Storyteller Renae Morriseau returns home to direct new theatre production

Renae Morriseau has been a storyteller on the screen, on the stage and through music for decades but this month marks a homecoming for her.

Morriseau is directing The Secret to Good Tea which is set to begin its run at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre later this week.

It’s the first time Morriseau has directed a production in Treaty 1 territory. The play, itself is also a first for the writer and journalist Rosanna Deerchild.

The play is about a mother who is a residential school survivor and her journalist daughter who wants her mom to share her story so the world will know what happened.

Morriseau says she’s excited to have the opportunity to shape Deerchild’s words for the stage.

“I think when we’re talking about our experiences with residential school, with our displacement from our lands and waters, when we’re talking about those colonial forces that have had to navigate, I think what is beautiful about the Secrets to Good Tea is Rosanna Deerchild has really taken a personal story of her own lived experience and is sharing it for Canadians to see,” says Morriseau on the latest edition of Face to Face.

“And I think what is so beautiful about this story when we talk about the traumas that we’ve experienced. There is always hope.”

Morriseau feels part of her job as director is to create a safe space for all of the actors as they too are bringing their own lived experiences into the characters they are embodying.

“I think for First Nations and for our people, we’ve been reconciling for a long time, within our own families, within our own communities, within our ways of dealing with systems that are health, education and law. We’ve been reconciling for a long time,” says Morriseau.

“In a sense, Canada and Canadians are understanding that in a different way that we have been because. I think for theatre and for art, we’re sort of on the pulse of pushing the envelope forward in getting Canadians and our own communities, to affirm in our own communities but for Canadians to see where we’re wanting to go and what our future holds.”

Morriseau, who many will recognize for her role as Ellen Kenidi on North of 60, jokes that she still looks at job boards and wonders what she’ll be when she grows up. After more than three decades in the arts, she’s coming to terms with the fact that she is an artist.

Aside from acting in television and film, she is also the founding member of the women’s hand-drumming group, M’Girl.

But for Morriseau, theatre “is the closest relative to our oral traditional storytelling.”

“I think that the fact that we get to tell our stories in a variety of genres is not only a form of restitution and healing but it’s our form of reconciling with our past as Indigenous people within the Canadian system and I think that art allows that to be present,” says Morriseau.

After more than 30 years of storytelling and navigating systems that haven’t always included space of Indigenous stories, Morriseau hopes the groundwork has been laid for the next generation of storytellers to not have to fight the same fight to be seen and heard.

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