Sitting down with family for dinner or coffee can often lead to awkward conversations. But that’s precisely what Winnipeg-based Cree writer and poet Rosanna Deerchild wanted to explore in her latest project, The Secret to Good Tea.
Playing at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Royal MTC) from March 22 to April 15, the play, directed by Renae Morriseau, chronicles the respective experiences of mother Maggie (Tracey Nepinak) and daughter Gwynn (Kathleen MacLean).
Formatted like a coffee-table chat, the pair discusses happenings in each other’s lives, with the disquietude of residential-school trauma bubbling underneath. Journalist Gwynn encourages her mother to share her story, while Maggie is reticent, as many survivors are.
“This show is really about their relationship and their reconciliation as a family versus the concept of reconciliation as something between the First Nations and Canada as a country,” MacLean says.
The concept for the story had its genesis in the inaugural Pimootayowin Creators Circle, a program hosted by the Royal MTC and led by playwright Ian Ross. According to the Royal MTC website, the circle aims to support “the creation and development of new plays by Manitoba-based Indigenous artists.” Both Deerchild and MacLean were participants.
“I read some of the very first drafts of The Secret to Good Tea, because we would read each other’s work every week or so,” MacLean says.
“I was really excited at the prospect of being with it from the beginning to the end. They kind of asked, but I still had to audition just like everybody else.”
Deerchild’s inspiration came from her own experiences with her mother and the resulting poetry collection, Calling Down the Sky, that came from their discussions.
“At first, she was very resistant to talking about such a painful time in her life. But over time, she shared more and more. Eventually, we decided to write the poetry book together as a way to heal. In many Indigenous communities, you will always find a pot of tea on the stove, waiting for visitors, waiting for stories,” Deerchild says.
“I wanted to explore the conversations we had about those memories, how that journey changed our relationship as mother and daughter and ultimately led to reconciliation in our family.”
MacLean cites the beauty in the story’s realism as a major factor in its importance.
“This story is so beautiful, because it really gets into the nitty-gritty of a relationship that is impacted by intergenerational trauma,” they say.
And, ultimately, what Deerchild wants audiences to take away from the production is simple, yet elegant.
“Hope, that we as Indigenous people can heal from this great wound. That we can reclaim our stories, that we can repair our broken circles, and we can reconcile in our families. And joy. There is a lot of laughter in the play. But despite this trauma that has affected so many of our Indigenous communities, we are still here.” Deerchild says.
“We are still here.”
The Secret to Good Tea is on from now until April 15 at the Royal MTC. Tickets can be purchased via bit.ly/3n30xph.
Published in Volume 77, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 23, 2023)