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Frances Končan

"Theatre can talk about ideas in a safe and fun way. I hope audiences will leave thinking new things and not be afraid to think of new things."

Joe Szekeres

Playwright Frances Končan’s ‘Women of the Fur Trade, which played at the Stratford Festival in the summer of 2023, will run at Toronto’s Aki Studio in the Daniels Spectrum from April 9 – 21, 2024.

Geoffrey Coulter, a site contributor to OUR THEATRE VOICE, attended that summer 2023 production in Stratford and called it: “a wildly entertaining, giddy and thought-provoking history lesson.”

Directed by Kevin Loring (Artistic Director of NAC Indigenous Theatre), this current play revival, a co-production with National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre and Great Canadian Theatre Company, will feature an all-Indigenous cast including Kelsey Wavey, Cheri Maracle, Lisa Nasson, Jesse Gervais, and Jonathan Fisher as Louis Riel. Joelle Peters, Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts is the Assistant Director.

There was a run of the show in January 2024 at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre

A press release briefly explains the plot:

“In eighteen hundred and something, somewhere upon the banks of a Reddish River in Treaty One Territory, three very different women trapped in a fort with a preference for twenty-first century slang sit in a fort sharing their views on life, love, and the hot nerd Louis Riel. ‘Women’ is a true story seen through the lens of these three women. It’s a lively historical satire of survival and cultural inheritance shifting perspectives from the male gaze onto women’s power in the past and present, and through the lens of the rapidly changing world of the Canadian fur trade.”

Končan saw the show in previews and opening, calling the current revival cast terrific. Frances looks forward to seeing this cast in Toronto and seeing how strong and confident they have become in telling the story.
The revival cast has new staging, direction, and vision compared to last summer’s Stratford presentation. Končan calls this upcoming cast at the Aki clever and unique, as they put their own spin on telling the story.

I received a press release about playwright Končan, an Anishinaabe and Slovene playwright and theatre artist from Couchiching First Nation who holds an MFA in Playwriting from the City University of New York Brooklyn College. In our Zoom conversation, Frances told me it was a two-year program of five students each year with a LOT of opportunity for playwrighting. They spent a lot of time with their professors during these studies. During the interview, Frances smiled and said they now miss their time hanging out with like-minded others just like them.

Productions of Končan’s work include ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ (2023) at the Stratford Festival, directed by Yvette Nolan, ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ (2024) at the National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre/Great Canadian Theatre Company, directed by Renae Morriseau, ‘Space Girl’ (2023) at Prairie Theatre Exchange directed by Krista Jackson, ‘The Crows’ (2023) at Gwaandak Theatre directed by Miki Wolf, and ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ (2020) at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre directed by Audrey Dwyer. Other plays include ‘Don’t Go Into the Woods,’ ‘Riot Resist Revolt Repeat,’ ‘How to Talk to Human Beings, and ‘zahgidiwin/love.’

When Frances first started writing, they were used to writing for themselves, and no one really saw what they wrote; however, when they started working on the MFA, Frances again stated how much they could learn from talking to others about the process and that it was sometimes hard to go back to writing alone.

As an artist, how does Frances feel about the theatre industry's changes and growth?

They laughed at first because there was so much to answer in how the question was worded. Frances reiterated that it’s a huge conversation, but it must still be ongoing. They wanted to focus on the positive side first, even though many things must be improved.

Just recently, Končan spoke about the value of new plays in the Canadian theatre landscape. Frances is highly interested in this conversation as they concurred that Canadian artists always support new work. For some reason, though, Canadian audiences often really respond to events that we take from the US with these big-budget shows and big musical numbers. Končan also thinks a lot about the economic balance of the support needed to produce new works within the country; nevertheless, they also say:

“It’s essential to have that reflection of every corner of the country represented in the theatre…There’s been a lot happening in the past 10, 20, 30 years to show that Canada is on its way to ensure representation and reflection, and it’s important to celebrate because we have come very far. But there’s still so far to go on that journey.”

Our conversation then turned towards last summer’s production at Stratford of ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ and director Yvette Nolan’s vision.

Končan glowingly complimented Nolan, saying she is a legend to any Indigenous theatre artist and considers Yvette at the top of any list to stage any story. At first, Frances said it felt unreal and unfathomable that Yvette would take the helm. But Frances was eternally grateful for Yvette’s vision as the production got further into the process with editing and rehearsals:

“I was grateful and honoured to have someone like Yvette so curious about theatre and what you could do with a show and a script directing it. Yvette saw so much in the script that I didn’t see even when I wrote it. She made the work so much better than I think it is.” (Frances laughed with such grace, which made me laugh.)

Frances was pleased with the Stratford production and said it was surprising that something inventive and clever was done with the script every five minutes. As a writer and playwright, Končan sees themself as a gatherer and collaborator in the organization of the ideas of a story. They love it when actors bring something to the script, as Frances will then go back and make changes to perhaps add to what the actors had done in their discovery of the script.

Does Frances have any say in casting actors, or was that process out of their hands?

They find it interesting because, technically, they always have a say in that process, but it’s never been expressed until the issue comes up. this until the issue comes up. Usually, when a production is cast, sometimes the names are also run by the playwright just for a thumbs up. Frances has never been in a position where they’ve never trusted the director.

What are some messages Končan hopes audiences will take away from the revival?

“Theatre can facilitate conversations that might feel difficult or uncomfortable compared to a meeting or face-to-face. Theatre can talk about ideas in a safe and fun way. I hope audiences will leave thinking new things and not be afraid to think of new things.”

Končan would like audiences to come to see her story because it is an Indigenous work and story performed by Indigenous artists. However, that opportunity does not avail itself—perhaps only once or twice a year. ‘Women’ takes a lot of the great stuff that we have regarding the standard of Canadian and American theatre and spins it in new ways that will make audiences excited to see what happens.

After the Aki run, ‘Women’ will travel across the country, but Frances is not allowed to say when or where at this time.

What’s next for Frances Končan?

They’re living in some chaos, but it’s part of the journey. Frances started a new job in the fall. They moved to Vancouver and are still in the process of getting settled. Frances is looking at some commissions of plays.
They will be at the opening night of ‘Women of the Fur Trade’. They believe there will be a talkback or panel for audiences who wish to remain and learn more.

Tickets for ‘Women of the Fur Trade’ may be purchased at this link: or call the Box Office: (416) 531-1402.

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