Waawaate Fobister performed his award-winning show Agokwe yesterday in Kenora.
"It's always a bit nerve wracking doing it at home," he said, noting the inherent potential for distractions.
With a healthy dose of humour, Agokwe delves into Ojibway culture, as it tells the story growing up gay in Kenora a generation ago. Through the energetic, one-man show he changes characters to bring to life the elder, the party-girl, the hockey star with comic effect.
Still, at its core, the story is also deeply autobiographical, in the sense that Fobister describes what it was like to search for, then fall in love with another two-spirited young man.
The comedy and bravado of his performance cushion a deeply tragic message, since the main theme of the story deals with bullying and prejudice. In real life, the young man -- who is at the heart of the story -- was unable to deal with the backlash stemming from the relationship, and he took his own life.
In terms of the critical response, the risk was rewarded with six Dora awards that put him into the media limelight. This led to an opportunity to perform for friends and family at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.
Saturday's performance wasn't nearly so lavish, but it came during Kenora's Pride week. After the show, Fobister said it's become a bit easier, in that he's been performing the show for sometime now and in front of a lot of different audiences.
"I had the option of updating the script," he said, before injecting a joke about the old Zellers that's now in pieces.
"But then I said 'No,' because that's not the Kenora I remember. I grew up during the late 1990s and early 2000s," he added.
To put matters into context, Fobister was coming of age as the First Nation was trying to climb out of economic collapse. The 1986 agreement was supposed to help Grassy members restart their local economy, after mercury contamination decimated the resort industry, not to mention fishing and wildlife populations. However, the process is proving to take much longer.
Today, the legacy continues to reflect unemployment rates and medical issues for the community. It's a backdrop that definitely cast a shadow on the play.
"I went to school there (Sakatcheway) from Kindergarten to Grade 12 on the reserve. Then I went to Toronto. So, Kenora was a big part of my life," he said.
"My mom, she just wanted me to leave and do something with my life," he recalled. "I'm one of the first high school graduates out of my whole family tree."
Since then, the one-man show has been performed across the country, and Fobister has taken up the role as a spokesman for two-spirited or gay First Nation members.
"If somebody invites me to do something, I'm always open to coming and talking about the journey of becoming an actor and what it takes," he says.
Fobister also turned out to be a bit of a trail blazer for other artists, including fellow actor Meegwun Fairbrother, who's a Grassy Narrows member. After serving as student council president at Beaver Brae and attending York University, Fairbrother's now into his third series on television, with a role in CBC's Burden of Truth.
"Sometimes we'd run into each other in random cities," Fobister says. "Everytime we see each other, it's a pleasure. He's my little brother."
Fobister's returned to Treaty 3 Territory with plans to start his own theatre company in Kenora. He's in the process of finishing off his business plan, with his eye set on performances next year.
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