Interview with Corey Payette

Article posted on The Vancouver Sun

In recent years, residential schools have been the topic of much discussion, both culturally and artistically. But Children of God may be the first musical about the subject.

A co-production of Urban Ink Theatre, National Arts Centre English Theatre, and Raven Theatre, Children of God tells the story of residential schools from the perspective of one Oji-Cree family.

Featuring a mostly indigenous cast from across Canada as well as novice actors from Vancouver, and a live four-piece band, the musical has its world premiere run in Vancouver before moving onto the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. We talked to playwright/creator Corey Payette about the work.

Q: This is a heavy subject. Why did you want to do a musical about it?

A: I grew up in Northern Ontario and this history wasn’t talked about. I felt really frustrated by that. I felt that I needed to ensure that the next generation had a better sense of this history in a way that they could access. I see musical theatre as being a very mainstream vehicle, and I feel people might more easily absorb a story of a dark and troubling history, through an indigenous perspective, in a way that’s familiar to them.

Q: A lot has been written about residential schools. What is Children of God adding to the conversation?

A: When musicals work, they help to speak emotions that are beyond words. For Children of God, musicalizing this journey allows us to use music as a tool to further explore some of these really dark situations that these kids went through. The show doesn’t shy away from the realities of what these young children faced. In terms of the connection to how indigenous stories work, and why it feels right for it to be a musical, what I’ve been taught from the elders I’ve worked with is that you cannot tell a story without that story having a song. You cannot sing a song without that song having a dance. And you cannot dance without that dance telling a story. So for me, the musical form really lends itself to indigenous performance.