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YES Theatre tackles the truth and nuance of residential schools

Making its way from Stratford to Sudbury is the new play ‘1939’ now being staged by Yes Theatre and running March 15 to 31 at Sudbury Theatre Centre
Making its way from Stratford to Sudbury is the new play 1939 now being staged by Yes Theatre and running March 15 to 31 at Sudbury Theatre Centre.

Making its way from Stratford to Sudbury is the new play 1939 now being staged by Yes Theatre and running March 15 to 31 at Sudbury Theatre Centre.

From renowned Canadian writers Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan, the play sees students at a fictional residential school in Northern Ontario preparing for a visit by King George VI. The students are tasked with staging a production of Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well”. 

But while a traditional and rigid approach to Shakespeare clashes with their perspectives, the Indigenous students begin to draw parallels between their own lives and the characters in the play. 

As Shakespeare’s bittersweet comedy is dissected, 1939 evolves into a powerful statement of self-determination and a bold reclaiming of cultural identity.

Seen here are two actors from Yes Theatre’s news production, MacKenzie Wojcik (JEan Delorme) and Richard Comeau (Joseph Summers). The two are starring in the new Yes Theatre production of “1939.” Jenny Lamothe /

Richard Comeau, who plays Joseph Summers, was part of the world premiere of 1939 in Stratford. Comeau is Métis and Mi'kmaq, born in Elliot Lake, but raised in Chelmsford, and, in his own words, is “proudly” the first Indigenous person to become a certified first instructor with Fight Directors Canada. 

He was asked to perform after a reading of the play, and coincidentally, he performed for MacKenzie Wojcik. Wojcik, who is Red River Métis and plays Jean Delorme, fell in love with the production, and jumped at the chance to be a part of it in Sudbury.

Yes Theatre notes in a press release that they see this production as “an opportunity to face some of the darkest truths in history” and because of this, they prioritized the hiring of Indigenous artis and several knowledge keepers and elders have been involved in the production. As there are several instances of Indigenous languages being spoken, including Anishinaabemowin and the Mohawk language, Kanyen'kéha (or Kanien'kéha, pronounced Gahn-yen-ke-ha). 

Lisa Cromarty is from Wiikwemikoong Unceded First Nation and is playing the character Evelyne Rice, a character who has been at the residential school only a year, and still speaks the Kanyen’kéha language. 

For this, she trained with dialect coaches Wahsonti:io Kirby and Waawaate Fobister. She said it was a wonderful opportunity to learn a language she describes as having great energy. “It’s so robust and strong, it’s so alive, it’s been really wonderful to speak.”

Sarah Gartshore plays the character Susan Blackbird. She grew up on St. Joseph Island, but spent a great deal of time in her mother’s home community of Batchewana First Nation. She is a playwright herself, and said that a play like 1939 will always create complex feelings for those confronting truths. For this reason, there is also a reflection space available to the audience after the play, where elders will spend time speaking with those who have questions. 

Gartshore said there are many complicated feelings surrounding residential schools, truths that are difficult to hear. 

“People might feel that coming to this play is something that they can't handle. But, we can handle and we do have to handle the truths. Because we all want to be at a place where we sit comfortably with each other,” she said. “You can call it reconciliation, you can just call it a community that's comfortable with each other, but we need to hear the truth. And this show delivers truths.”

Tickets are on sale now at

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter at


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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