The first time she got on stage, Jennifer Dawn Bishop thought ‘what is this feeling?’
“I loved it,” she says. “It was like a light I grabbed onto and didn’t want to let it go.”
Almost 20 years later, she hasn’t let it go. Starting as a nervous 13 year-old in the Circle of Voices program at the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company, now the Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre, she’s learned her craft hands-on, from acting to stage managing to playwriting. A highlight was taking part in the exclusive Globe Theatre Conservatory in 2016, one of the toughest things she’s ever done.
“I felt very honoured and privileged to be able to be part of that.”
Now, she’s the company’s new artistic director.
“I want to be there for a new generation of artists, give them the opportunity and show them that a lot of hard work and commitment can be really great for you.”
Theatre is a place of transformation, and that’s what happened to Bishop starting in her teens.
“I was very shy at that age. I dealt with a lot of bullying back then and I had no self-esteem whatsoever, so I never stood up for myself. I was the type that stayed at the back of the classroom hoping that no one would make fun of me for anything that day.
“Once I joined the program, it was like finding this family. And even though we were all a little bit different, we all got drawn to that feeling which gave us that close connection and bond.”
She made discoveries culturally as well. She didn’t know her background when she took the application form home for the first Circle of Voices. “Metis,” her parents told her.
“I discovered this whole side of myself that I had no idea,” she says. “Certainly over the years in this company I’ve been given the tools and people that I could ask these questions to and learn and share that experience with other people who aren’t familiar with whatever background that they come from.”
Bishop is experiencing a true full-circle moment with the production of the Rez Christmas story Vegas Vacation by Curtis Peeteetuce. She acted in the 2006 production. Now, she’s directing the remake.
“It’s a fantastic feeling, it’s a nervous feeling but I’m very lucky and happy to have this piece as my directorial debut.”
In this version of the long-running series, the kohkoms Zula (Cory Dallas Standing), Claire Bear (Allana Dorion) and Sihkos (Mitchell Poundmaker) take their Residential School settlements and head to Las Vegas for the world’s biggest bingo game.
Comedy mixes with sentiment, making it a timely story, says Bishop.
“Laughter is the best medicine and I think that’s what this series does is bring good medicine.
“The holidays can be a tough time for people. If we can come and share a story to help take your mind off things, it’s a great reminder that you can spend that time together.”
Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre
Vegas Vacation: A Rez Christmas story
Dec. 6 to 10, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15 to $20
Box Office: 306.652.6556, broadwaytheatre.ca