White Noise honors the work of promising young actor and writer Taran Kootenhayoo

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White Noise

When: April 16-May 1

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Where: Firehall Arts Center, 280 E. Cordova St.

Tickets: From $15 at firehallartscentre.ca, and 604-689-0926

When he passed away in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve 2021, 27-year-old Taran Kootenhayoo left behind a play. Now that play, White Noise, is premiering at the Firehall.

An actor/spoken word artist/activist with a fondness for skateboarding, Kootenhayoo was most recognized for his role as Niki in Bella Ciao! The 2018 indie film is about Latin American, First Nations, and Italian communities around Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. When the movie premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in 2018, Kootenhayoo was named one of four “stars to watch.” In 2019, he won the Sam Payne Award for the Most Promising Newcomer at the Jessie Awards.

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Born in Cold Lake, Alberta, Kootenhayoo was Denesuliné and Stoney Nakoda and a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. I have moved to Vancouver at 18 to study acting.

Co-produced by the Firehall and Savage Society, White Noise was workshopped in 2018 at the Anvil Center in New Westminster and at the Talking Stick Festival.

For the play, director Renae Morriseau has been taking a crash course in social media via her cast.

“We’re looking at the idea of ​​this videogame that one of the characters creates,” Morriseau said. “We talk a lot about culture-jamming and memes and social media, and how young people have their fingers on the pulse of social marketing and media and all of the stuff that they’re navigating. I’m not a teenager, I’m a grandmother. So it’s a different skill.”

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Braiden Houle and Sam Bob in a 2019 reading or White Noise, coming to the Firehall April 16-May 1.
Braiden Houle and Sam Bob in a 2019 reading or White Noise, coming to the Firehall April 16-May 1. Photo by Melody Charlie /jpg

In the play, a white family, the Mannings, invite their new neighbors, a Denesuliné family, over for dinner during Truth and Reconciliation Week. “Then all hell breaks loose,” Morriseau said.

Some of that hell is brought about, indirectly, by an app.

“The Mannings’ daughter Jessika is in the social media world. On the Denesuliné side, Deneyue and Ts’ekwi’s son Windwalker is also media savvy. The idea of ​​the play itself, the staging of it, the set design, is based on the idea of ​​being immersed within a social media world. It’s not a typical dinner aesthetic of an upper-middle-class family’s house. The set design by Lauchlin Johnston is based on the question, What is that world of creation? And how is our behavior manipulated by algorithms and capitalist constructs? When we talk about the HTML language that creates these landscapes, how do we create our infrastructure as Indigenous people within the digital landscape?”

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Playwright Kathleen Flaherty worked with Kootenhayoo on the script. Morriseau directed the workshop at Talking Stick. “My involvement was having Taran in the room with the actors and having a dialogue in terms of how the actors were looking at the script. Sometimes he’d rewrite something. Even after the last show, which we recorded, he made some slight changes.”

She also worked with the young actor on a short film when she was teaching in the film department at Capilano. “He’s always been in the community and very present and very much about creating art. Or skateboarding. And bringing people together in such beautiful ways. I’m very honored to be part of the beginnings of White Noise.”

Several of the people involved in the workshop are part of the upcoming play, including actors Sam Bob, Anita Wittenberg, and Braiden Houle. Kootenhayoo’s sister, Cheyanna Kootenhayoo, is associate director and sound designer.

“What’s amazing and beautiful about this process is that we’re all grieving through the making of this production,” Morriseau said, “with lots of laughter in terms of the scenes and hope in terms of his work being out there in a good way .”

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