"Les Filles Du Roi" shines spotlight on Indigenous history

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The 31-year-old explained that as he began to learn about the residential school system and the colonization of his ancestral lands, he became frustrated and angry that important history was being silenced.

So Payette channeled those emotions the only way he knew how — through his work.

“I was using the form of musical theater to tell a bigger story, to really work out some of my own frustrations on how I was seeing the world," said Payette.

And he wasn’t alone on his journey down the family tree.

While developing Les Filles du Roi, Payette’s co-writer, Julie McIsaac, discovered a personal connection to the material. She was a descendant of the very women sent to populate the colony.

“It is like the ancestors are watching over us and that they are guiding us in our work," said Payette.

Importance of Indigenous Storytelling 

“I believe that it is the future of Canadian theater,” declared Payette when asked about the importance of Indigenous storytelling in the Canadian theatrical canon. “It’s uncovering these stories and recognizing that they are not only those [the histories] of the Indigenous voices, but of all of us.”

Les Filles du Roi marks Payette’s - and his theatre company Urban Ink’s - second collaboration with the Cultch in Vancouver, who operate the York Theatre, after last year’s Children of God, also centred around the Indigenous experience.

Payette’s first musical, Children of God, premiered last year and explored Canada’s residential school system. Photo By David Cooper.

Heather Redfern is the executive director of The Cultch - the company where both of Payette’s productions have had their world premieres. She echoes his thoughts on the importance of hearing a variety of voices in art.

“History has been told through a male, colonial perspective and we have to look at history now through different lenses. Not just through the conqueror’s side, but through the eyes of the oppressed,” said Redfern. “People need to be challenged and we do that all kinds of ways: Through music, through humour, through empathy, through tears.”

Redfern sits outside of the York Theatre in Vancouver where Les Filles du Roi had its world premiere. Photo from Heather Redfern.

Next year, Redfern will once again partner with Payette’s Urban Ink Theatre for the re-mount of Children of God.

And the award goes to…

As the curtains closed on the opening night of Les Filles du Roi, the audience stayed in their seats to watch Payette accept the Canada Council John Hirsch award for Directing.

“I think it's fantastic,” said Payette. “I was surprised to win it.”

The  $6,000 award is presented to new and developing theatre directors who have demonstrated great potential for future excellence and exciting artistic vision. Payette is the second Indigenous artist to ever receive the reward.

“An award like this really tells me that maybe I am doing something right,” said Payette. “ Maybe the ways that I've been approaching my work. Yes, they are outside of the norm — but I think this means that I'm headed to a good place.”

Les Filles du Roi plays until May 27 at the York Theatre in Vancouver.

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