'Mno Bimaadiziwin' (The Good Life) with Barrie, Ontario's Theatre By the Bay

Theatre By the Bay

Studio House Photography

Joe Szekeres



Normally I’m not one immediately to stand for an ovation after a live performance unless I have been truly moved by what I’ve just seen.

Even though we were on our feet for the remarkable final scene of ‘Mno Bimmaadiziwn’ now onstage at the Orillia Opera House (I won’t disclose why), I made sure this select ensemble company of artists was immediately acknowledged for the highly moving production I had just witnessed by remaining standing and offering the applause they most certainly deserved and earned.

According to the Programme Notes, Theatre by the Bay Artistic Director Iain Moggach asked playwright Ziigwen Mixemong what kind of show would it be if she were offered something by the company? She replied that she had a desire to write a show about healing, one that opened the rest of our community’s eyes to the world and experiences that she knows. These last eighteen months have ashamedly kicked me to become consciously aware of the struggles of our Indigenous people especially considering what has occurred historically at Canada’s residential school system.

At the talkback following the show, Mixemong kindly spoke of the fact that if all of us can begin our journey to understand our Indigenous family members just by listening to and hearing the story we were about to see, then that is an important first step for all of us to take.

Her request was personally met from me with many emotions and feelings of shame, acceptance, nobility, pride, and honour. Ziigwen wanted to tell the story of people whom she knows and “to give audiences a chance to interact with real Indigenous people, all while trying to demonstrate the collective trauma and the resiliency that helps us rise above it.” And we do see real people here as this strong ensemble cast naturally and convincingly reveal so many destructive social issues of suicide, drug abuse, illegitimate pregnancy, and unfair treatment of LGBTQAI members within our Indigenous peoples.

I certainly hope this striking production set in Orillia might tour the province sometime soon because it is one which I believe must be seen by many of us (and our young people) as we continue to move forward with Truth and Reconciliation of our Canadian Indigenous brothers and sisters.

We must use the QR scanner to access the online programme. I understand why this is done for Covid protocols of health and safety, and for the fact it also cuts down on paper consumption. My only thought is for those who do not have a phone with a QR code scanner. Might it be possible to have some print programmes available for these patrons? In any case, the programme contains important information about the production which I strongly advise audiences to read before hand.

‘Mno Bimaadiziwin’ explores briefly the lives of characters as they prepare for a sweat lodge ceremony. I’m going to be honest and say I had no idea what it was and I’m pleased to have learned it here. A Sweat is a spiritual undertaking that allows participants to speak directly with the Spirit Realm, giving thanks and petitioning for help and support. As a practicing Catholic, I made a connection of the Indigenous sweat ceremony to the sacrifice of the mass in which we too give thanks and also petition for help and support.
There is so much to admire in this production. For example, the soundscape at the top of the show most certainly piqued my curiosity and interest. At one point there is the sound of a beating heart and I thought I also heard breath exhaling and inhaling which was highly effective as I felt my own breath exhaling and inhaling simultaneously. Mathew Magneson’s choice and selection of musical accompaniment effectively heightened many of the emotional moments throughout the play.

Samantha McCue’s Set Design attractively utilized the playing space on the stage. Along the back wall is a silhouetted outline of various shapes of buildings which I’m assuming represent Orillia. There is a blue tent centre stage with an open entrance. Various props and set pieces stage left and right offer ample opportunities for vantage sight lines from where I sat in the auditorium. Echo Zhou’s sharply focused lighting design on the moments where the characters broke the fourth wall and talked to the audience nicely captured my attention to where it was needed.

Herbie Barnes’ compassionate direction of Mixemong’s realistic script kept the story’s pace flowing smoothly. Once again, this decent ensemble cast narrated their individual stories with resonant precision and control of their monologues which, in turn, maintained my consistent interest in preparation for the sweat which took place inside the blue tent (which we never saw). Instead, the script focuses on events prior to and emerging from the ceremony.

Final Comments: ‘Mno Bimaadiziwin’ remains a must see for all of us to begin our process in reconciling and healing with our Indigenous family members.

Inspirational and stirring.

Running time approximately one hour

Production runs to October 3, 2021, at the Orillia Opera House, 20 Mississauga Street West, Orillia. For tickets, please call (705) 326-8011 or visit www.orilliaoperahouse.ca.

Cast: Jordan M. Burns, Trina Paula Moyan, Pesch Nepoose, John Roldan, Brianne Tucker

MNO BIMAADIZIWIN by Ziigwen Mixemong
Presented by Theatre by the Bay, Barrie, Ontario
Artistic Director and Producer: Iain Moggach
Director: Herbie Barnes
Production Manager: Karen Elizabeth
Technical Director: Claude Labrecque
Stage Manager: Barry Cook and Assistant Stage Manager: Ashley Frederick
Set and Costume Designer: Samantha McCue
Lighting Designer: Echo Zhou
Props Master: Brenda Thompson
Sound Designer and Composer: Mathew Magneson
Set Builder: Diane Frederick
Cultural Consultant: Kelly Brownbill

Abstract Building
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