Across Canada, actor Meegwun Fairbrother may be best known these days as small-town police officer Owen Beckbie on the CBC drama series Burden of Truth.
What’s less known is that, prior to shooting the fourth season of the series, the former Toronto resident moved to Winnipeg, and not just to ease of making Burden, which is mostly filmed around Winnipeg and Selkirk.
"I ended up falling in love with the people here," the 30-something Fairbrother says in a phone interview.
"I have some family here — a brother and a cousin and some family out in Kenora," says the actor, whose ancestry is Ojibwa and Scottish. "It was my idea to stick around here and reconnect with the family that I didn’t have the opportunity to be with when I left to go become an actor in Toronto.
"The funny part was the pandemic hit and we’ve all just been in our own little hovels anyway, so that plan didn’t work out too well."
THEATRE PREVIEWClick to Expand
Isitwendam (An Understanding)
• Written and performed by Meegwun Fairbrother
• Sunday at 2 p.m.
• Tickets to free online performance available at royalmtc.ca
At least that proximity made it easy for Fairbrother to participate in the Bridge, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s four-day "festival of ideas" that launched Thursday. Curated by Kim Wheeler, the festival’s theme is Art and (re)Conciliation, and the inaugural festival culminates on Sunday afternoon with a free online performance of Fairbrother’s own play, Isitwendam (An Understanding), a story that encompasses heritage, residential schools and taking responsibility.
The show will be streamed free to anyone across Canada who creates an account on the RMTC website.
Fairbrother was born in Toronto, and because his mother was a teacher, he bounced around for much of his life on different First Nations communities and reservations. That journey eventually took him to Kenora.
"I saw my first theatre in Winnipeg because our drama teacher would take us to MTYP and RMTC," he says. "Actually, I saw my first real big production of a Shakespeare play here at MTC, so it’s all kind of feeling like coming home."
He was inspired to write Isitwendam by the late, great dramaturge Iris Turcott at Toronto’s Factory Theatre.
"She knew my story, where I came from and she knew I had worked with a lot of Indigenous people in the community," Fairbrother says of Turcott, a zealous advocate of theatre talent who worked with such notable playwrights as Tomson Highway, Ronnie Burkett, Daniel MacIvor and Anusree Roy. "So she saw something in me, I guess."
Turcott suggested Fairbrother write a piece in response to then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology to the students of residential schools.
"She thought I would be the right person to make a ceremonial, theatrical response to the residential school apology," he says. "At the time, I had not watched the apology. So she made me go home and watch it.
"I cried. I was angry. And then I watched it about 15 more times and started to kind of get inside of it and understand what was going on here."
In the process of writing what would be Isitwendam, Fairbrother eventually consulted with Toronto director Jack Grinhaus, who is credited as a co-creator.
"I wanted somebody from outside the community, but who had a connection to genocide," Fairbrother says. "His Jewish ancestry was the perfect fit for that. And he’s a theatre magician. He really helped me flesh out the narrative and build it into the theatrical, ceremonial response that it is today."
Over the past few years, Fairbrother has performed the show at the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver and at Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto.
"That has been great and has taught me a lot, but it hasn’t quite felt like a show for the community, which is how I’ve always intended (it)," he says. "It’s a show for all people, not just Indigenous people, but it really is, for me, a spiritual love letter to my community as a point of pride.
"The show is about hope, even though it is dealing with residential school history and its fallout," he says. "It’s not a violent or triggering show; it’s about this young man who goes on a journey upon learning about his ancestry and it’s about what it’s like for that man to come home.
"Effectively, my intention is to clear the air, as it were, so that we can all sit in the same circle together and start to recognize each other. We can start to admit that maybe we don’t have the answers, but we’re going to figure it out together."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.