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A Deeper Look Into Urban Ink Productions
Children of God | Actor: Michelle Bardach | Photo: Matt Barnes

A Deeper Look Into Urban Ink Productions

Over the past year members of the Artistic Practice Committee have been meeting with artists they admire or whose work they’re interested in in an effort to begin compiling an inventory of artistic practice. Committee members took 9 questions and brought them to artists whose work they admire – inspiring conversation flowed.

This interview was conducted by Samantha MacDonald, Artistic Producer at Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary AB.

“Last year I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Corey Payette, Artistic Director of Urban Ink. Corey spoke mostly from his own experiences as a playwright and creator, and our conversation covered all kinds of ground. Corey’s passionate, all-encompassing approach to his work is inspiring. I was grateful to learn more about indigenous practice and Corey’s philosophies, which have been forged in the fires of his ancestry. ‘Forgiveness is at the heart of survival. You have no right to withhold forgiveness.’ He’s a pretty exceptional person.”

Samantha MacDonald, Lunchbox Theatre

Note: In an effort to have the interview be an informal conversation it was not recorded. Rather, the interviewer (Samantha MacDonald) made point form notes of the interview. That is what we’re sharing here. Check out the questions below and see what Corey Payette, Artistic Director at Urban Ink Productions (Vancouver BC), had to say.

Children of God
Children of God | Actor: Michelle Bardach | Photo: Matt Barnes
  • I’ll speak from my own perspective as a writer, not in the silo of “maker”
  • The norm would be traditional/classic plays
  • Two week run with short rehearsal period
  • I’ve never fit into how the “norm” works
  • Takes me a long time to develop work, Children of God took 7 years
  • Similarly with directing style – I take a lot of time on things
  • I like to allow a piece to grow over multiple years, take multiple shots of it
  • Like slower, longer process
  • Like working with people who make space for that, allowing to work in non-traditional ways (the National Arts Centre, Full Circle, Urban Ink)
  • I don’t want to do work separate from the community I’m working in
    • Work is being brought to the community, community is involved in the process

Elders are involved in every part of the work

  • One on one script development
  • Welcome on rehearsal process
  • Trauma counseling in rehearsal
  • Through presentation of work with audience and conversation with audience
  • Through wrap up and protocol
  • Cultural practice must be readily available or the work is compromised
  • Letting the people and the community take the direction on it, following the direction of the community and elders, this is the norm in indigenous communities
  • Can’t create work that is removed from community, community is at the heart of what you’re trying to bring to light
  • It’s revolutionary to mainstream but has always been part of indigenous creation
  • It’s about shifting the world view that we’re not in service to the theatre but we’re in service to the community that we’re in


  • Do you de-colonize or do you indigenize?
  • Very very early in terms of creating conversation

Example: Children of God

  • Second draft, in Kamloops at the residential school on reserve (now Chief Louis Cultural Centre)
  • Was invited by Kamloops Indian Band to do the work there
  • Shifts of who is leading the conversation to the community
  • For the first audience we invited everyone who worked there and who had parents who died there
  • The reality of the space was present in every moment
  • Hardest thing to do was sharing with these people
  • Was an open door policy – people were just showing up and commenting
  • Collaborators at every level, every part of it, designers specifically
  • Production Designer and Dramaturg have been with me from the beginning
  • When you ask people to give themselves to your work, you need to turn that around and support them
  • I don’t give my work over – I’m not precious about it, if it serves the work whatever the core impulses are you have to see that
  • People around me are people who work like that, I work with people in the process who get that idea
  • I recognize that I’m working in a way that brings so much passion – what I’m not hearing out there, they pick up on that energy
  • We do it because we recognize the importance of the opportunity
  • I put pressure on myself, my expectations are really really high, the last thing I want is to be “cool”
  • I want to work with rigorous artists, I expect that they have thought through every single thing
    • If you can poke holes they haven’t done the work – that’s not good enough


  • Canadian Actors’ Equity is the biggest hurdle – I don’t fit their model
    • Everything I do is an act of political rebellion
    • I want to speak about it and document it and spread awareness in a way CAEA cannot allow
    • Fought every step of the way even though everyone is on board


  • People have no way of getting a sense of the magnitude of the work being done
  • I don’t think about process all that much – just follow my gut, and am guided by the elders and the community I’m working in
  • I hope that I can continue that openness and that I’m not afraid of processes that are foreign to me
  • I don’t have a desire to follow the norm – not to be precious just to tear it up
  • The goal at the end of the day, telling a great story!
  • I don’t like to classify – I’m an interdisciplinarian
  • Music is integral to storytelling – and movement – that’s indigenous practice
  • In indigenous practice there’s no story without song no song without dance no dance without story
  • I’m looking to continue traditional practice but also to insert my contemporary perspective
  • I honour more the fact that I am of a family that is mixed, honouring all perspectives, my heritage is a huge part of who I am
    • My dad will drop indigenous teachings on me sometimes – “you have to give it back – use your life to give it back” – that wisdom/sense of world
  • What I’m doing right now – I have to live in “I don’t know” to find something
  • It’s not planned
  • For example, I used Children of God to work out huge problems that I was having
  • I didn’t do it consciously – just doing the work in the time that we’re living
  • The trend is working through anger
  • Now I’m trying to understand our history through another lens
    • All learned through another world view
    • Trying to bring to light another perspective, what was the actual history
  • Indigenous women have had a huge impact on me, there are women who whispered drumming songs to their children when it was illegal
  • I can’t help but reflect – we will be healed by our women, healed by ways that are tied to tradition
  • I try to create spaces for other artists to learn from me
  • I don’t check my indigenous self at the door
  • It’s not just seeing yourself onstage – that culture is reflected in every part at every level, informing the work
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