Laura Michel: A Secwépemc Playwright, Who Takes on Many Roles - Western Canada Theatre

Laura Michel takes on many roles. She is an Adams Lake Band member from the Secwépemc Nation, a mother and stepmother to four sons, a TRU alumnus, a community-builder, and a Board member of the Kamloops Film Society. She is working on a research project with SFU regarding the traditional use of tobacco in Indigenous communities, and she is part of the Curriculum department for Chief Atahm School in Adams lake, where her children are attending the Secwepemcstin Immersion program. As an emerging playwright, Laura has worked with Chief Atahm School, the Adams River Salmon Society, the National Arts Centre, and Western Canada Theatre, writing and co-writing performance pieces for the stage. Through this work, she has found opportunities to explore mentorship connections with other recognized Indigenous artists and playwrights.

If that wasn't enough, we're very fortunate that Laura has found time to come and work with us here at WCT. Laura came on as Indigenous Engagement Coordinator in 2017, as part of the Re-Imagine Series team. She has worked with us ever since, organizing, developing and supporting community engagement activities between the theatre and local Indigenous communities. Laura has done amazing work facilitating a connection with Indigenous Elders, Community Leaders and Traditional Cultural Guides, and helps to identify the need for Traditional Cultural supports among casts, crew and anyone who works here at WCT. She assists in the creation and rollout of communications materials for communities working with WCT and the development of new works, including her own, of which she has done plenty in the past year.

We thought this would be a great opportunity to look back (and forward) on some of that work, but upon considering how to summarize these three pieces , we realized the best person to do so would be Laura, herself. Once we had her ear, we took the chance to ask a few other questions:

What excites you about the work you do with WCT, and why is it important?

"I'm excited to be able to bring innovative and energetic Indigenous theatre to the stage that shows the resiliency of First Nations people. Now, more than ever, it's important for Indigenous artists to step forward and keep strong the tradition of oral history and storytelling through art, theatre, and music. Theses stories are an integral part of the narrative of Canada as a whole."

Would you say there is a through line to your work? Where do you find inspiration?

"In my writing, I endeavour to connect a face, a soul, a person to the Indigenous and social issues that we are currently facing, as First Nations people. I feel that, not only are Indigenous people and their stories under-represented in popular media, but, also, a good majority of non-indigenous people are only being exposed to what they read in a headline or social media post. Being able to make these stories personal to an individual - to real, lived experiences - creates an environment for the growth of empathy and accountability for the truths facing First Nations communities, as a result of historical and contemporary issues."

Is there a story you haven't told yet that you really hope to dig into in the future?

"I would love to tell the story of my Sle7e, Joseph Stanley Michel. he was one of the first graduates of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. He went on to be a language activist in his community and was nationally recognized with the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his lifelong work. I also have a few other script ideas that I would love to develop after these projects are complete."

When Did I Lose You? (Created for WCT's A Broad's Way Cabaret: The Stage is Hers for International Women's Day, 2020)

"The inspiration came from a social media post regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, where First Nation women were posting a statement to their timelines. This statement read that they were Aunts and Mothers and did not lead high-risk lifestyles, etc. I started thinking, 'what if they did?,' and wanted to pose the question 'at what point does someone's life stop mattering to the general public?' I wanted to challenge the audience's perception of what makes someone 'worth the effort' of searching for, and what types of attitudes lead to them being more vulnerable in the first place."

 

Legacy & Truth (Commissioned by WCT for the National Arts Center's Transformations Project)

"For this piece, titled Legacy & Truth, the question was 'What would it take to transform our society for the betterment of all?'. I sought to answer this question by showing the intergenerational resilience of Indigenous people. All four of my Grandparents were forced to attend Residential School. I wanted to show the connection between their dedication to Secwépemc language revitalization and retention and how that now effects my own children. Their drive and passion has been a great inspiration to my life and my artistic work."

 

Echoes of the Homesick Heart

"I had attended a language conference several years ago and was asked to find a monologue or theatre piece to be performed as part of the entertainment. I wasn't able to find anything about Indigenous language and what was happening in a contemporary sense. These stories were usually focused on all of the atrocities of genocide and direct effects of colonization and although those stories are important, powerful and poignant, I did not see many plays that reflected what was happening in many communities for language reclamation and revitalization. I had witnessed in my community the people that were fighting everyday so we, as Secwepemc people, do not lose that vital piece of ourselves. So I began the journey of conducting several interviews with different generations of Secwépemc people about their connectedness or non-connectedness to Secwepemctsin, focusing heavily on those who are working towards the language innovations, retention and revitalization."

In April, WCT hosted a workshop of Echoes of the Homesick Heart, in which Laura had a chance to work with a director, designers and some local actors and crew to further develop her script and experiment with some technical elements of the production. (Spoiler Alert: The full, innovative production will appear on WCT stages in the near future). Much of Echoes of the Homesick Heart is in the style of "Verbatim Theatre," in which the dialogue that the actors speak comes directly from interview transcripts. Such is the case in this short clip from the workshop, featuring Kamloops actors Allandra Gardner and Brittney Martens. You'll also see our own Selena "Twitch" Tobin behind the camera.

You'll notice that so much of Laura's work reflects on and celebrates family and knowledge that is handed down. She wants to make sure to acknowledge her parents, Annie Williams and Tony Bell, Paul Michel and Mavis Erickson, and her grandparents, Joe and Anne Michel, and Les and Lucy Williams. Thank you, Laura, for giving so much. We hope you find some time in there to get some rest, but we also can't wait to see what you have in store next.

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