bug at FemFest 2020

The tree is sick
The poison cycled so much
Sickness was planted in us
And we are trying to get well

How can you navigate inter-generational trauma when you’re pushed beyond the brink? bug, one of our featured shows at FemFest 2020, explores this question. Although our commitment to safety during the continued pandemic means that the artists cannot travel to Winnipeg and offer the performance live, we are excited that a high quality version of the show will be offered virtually and followed by a chance for discussion in real-time with the artists.


Yolanda Bonnell created and stars in bug 

bug is the story of a girl and her mother, both fighting the effects of colonialism on their bodies. They are followed by Manidoons, a physical manifestation of trauma that crawls across generations. Created and performed by Yolanda Bonnell, this Dora Mavor Moore Award-nominated performance draws on the strength and resilience of Indigenous women as they grapple with a painful past and carve out their place to survive.

Using movement, poetry, and prose, creator/performer Bonnell weaves stories of women grappling with their painful past and making tough choices to survive.

bug pulls back the curtain on the falsehood of reconciliation using storytelling and movement, bringing everything we’ve seen in the news and the history books into the heart and gut.” Kiera Grant, Mooney on Theatre

“I think people should be excited because bug is more than just a performance,” Yolanda said. “It’s an artistic ceremony in which witnesses are invited to share space – which may not be physically – but share space nonetheless. It’s an opportunity to see a small faction of the effects of colonization, specifically in Northern communities or small cities. Performed in a poetic manner.”

When asked who inspires her, Yolanda said Indigenous youth: “The amount of fighting they do every day in a world that often treats them like garbage. Yet they keep rising up and they keep going. There’s nothing more inspiring than that.”

“While my heart broke for the protagonist, I felt hope looking across the audience, and as we cried together from the heaviness, we all felt. To move forward in reconciliation, we need to hear these stories and sit in the uncomfortable silence that precedes change.” Trisha Dayal, Stage Door Toronto

The 60-minute solo show will be virtually offered at FemFest 2020 and tickets are already on sale. The show times are Sunday, Sept 20 at 6:00pm, Monday, Sept 21 at 1:00pm, and Tuesday, Sept 22 at 6:30pm. Yolanda is also our featured “The Real Thing” lecturer who will be giving an overview of her career trajectory in theatre. Her lecture is taking place on Wednesday September 23 from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm and is free and open to the public.

As Trisha Dayal writes in her review, “Unless you’ve lived as a marginalized person in this country, you will struggle to relate to the story in bug, but that’s exactly why you should watch it.”


The Artists of Songide’ewin

With Songide’ewin opening in less than a week (!) we thought you should get to know the cast and crew a little better. Songide’ewin tells the stories of over 70 Indigenous youth and their views on reconciliation. Originally set to premiere in May 2020, the show is being performed in late August with all social distancing and health protocols in place. Three performances will take place under an open-air tent at Whittier Park for limited audiences August 25-27 at 7pm. The shows will also be livestreaming each night with a chance for virtual discussion, tickets are required to tune in.

Each artist has had an invaluable role in creating Songide’ewin and we’re in awe of their flexibility and commitment to telling these stories.



The stories of the youth were compiled by Darla Contois and Jo Macdonald.

Darla Contois is a Cree-Salteaux Indigenous theatre artist. She graduated from Toronto’s Centre for Indigenous Theatre professional training program in 2014, attended

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Darla Contois

David Smukler’s National Voice Intensive and premiered her solo show White Man’s Indian at Summerworks 2017 in Toronto where she was awarded the Emerging Artist Award. For the past few years she has been living and working professionally in her home territory treaty one; facilitating arts/storytelling workshops, mentoring Indigenous youth, acting, writing and also starting a family.

Jo MacDonald head shot

Jo Macdonald

Jo is Anishinaabe, a mom, theatre fan, and writer living on Treaty 1 territory. She is a member of Prairie Theatre Exchange ‘s Emerging Playwrights Unit.




The show features five ensemble members.


Josh Ranville

Joshua Ranville’s first ever acting experience was auditioning for a play called “The Rememberer” in 1998 at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP). This happened to be where he had the pleasure of meeting Tracey Nepinak and working with her for the first time as she was also a part of that cast. That was when Josh caught the theatre bug and he hasn’t been able to stop acting ever since. The opportunity to work with the amazing Songide’ewin cast is a breath of air for Josh since quarantine was feeling like a creative vacuum. Yay for this project, yay for theatre!


Aqqalu Meekis-2

Aqqalu Meekis

Named after an inuit actor from Greenland, Aqqalu Meekis got his start in acting with a cut, small role in the 2003 film Stryker. Since then, he has been been active in various film, TV and theatre roles such as a sniper with the Canadian Armed Forces in Paul Gross’ Hyena road, Donny in George F. Walker’s Adult Entertainment, Katurian in Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, and even as a nameless extra (no role is too small) on the set of Outlander, on location in Scotland. Aqqalu would like to thank Sarasvàti for the chance to break free from pandemic-induced cabin fever.



