Jacob MacInnis had no idea that the summer of 2011 would be a life-changing experience.
Little did MacInnis know, upon seeing the smooth sandstone facade of the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI, that they were about to begin a journey of not only professional development, but personal discovery.
As one of the 12 Indigenous youth from across Canada who were selected that summer to take part in the TD Confederation Centre Young Company – a theatre trainee program run through the Confederation Centre – MacInnis not only had the opportunity to work with celebrated artists like the late composer and playwright, Cathy Elliott in the 2011 production The Talking Stick, but also the chance to discover their own Indigenous roots.
"I was raised in a white community, and I present as white instead of Indigenous," said MacInnis. "Before that summer in Epekwitk (the Mi'kmaq name for PEI), I had very little knowledge of my Indigenous background. My family never really spoke about it. I never knew what it was like to live the Indigenous experience in Canada."
Nine years have passed since MacInnis' experience. This summer, the hallways of the Confederation Centre were unusually quiet as the TD Confederation Centre Young Company was forced to press pause on their program, and performance arts communities across Canada grounded to a halt due to the pandemic.
The organizers of the program — which has helped launch young Canadian performers onto main stages from Canada's Stratford Festival to New York's Broadway, and beyond — knew it was important to find a way to keep the spirit of the program alive, even if meeting in person wasn't possible.
So, to help find a path forward, the Confederation Centre's marketing department looked to the past, opting to amplify the voices of the program's alumnae — this time through a retrospective digital storytelling initiative called the TD Young Company Rewind series.
Hosted on the Confederation Centre's Instagram account, the series brought together a select group of alumnae, including MacInnis, to share their fondest TD Confederation Centre Young Company memories, and subsequent successes.
Amplifying the performing arts during lock-down
"The TD Young Company Rewind series was our way of keeping this incredibly tight-knit community connected from a distance, and continue to amplify the hopes, experiences and challenges of this diverse group of Canadians performers to inspire the next generation of artists," said Steve Bellamy, Confederation Centre of the Arts CEO.
Historically, the TD Confederation Centre Young Company program has been a training ground with a Western art, dance and theatre lens, that culminated in the creation of an original production by the participants launched on Canada Day each year. But in more recent years, specific focus has been placed on music, song and storytelling that reflects the diversity of the participants on a cultural and geographic level.
"The building we run the program from was built in 1964 as a memorial to the Charlottetown Conference," said Bellamy. "So, we are cognizant of the colonial legacy of this building and feel a responsibility to rewrite some of that narrative by telling stories that are inclusive of all voices that historically had been excluded from the table."
Today, Bellamy said the TD Confederation Centre Young Company embraces culturally diverse artforms like throat singing, oral storytelling and traditional instruments as part of their selection criteria. The goal is to encourage more participation of diverse voices and stories on Canadian stages and to help preserve many Indigenous traditional cultural performance artforms.
A model for the entire organization
Bellamy believes the real success of the program is providing space where youth can create a story together that they can see themselves reflected in.
"They're not trying to insert themselves into someone else's script," he said.
"Instead they are creating a story based on their experiences."
For MacInnis, seeing Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) artists tell stories at the very location of the Charlottetown Conference was powerful.
"It gives me goosebumps thinking about it," said MacInnis, adding that the 2011 production of The Talking Stick that they performed in challenged people to think critically about what Canadians have been taught in history lessons about our past and to reflect critically about their relationships with Indigenous Peoples.
That first summer, adds MacInnis, was the first time they felt connected with their Métis heritage.
"I made my first drum, smudged with sage for the first time and attended my first powwow," said MacInnis. "I learned songs of Indigenous Peoples from across Canada and connected with the land. It was the best summer of my life."
Due to the success of the TD Confederation Centre Young Company program's diversity and inclusion efforts, the program has now become a model for how the Confederation Centre at-large engages with diverse communities.
"While it's very difficult to go through a summer without the program," said Bellamy, "The situation has given us space to reflect on how we can become better as an organization and more broadly apply some of these priorities around engaging diverse communities across the entire Confederation Centre of the Arts."
For MacInnis, being featured in the TD Young Company Rewind series was an opportunity to keep the spirit of the program, and that formative summer alive.
"Picking up the drum that I made, taking a moment to honour the memory of Cathy Elliott and feel her spirit around me as I revisited my time in Charlottetown was healing. Remembering is medicine."
TD has supported the TD Confederation Centre Young Company since 1999. Support for the 2020 season and the TD Young Company Rewind series was made through the bank's corporate citizenship platform, the TD Ready Commitment.