Waawaate Fobister is nurturing the traditions of his Anishinaabe background; he is a storyteller, a keeper of his heritage and a two-spirited person. Agokwe is his story and Fobister will bring it to life when he steps onstage at the National Arts Centre on Tuesday, Feb 1.
Agokwe (pronounced “agoo-kway,” meaning “wise woman” or “two-spirited”) is a coming-of-age story of a young Anishinaabe boy in the northwestern Ontario town of Kenora.
Fobister first started writing the play in 2006 as an exploration of his culture and upbringing.
“Because I am an aboriginal artist, a lot of my background and ancestry has heavily influenced my work,” says Fobister. “I am always going to touch that in my work. It’s what I truly, truly believe in, and that’s what I am passionate about. That’s what makes it true and honest.”
Agokwe focuses on the gathering of communities at an Anishinaabe hockey tournament. For the youth, it’s an opportunity to meet a love interest, in particular two boys struggling to find a safe space to explore their sexuality.
“I think it is a moving story, because there is a tragedy and there is also hope. There is something in there where you can learn or be moved, or laugh,” says Fobister. “There’s a lot in the play, and I think everyone can get something out of it.”
Agokwe comes to Ottawa after a successful January run in Vancouver. The play was originally performed at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto in 2008.
“The opening was well received, but for me as an actor and a playwright, I was nervous, as it was the opening night, and I never had an audience for my show in two years,” says Fobister.
The 75-minute play is a one-man show, but Fobister’s strong acting keeps the momentum going. He plays six characters, ranging from Naanabush, the narrator, to Betty Moses, a hockey mother and recovering alcoholic — Fobister’s favourite character.
Agokwe is a physically challenging piece. “You have to be strong enough to perform a one-man show because it takes a lot of stamina to do this show,” Fobister says. “My job as the actor is just to deliver the story, deliver the characters and deliver the script that I wrote.”
By the time he arrives in Ottawa, Fobister plans to be rested and over the nerves he experienced each night in Vancouver. At least until the final performance, when his father will see Agokwe for the first time.
“I am a little nervous, because my play is quite deep and it is really honest. I am pretty honest with my dad, but it is really honest about sexual things,” he says.