Jessica McGlynn

Jessica McGlynn is a Winnipeg based actor and a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Theatre and Film Honours program. This is Jessica’s first time working with Sarasvàti Productions and she is thrilled to have been able to work on this show. She hopes you listen to the show with an open heart and leave with the drive to listen and learn from experiences that are different from your own. Much love to her family for their continual love and support.


Sara Demers 31

Sara Demers

Originally from Quebec, Sara Demers is a transformative actress. Since her youth, body language and the human mind were her playground and her curiosity. She worked as the lead in Once upon a time, Doltra by Théâtre des petites lanternes, a French landscape play. She also was the lead in the short film Clara by Matthew Gaines that was presented at Fantasia a Montreal Film Festival in 2018. And she played in Patterns by Pierre Friquet a 360° and virtual reality independent French film that won the VR Award from the Festival du nouveau cinéma (New Cinema Festival) in Montreal and when to Cannes, France, in 2018. Sara is also a writer. She co-produced and wrote What if … an independent short film, and she is currently working to create films with Ode Productions’ team in Winnipeg.


Braiden Houle Headshot

Braiden Houle

Braiden Houle is excited and honoured to be involved in this production of Songide’ewin. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Selected credits include: Kill Me Now (Touchstone Theatre), Kill Me Now (Manitoba Theatre Centre/National Arts Centre), Only Drunks and Children Tell The Truth (Firehall Arts Centre), Camera Obscura (the frank theatre company), The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Manitoba Theatre for Young People), TH’OWXIYA: The Hungry Feast Dish (Axis Theatre), Redpatch (Hardline Productions), Jumping Mouse (Urban Indigenous Theatre Company), Little  Red Riding Hood (Urban Indigenous Theatre Company), Wings of Darkness (Urban Indigenous Theatre Company). He is a graduate of Studio 58.



Sound & Design

MJ Dandeneau

MJ Dandeneau

MJ DANDENEAU is a French Anishinaabe / Métis woman born on Treaty 1 Territory (Winnipeg, MB). Her tours and studio work have literally taken her all over the globe and nationally recognized with recording awards such as Canadian JUNO, WCMA-Award, Indian Summer Awards & CFM-Award. MJ’s deep-seated roots to her French-Anishinaabe and Métis heritage are translated and embodied in the music she creates. MJ made her theatre debut in RMTC’s production of the musical Bitter Girls. Some of her highlights has been, being part of MTYP’s production musical Charlie Brown’s Double Bill playing Frieda as well as the sound designer for the production Torn Through Time and Tiny Treasure, Prairie Theatre Exchange’s production “Katharsis” and Cercle Molière premier production “La Liste”. She continues to compose for numerous short films and documentaries for various projects along the way. Dandeneau is very excited and honored to be part of this production under the talented Director Tracey Nepinak.



Set & Costume Design


Louis Ogemah

Louis Ogemah was born in 1962, at a very young age somewhere near his mother in the town of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. In 1992, Louis graduated from the University of Manitoba with an Honors Degree in Fine Arts. He is the Founder of the Urban Shaman Gallery, a contemporary indigenous art gallery, situated in downtown Winnipeg since 1996. Louis has worked over 30 years as a contemporary artist, articulating and embracing the Anishinaabe culture into all his work. Louis began his theatre opus in 1989 with Awasikan Puppet Theatre, later Awasikan Theatre as an actor. He trained young people in Red Roots Community Theatre for various productions and then, began dabbling in Set and Costume design with MTYP’s “The Rememberer”, and WowPow Theatre’s Fringe play “Crisis in Oka”, and many other productions throughout the new millennia. So, when the opportunity to work on Songide’ewin, a play inspired and developed by Indigenous youth about the challenges they face in these ambiguous times, Louis thought; “I love the sound of an Orange being peeled”.





Tracey Nepinak

Tracey Nepinak is Cree (with a hint of international flavoring mixed in), her family roots are from Peguis first nation but currently lives in the Canada’s largest urban reserve, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Tracey has worked as a professional actor since 1993. Recent theatre, film and directing credits include: The Hours That Remain (director- Theatre by the River), Honour Beat (Rae Anna – The Grand London/Theatre Calgary), The Third Colour (Agatu – Prairie Theatre Exchange), A Short History of Crazy Bone (Crazy Bone – Theatre Projects Manitoba), Burden of Truth (Rose – Eaglevision), The Rez Sisters (Philomena Moosetail), The Belfry.



