PuSh Blog

Indigenous Performance Reaches Critical Mass: An Interview with Cole Alvis by Joyce Rosario

January 13, 2016

Ahead of next week’s first PuSh Assembly Industry series event, Indigenous Performance Reaches Critical Mass, Associate Curator Joyce Rosario interviewed Cole Alvis (Métis-Irish),  Executive Director of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance and event facilitator. Read about how the Indigenous performing arts community has been navigating performance to reach a critical mass in preparation for the discussion on Thursday, January 21, at The Post at 750.

Joyce Rosario: The conversation at this session is led by and centred on Indigenous performing artists. I understand that the format is modelled on the one used during The Repast at the Debajehmujig Creation Centre back in the Spring. Could you describe the format further? Where did it come from? How did it evolve?

Cole Avis: Past IPAA-Board President and Jessie Award winning playwright Yvette Nolan (Algonquin-Irish) and Associate Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre Sarah Garton Stanley crafted this format to address hierarchy when they co-curated The Cycle – Indigenous Theatre.

Settler culture privileges certain voices over others and this structure leads to inequities that can be found in the performance community. For an exploration on Indigenous performance it is vital to place Indigenous leaders at the centre of the conversation and for ally artistic leaders to situate themselves in their role as Listeners.

JR: Who will be part of the conversation at PuSh? Who do you hope will be there to witness?

CA: Ilbijerri Theatre’s Artistic Director Rachael Maza (Yidinji woman from North Queensland and Meriam from Torres Strait Island of Mer) will be joined by Full Circle First Nations Performance’s Artistic and Managing Director Margo Kane (Cree-Saulteaux) along with emerging artists Deneh’Cho Thompson (Dene) and Lindsay Lachance (Anishnaabe).

I hope anyone who has been wanting to engage with the explosion of Indigenous performance happening across Turtle Island (North America) feels welcome to join us to listen, learn and be inspired.

JR: IPAA has been involved in the development of an Indigenous touring network. My first introduction to this initiative was back at Talking Stick’s 2015 Industry Series. What has happened since then?

CA: A touring network has been part of the conversation since before IPAA incorporated in 2005. Recent gatherings that galvanised the network include the 2015 Talking Stick Industry Series as well as Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts’ Rubaboo Festival in Edmonton and another hosted by the late Michael Green during the world premiere of Making Treaty 7.

Join us for the 2016 Talking Stick Festival where IPAA Network Coordinator Brittany Ryan (Métis-Chinese) will be making a presentation about the future of the Indigenous Performance Network.

Sneak peek – it involves a collaboration with presenting bodies CAPACOA and Ontario Presents!

JR: You directly influenced Theatre Wiki being re-named Performance Wiki. How did that happen?

CA: During IPAA’s collaboration with the National Arts Centre English Theatre I had the opportunity to work closely with Sarah Garton Stanley. Regarding Theatre Wiki I suggested they change the name to be more inclusive of Indigenous performance. And then they did!

Some context: SpiderWebShow is an online gathering place for performance content including #cdncult (the latest issue featured Vancouver-based artist Christine Quintana) and the formerly named Theatre Wiki. This is a nation-wide project dedicated to creating the first community-maintained Canadian online compendium of the performing arts.

As song, dance and storytelling were never siloized into separate disciplines on this land, TheatreWiki became PerformanceWiki to better welcome the diverse artists in the multidisciplinary Indigenous performance community.

Fun Fact: Meaningful collaborations with Indigenous performance often requires a structural change for our settler allies.

JR: You get to travel nationally and internationally in your work, what has been most exciting? What’s your perspective from that vantage point?

CA: I’m a lucky duck and got to attend the 4th National Indigenous Theatre Forum during the Brisbane Festival in Australia!

The Blackfulla communities welcomed me and were curious to hear about IPAA as they were in the process of building their own national advocacy body for Indigenous performance.

Meeting the artists and watching them support each other was a highlight of 2015.

Cole Alvis & Lee-Ann Buckskin
Photo: Mick Richards

Lee-Ann Buckskin (Narungga, Wirangu, Wotjobaluk) gifted me this carved feather (burnt design by Teila Watson) at the National Indigenous Theatre Forum in Brisbane, Australia. Photo by Mick Richards

JR: You wear some other hats in addition to your role at IPAA. What are you working on? What are your current obsessions?

CA: I have the pleasure of directing recent theatre grad Yolanda Bonnell (Ojibwe-South Asian) in her new play bug that goes up at this year’s Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Currently obsessed with this sassy political cabaret from down under called Hot Brown Honey.

JR: PuSh has a fulsome suite of youth programs. You are a very young Executive Director. What are your top three bits of career advice you’d want to share with your even younger self?

trust the hustle, it will serve you later
be as choosy about your collaborators as you are your close friends
don’t let anyone else define you – stay in your own lane, you’ll get there in your own time


Cole Alvis is proud of their Métis-Irish heritage from the Turtle Mountains in Manitobah. An acclaimed actor, theatre creator and artistic leader, they (gender neutral) are an Artistic Producer of lemonTree creations and Executive Director of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. Select credits include dramaturging a new play by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard called The House You Build for the Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre (Saskatoon, SK), an “outstanding direction” mention and NNNN’s for Row by T. Berto at the 2014 SummerWorks Festival (NOW Magazine), as well as being one of the creator / performers for the Dora-nominated Gorey Story (The Thistle Project). Upcoming: Performing in Body Politic by Nick Green, a lemonTree creations coproduction with Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (May 2016).

Come and witness Indigenous Performance Reaches Critical Mass, a conversation between emerging and established Indigenous performing artists as they grapple with aesthetics and ideas critical to their practice. No advance booking is required, however an Industry Pass or Pack will be required.