A virtual theatre festival brings theatre to life during a pandemic

The first of three blogs by Guest Blogger Vanessa Ominika

 

A photo of Vanessa in a flowered dress sitting on a large boulder with natural greenery behind her. She is smiling at the camera

Photo credit: Paula Dicu                                                            Image Description: A photo of Vanessa in a flowered dress sitting on a large boulder with natural greenery behind her. She is smiling at the camera.

 

Being a young empty nester, trying to find my place in this new world of mine without children, I found myself living in Toronto a little lost. In 2019 I was denied an education in Indigenous Theatre and almost a year after that rejection, and just when the threat of the Corona Virus was looming,  I miraculously found myself working in Administration in a political office that I tackled with determination as I always do when I am in an unfamiliar job, but there was still that longing to be creative, I missed the stage, I missed being a part of something creative and like many, the pandemic proved to be a struggle for theaters and artists alike, however, through my networking I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a virtual Theatre Festival with Sault Fringe North.  A very good friend of mine and fellow thespian, Sarah Gartshore, whom I had met at university had contacted me about an opportunity to participate in the festival with 4 other northern Indigenous creative artists in a project called “Project Nishin”.   She described that since there are no in-person performances, Sault Fringe North was going virtual and had spots to fill.  The direction I received was open to any kind of medium we wanted and any kind of performance.  I took a while to feel out what it was, I wanted to do, should I do a monologue?  Write my scene?  Pick a favorite scene from a play?  It had been a while since I participated in anything artistic, so I was very excited I think I overwhelmed myself at first and I am horrible at making decisions, so it was a little tough for me to pick something. I would start one project and wasn’t feeling it, so I choose another medium.  I eventually settled on writing a personal thoughtful piece and using videos of the beautiful waters that I had captured during a family trip to Banff and water from my home of Manitoulin Island.   I was honored that I was able to participate with these 4 other amazing performance artists.

To go directly to my video, you follow the link here  Project Nishin: Vanessa Ominika

 

A poster for Project Nishin. The left side of the image is a poster. It is red with a sunrise and a feather pictured on it. The poster reads: Project Nishin , Indigenous artists walking in a good way. The right side of the image is a photo of Vanessa, an Indigenous woman wearing a black top with her dark hair to her shoulders. She smiles broadly at the camera.

Image Description: A poster for Project Nishin. The left side of the image is a poster. It is red with a sunrise and a feather pictured on it. The poster reads: Project Nishin , Indigenous artists walking in a good way. The right side of the image is a photo of Vanessa, an Indigenous woman wearing a black top with her dark hair to her shoulders. She smiles broadly at the camera.

 

To find out more about Project Nishin please follow the following link Project Nishin – Fringe North International Theatre Festival

At 44 years old, I continued to struggle with the depression and PTSD that had invaded my spirit since I was 13 years old.  2021 seemed to be the year that it was hitting me super hard, there were days that I just couldn’t get myself out of bed.  In the Summer of 2021, the Fringe Festival North had reached out to me with a spot open for all previous participants from the Nishin Project.  I knew immediately what I wanted to send in for my virtual piece this time.   In 2019 I participated in a Performance Art Workshop that was facilitated by Adrian Stimson and Lori Blondeau.  Performance Art is a type of art that is performed live that usually has some type of message that you want to convey to the audience watching or to elicit some feelings about it.  I feel it’s a very powerful way to bring awareness to social issues, so I had chosen to do a performance art piece to bring awareness to the illness that I have been fighting for so long.  Mental Health affects so many in this world and in many extreme circumstances can be very debilitating, specifically depression and PTSD, and it’s never been looked at as serious as a physical illness. I still can’t believe to this day that people do not understand it.  I still get a lot of “why can’t you just be happy “, “get over it” or “it’s just in your head”.   These are just a few examples of comments that I hear or see often when it comes to me sharing about my illness. It’s very frustrating because I always think you don’t understand how it is to be inside my head so don’t tell me to just get over it.  And that’s how my Performance Art piece “In the Dark ” was created, this was the best way I thought I could do to let people know the darkness that invades my mind and my spirit during those times when my depression hits hard.  It’s easy for us to not understand Mental Health, because it’s not something you can see, so many suffer in silence and it’s time to start taking this seriously, and treat it like a physical illness, if you see someone hurt on the side of the road with a broken leg, you will help them, wouldn’t you?  My piece is meant to be performed in person, when I created it, I thought it would be a great visual for mental health symposiums or conferences.  However, because of the pandemic I hope you can take the time and see my performance and share it, the video is here https://youtu.be/6NlWbkYLGRQ

 

The listing for an event. There is much written on the listing poster. The top tells us more about the performance art piece - In the Dark - and the bottom is Vanessa's bio.

Image Description: The listing for an event. There is much written on the listing poster. The top tells us more about the performance art piece – In the Dark – and the bottom is Vanessa’s bio.

 

Overall, I feel that the pandemic was super hard mentally and professionally for me.  However, any small way that I can contribute and participate in the theatre lifts my spirits 100% and these two little projects of mine that I got to participate in with Fringe North made a huge difference in my confidence as a theatre artist.  It wasn’t until January that my oldest daughter and I did a full moon ceremony in my mother’s backyard on my reserve, that I finally let go of so much hurt and defeat that I had been feeling in the last 3 years that the fog is starting to clear, and my heart and my spirit is back to myself and I have so many ideas running through my brain. So much so that I had submitted 2 proposals to the OAC for some really amazing ideas that I want to do in my community for the youth.  This was my first time ever applying for grants and I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if I was doing it right, but I pressed send and hoped for the best.   I recently received notice that I did not get the grants, as disappointing as it was and normally, I would let that kind of rejection make me feel defeated and not try again, but I am going to continue to keep going and realize my dreams to give youth a voice through theatre as it did me.

 

 

 

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