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7 years in the making: Q+A with Corey Payette on his new musical, Children of God

Playwright, composer, actor and director, Corey Payette, spoke with Artslandia recently about his brand new musical, Children of God. Corey shares about his creation process, the story, Vancouver’s World Premiere and next year’s tour.

This is a major work for Canada and an important part of our history that needs to be told. For those who don’t know, can you share with us a bit about the story?

Children of God is about an Oji-Cree family whose children were taken away to a residential school in Northern Ontario. The story of Rita—a mother who was never let past the school’s gate, and her kids, Tommy and Julia, who never knew she came—pushes toward redemption. The musical takes place in two time periods 20 years apart and looks at how the events of our past confront us in the future.

For you, Children of God has been seven years in the making. What was the spark?

When this idea came up, I really felt like people didn’t know about this history and that this happened in our country. We need to include this as part of how we understand our Canadian identity. This isn’t just something that we see as a part of history; it needs to inform how we see ourselves today and the choices that we make moving forward. Part of it is acknowledgment and the other part is providing survivors with the assurance, that with all experiences they went through, we will never let it happen again in any way.

What has been one major “ah-ha” moment for you through this process? What has been the most challenging part?

When I spent the years meeting with survivors and their families talking about the story I wanted to tell, the thing that I wasn’t prepared for and that I didn’t fully understand was the strength it took for survivors to forgive. I felt those conversations changed the direction of the show to be about celebrating the strength of Indigenous peoples to overcome this tragic part of our history, and this strength is not widely reported in the media; it’s powerful and a kind of resilience that is overwhelming to imagine.

What led you to create this work as a musical?

How I understand musicals to work best is they express emotions that are beyond words, so when characters can no longer speak, they sing. This felt like a perfect fit.

What has been your process of composing and writing lyrics for Children of God?

I write everything at the same time. I also see it while I write, so I’m also directing the work in my mind. I grew up with this show over the 7 years it took to write it so I’ve learned a lot.

We know that the National Arts Centre in Ottawa has been the biggest collaborator on the project and that Children of God will be presented there in early June. On the flip side, what excites you most about opening in Vancouver?

A World Premiere of a new musical is a huge thing and it is exciting for Vancouver audiences to be among the first to see it. Next year we will go on a National Tour following Ottawa, to Edmonton, then Kamloops. Vancouver audiences will be the first to witness this.

Describe Children of God in just three words.

Canadian. Intense. Hopeful.Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Children of God runs May 17–June 3, 2017 at The Cultch. Get your tickets here.

Corey Payette is proud of his Oji-Cree heritage from Northern Ontario and has worked as a playwright, actor, composer, and director across Canada. He is the Artistic Director of Urban Ink (Vancouver, BC), was the 2014-15 Artist-in-Residence with NAC English Theatre, and the founder of Raven Theatre (Vancouver, BC) focusing on new works by Indigenous artists.