her work is concurrent with the play. Ms. Osawabine’s work is created during the performance and pieces are added to the exhibition after each session. Ms. Osawabine’s work follows the production through a childhood lens which is “the journey of a nine-year-old girl named Waawaatesi, after the crossing of her Nookomis to the spirit world.”

Told in the voice of her older self, Waawaatesi recounts the heroic efforts of her 17-year-old Uncle Finn to find her, as well as the story of the fantastical landscapes she passes through with her best friend and heart, Ogichidaa, who appears and disappears with the vivacity of her imagination….”

Enough spoilers… the production is amazing and delivered with all of the incredible talent of the Debajehmujig crew pent up throughout the pandemic and well worth seeing.

Contributing artists for ‘If I Listened…’ include Tyler Pangowish, Daniel Recollet-Mejaki, Aaron Courtorielle, Ashley Manitowabi, Samantha Lynn Brennan, David McDonald, Marsha Coffey, Ogeequa Williston Osawabine.

Shows continue on August 3, 4 ,5 and 6, starting at 7 pm at the Larry E. Lewis Creation Centre, 43 Queen Street, Manitowning. Admission is $20 for adults and $12 for elders, students and children under 7. Call 705-859-1820 to reserve tickets.