As you can see from the incredible talent, Songide’ewin is not a show to be missed! If you haven’t already bought your ticket for our outdoor, socially distanced shows, there are still some available. Not into the idea of being in a live audience? That’s OK too! Each night we are offering a virtual live-stream. Whether you want to see the show in-person or online, you better buy your tickets quick before they go!

Alice and The World We Live In

We are thrilled to continue to offer unique theatre and important opportunities to showcase artists safely at FemFest 2020: Engaging Community. Here’s a chance to learn more about our featured local production!


Alex Haber, Playwright

How do you move forward when you’re stuck? Alice and the World We Live In tells the story of Alice, who stands frozen on a dangerous mountain pass. Paralyzed, unable to move forward or turn back, she is suspended between multiple possibilities of what could have been and what is. Inspired by the topsy-turvy world Alice encounters in Wonderland when she falls down the rabbit hole, this moving allegory explores a woman’s struggle to push through the grief of losing the love of her life to a random act of terror. Echoing our collective fear of what lies ahead in these tumultuous and uncertain times, the play exalts our indefatigable resilience and endless capacity to love, once we find the courage to let go.

“Haber takes what could have been a thin and predictable premise and enriches it with a quite dazzling sense of theatricality.” – Jim Burke, Montreal Gazette

The play was written by Alexandria Haber: an award-winning playwright. Her plays have been produced in Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, the UK and include Alice and The World We Live In (Centaur),  Mouth to Mouth (Montreal Fringe, The White Bear, London) (co- written with Ned Cox), On This Day (Centaur Theatre), Life Here After (Imago, Centaur, Wildside), Closed for Urgent and Extraordinary Work (Theatre Yes, Edmonton), Game Changers and I Don’t Like Mondays and The Water Chronicles (Geordie Productions). This is the second time she will have the pleasure of having her work in FemFest, the first time being Ordinary Times in 2002.

Alice and The World We Live In is a passionate and important piece dealing with a very modern sense of grieving. […] The way these ideas are dug into in the writing, as well as the expressionistic way we are handed them by this production, still give fresh perspectives and a realness that is always welcome.”  – Brandon Lorimer, Art Critique

To learn more about the script, be sure to check out this interview with Alexandria Haber and Jane Wheeler, who played Alice in the world premiere.

“Montrealer Alexandria Haber has written an extremely complex two-hander play about the process of grief and death, and how we are able to move forward.” – Joe Szekeres, On Stage Blog

We’re incredibly excited to be moving forward with Alice and the World We Live In at FemFest as a live, outdoor event with an on-line viewing option. Directed by Ann Hodges, the play will star local-theatre-veterans Ray Strachan and Elena Anciro. It will be a presentation unique to our times with a chance for audience to gain insights in to the creative process. The shows will take place at Assiniboine Park on September 23, 25, and 26. It will be limited capacity in order to implement social distancing, so reserve your spot right now by buying a ticket here!

Songide’ewin: Reconciliation Through Theatre

We are so excited to finally share Songide’ewin with audiences! We’ve worked hard to ensure a safe process for our cast, crew and audiences. This production features the stories and lived experiences of over 70 Indigenous youth performed by a cast of 5. Join us outdoors or online August 25 to 27!

For three nights at 7pm we will have 50 in person tickets available for the outdoor performance with socially distanced seating. Each performance will also be livestreamed for at home viewing. Tickets can be purchased online here or by calling (204) 586-2236.

Gathering online for the first rehearsal this past Tuesday was an exhilarating experience. Under the direction of Tracey Nepinak and with the support of Knowledge Keeper Gayle Pruden, the team shared how thirsty they have been to return to creative work.

“Sorry doesn’t change the past! Systemic racism still exists! Words are meaningless without actions!”

Reconciliation through Theatre was initiated by an Indigenous Advisory Committee two years ago. We have since worked with seven amazing organizations to offer a creative and safe space for Indigenous youth. Using an artistic lens, with the guidance of experienced facilitators and elders, youth examined how they interact with the world around them and how the world in turn interacts with them.

“Do you think reconciliation is possible?”

“Yes, but it will take lots of time.”

Anishinaabe playwright Jo MacDonald with Darla Contois have transformed these stories into a theatrical script. With a fabulous design team and five talented actors, renowned Cree theatre artist Tracey Nepinak will bring this production to life! In addition, participant Bear Harper is mentoring with Jaime Black to display a large mural of his artwork alongside art created during the workshops.

Our gratitude to the amazing funders who have waited with us – The Winnipeg Foundation, Province of Manitoba, Department of Canadian Heritage, NIB Trust, Manitoba Arts Council, The Winnipeg Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and our sponsors Cushman & Wakefield | Stevenson, Wawanesa Insurance & Manitoba Blue Cross.

“You need to take everything you’ve been taught and put it aside. And really hear what the young people have to say.”

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see this exciting performance! Get your tickets here.