The Hours That Remain shows the struggles families endure after an Indigenous woman or girl goes missing — struggles that often are suffered in silence.
The play about Denise, who has spent five years trying to uncover the truth about her sister Michelle’s disappearance, is being staged in Winnipeg for the first time.
It takes the audience through a difficult subject and its toll on Denise, whose marriage and sanity begin to crumble.
“It’s an important story to tell here in Winnipeg,” director Tracey Nepinak said.
“I don’t think enough is being done to make awareness about murdered and missing girls and women in Canada, in general, but here in particular, there hasn’t been much on stage addressing this topic.”
The play, written by Keith Barker, is being put on by Theatre by the River and performed at the Prairie Theatre Exchange.
It’s been an emotionally taxing story to tell but also educational, Nepinak said.
Before each rehearsal, the crew held a “check in” to talk about how they feel and to prepare for any days that were going to be hard, she said.
In that way, it’s also helped everybody, Nepinak said.
“We all feel safe and comfortable to share stories before we go ahead and tell this one.”
Following each performance, audience members are invited to stay and hear from community leaders who will dive deeper into the themes and offer perspectives in the age of truth and reconciliation.
A different person hosts each of the speaker series and invites the audience to engage in a dialogue.
Nepinak said she decided to add that element because “the play itself doesn’t give you any answers.”
The play was written before the MMIWG inquiry final report was released. Its purpose was to raise awareness on the topic, Nepinak said.
“Now, post-report, we felt that we have this information available, so we brought in people who are much more knowledgeable about the subject and can answer questions,” she said.
Support workers from a healing centre are also present in case anyone is triggered by the content.
The speakers include:
- Mitch Bourbonniere — social worker and community activist involved with Mama Bear Clan and Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin.
- Bernadette Smith — MLA representing Point Douglas and a member of Drag the Red as well as the Manitoba Coalition of Families of Missing and Murdered Women.
- Tina Keeper — political activist, community leader, producer, actor and honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada.
- Issa Kixen — Anishinaabe two-spirit comedian and producer, co-founder of WOKE Comedy Hour, producer of UMFM 101.5’s Minogondaagan: The Good Voice.
- Frances Koncan — writer, theatre director and columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent.
Through the speaker series, Nepinak has found that audiences want to know more and what they can do to help raise awareness, she said.
While the overall tone of the play is poignant, Nepinak wants people to know there are funny parts.
“We kind of mined the humour just to bring some lightness to it,” she said.
The play runs until Dec. 8.