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Mohkinstsis/Calgary-based Tara Beagan, photographed here in 2018, is co-director, with her partner Andy Moro, of Article 11, an Indigenous activist arts production company.Andy Moro/Handout

Playwright Tara Beagan is this year’s winner of the Siminovitch Prize, the most lucrative award in Canadian theatre.

Mohkinstsis/Calgary-based Ms. Beagan is co-director, with her partner Andy Moro, of Article 11, an Indigenous activist arts production company. Her background is Ntlakapamux and Irish, and her work frequently addresses the social and political negligence that permits and perpetuates violence against Indigenous women and girls.

The laureate prize of $100,000 is awarded every year to a mid-career theatre professional who has made “a significant creative contribution to theatre in Canada.” Past recipients include Marcus Youssef, Joan MacLeod and Daniel MacIvor.

Jury Chair Vanessa Porteous, speaking of Ms. Beagan, says,”no other writer on this territory proposes this kind of material for our consideration, material so rich in character, story, emotion, humour, violence, humanity, compassion, complexity, and righteous fury. Her vision is uncompromising, her voice is necessary, her trajectory embodies the deepest values of the Siminovitch Prize. This is quite simply excellent, searing, unforgettable theatre of the highest calibre.” Cree actor and writer Michelle Thrush, who nominated Ms. Beagan for the prize, elegantly describes Ms. Beagan as “A word lover and a carrier of stories.”

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Playwright Tara Beagan has named Anishinaabe/Miami writer and actor Joelle Peters, pictured here, as her protégé. A quarter of the Siminovitch Prize is committed to a protégé of the laureate's choosing.Andrew Johnson/Handout

When reached at her home in Calgary, Ms. Beagan was still digesting the enormity of being chosen as this year’s laureate. “it’s a curious thing to be singled out in this way in theatre because it’s such a collaborative art form,” she said, “and I have to keep reminding myself that any time an Indigenous artist is celebrated, it’s because of a combination of so many hard-working artists that came before and all the ones that are starting to emerge.”

The prestigious Siminovitch Prize was founded in 2000 to celebrate excellence and innovation in Canadian theatre, honouring a playwright, director, or designer. It was founded by Dr. Lou Siminovitch (who celebrated his 100th birthday this year), and his partner, the late Elinore Siminovitch, a pioneering feminist playwright whose writing focused on sociopolitical issues.

It’s Ms. Beagan’s commitment to exposing injustice that embodies the spirit of the prize. “A lot of my work is in accusation, so it’s quite wonderful that the jury was able to get behind the ways I need to tell stories... and see that the message within it [is] something worth shining a light on.”

For Ms. Beagan, theatre is both activistic and spiritual in nature. “When we do get to stand up on a stage and have an Indigenous story told, have it heard, have it received, have it be well resourced - that’s enormous and that’s a position of privilege, it’s a sacred act.”

The Siminovitch Prize affords Ms. Beagan unforeseen creative liberties. “I’m not going to be serving deadlines set by other people or granting bodies, I can really pursue passion projects... I have this research project where I have to make my way through 22 boxes of archival files but I don’t know where it’s going to lead but it’s calling to me. So I’m going to get to spend time with those archives which is a real gift. It’s a gift of time, ultimately.”

A quarter of the prize is committed to a protege of the laureate’s choosing. Ms. Beagan has selected Anishinaabe/Miami writer and actor Joelle Peters who, like Ms. Beagan, is a storyteller who calls out failing systems by focusing on the experiences of Indigenous women and girls. Ms. Peters and her recent work, Niish, can be seen as part of this year’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival at Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts theatre company.

“With Joelle, it’s always about the work and having a hunger and a passion for learning the next thing and expanding her skillset. If you’re lucky enough to invite Joelle to come collaborate, she’s not going to only bring talent and skill but she’s gonna make you crack up... which is important because the work is so hard. She’s a real gift.”

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