pêhonân: Fringe's First Indigenous-Led & Indigenous-Centred Venue

This year’s Fringe Theatre Event is full of firsts. Our first Fringe together since 2019, our first hybrid in person and digital series… and one of the most important firsts is establishing an Indigenous-led and Indigenous-centred venue for 2021’s Together We Fringe: pêhonân. 

Located at 8529 103 St NW—previously C103 and Roxy on Gateway—pêhonân is an integral part of Edmonton Fringe’s long-term goal to centre and elevate Indigenous artists and storytellers as well as recognize and honour the history of the Treaty 6 land that our events take place on.

Josh Languedoc stares at the camera, one arm resting on his leg.
Josh Languedoc, Director of Indigenous Strategic Planning with Edmonton Fringe

The creation of this new venue is part of Fringe’s Indigenous Innovation Program, supported by BioWare. We sat down with Josh Languedoc, Director, Indigenous Strategic Planning with Edmonton Fringe, to talk about how pêhonân began and what fringers can expect at this new venue.  

Please tell us a bit about why you chose the name pêhonân for your venue? 

Josh (J): I thought for weeks about what to name the venue. I am not nehiyawak nor am I incredibly familiar with its language. I was in the middle of doing a play reading of my play Civil Blood as part of Found Fest. Hunter Cardinal was in the cast and we began chatting about the venue. He is more familiar with the language, so I ran a few ideas by him. He pitched the word pêhonân and told me what it means and its connections to Treaty 6 territory. Ironically enough, the play reading we were a part of was also taking place at the pêhonân art park in Queen Elizabeth Park. It was one of those chilling moments where the answer just naturally appeared and presented itself in a very organic way. 

I wanted this venue to feel like an open and welcoming space. I also wanted to tie the name of the venue to the nahiyawak language of these lands. I was originally thinking of the name “tatawaw,” but that’s more of a greeting rather than an intended space. 

Ultimately, it was a conversation I had with Hunter Cardinal who helped me find the name. He told me the word pêhonân refers to “a waiting place” or “a meeting place” that celebrates diversity and welcomes change. Ironically enough, this is also the name of the Indigenous art park in Queen Elizabeth Park just down the road from the venue. 

This idea of a “waiting place” and “a meeting place” for change and diversity just felt right. It is rooted in a nehiyawak teaching and represents my vision for the venue: a space that uplifts Indigenous narratives, honours diversity, and is welcoming of anyone who wants to enter. Hence, pêhonân as a venue name and a venue concept was born. 

How did the idea for pêhonân emerge? 

J: Its emergence was a mix of my vision and some of the long-term goals of Edmonton Fringe. One of Edmonton Fringe’s priorities is to uplift IBPOC voices and part of my position’s work is to help Fringe identify action items to be more inclusive of Indigenous voices at all levels of the organization. 

When asked what I could start working on in preparation for this year’s event, I figured that starting with an all-Indigenous venue was a great place to start. From that idea, pêhonân began to take off and became this open and welcoming space that programs Indigenous artists and includes circle conversations, food and nourishment, and open audience engagement. 

 What is the overarching intent of establishing this venue for Together We Fringe? 

J: “Together We Fringe” is such a beautiful message to me. It is the perfect theme for this year. However, this venue does begin to question this notion of “togetherness.” 

There are many conversations happening now about marginalized artistic voices. As a predominantly Eurocentric institution, theatre and art festivals have largely brought Eurocentric audiences to its spaces. IBPOC narratives are often pushed aside or deemed “special theatre” rather than simply being mainstream. So yes, while Edmonton Fringe’s audience is wide-reaching and diverse, the serious gaps in terms of IBPOC representation must still be noted. 

Can Indigenous patrons from out of town or living in the city come to the Fringe and feel they are part of being “together?” Or does the current image of Fringe still push their stories and epistemologies away from the mainstream? Pêhonân places the Indigenous voice at the forefront. It makes a statement. It demonstrates that there are many strong Indigenous talents in the city and that all Indigenous voices can see their stories be told at the Fringe. This will ultimately expand the collective “togetherness” of the Fringe so more folks can consider themselves part of that. Growing up I never saw my stories represented on any stage, and this venue allows people like me to feel like they belong in this space. 

What kind of experience can fringers and artists expect at pêhonân? 

J: Content-wise, the shows have amazing variety! There are dance shows, music concerts, play readings, a full-fledged hip hop musical, and a cabaret-style variety show. These are all created by Indigenous-identifying artists. Artists and fringers can expect to see these narratives and stories on full display in the venue. 

Artists and fringers can expect a softer community feeling within this venue. The venue is open for public drop-in from 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM most days and will include tea, bannock, and a circle conversation facilitated by me. Everyone is welcome and every voice is heard in the circle. 

I will be having conversations with some of these artists as part of the “pasitew patio series.” Pasitew is nahiyawak for “a fire started by people.” These conversations will highlight the artistic and societal fires being started by these various Indigenous artists to create space for their communities. This will be recorded and broadcast as part of Fringe’s digital series on FringeTV, and fringers/artists are welcome to come witness the conversations and be present for our discussions. 

Fringers and artists can also expect a softer feeling around performance times and ticketing. People can arrive ‘late’ and they will not be turned away. Ticket prices are “offer what you will,” meaning anyone will be able to see any show in this venue, regardless of financial situations. Similarly, artists and fringers have the choice of offering non-monetary gifts to pay for tickets such as tobacco, beaded vests, art, etc. At pêhonân, tickets are less of a hierarchical money-making driven machine and more of an exchange between artist and community. 

I truly do want this space to feel open and accessible to anyone who wants to show up and connect. 

What is one thing you’ve learned in this process of bringing Indigenous traditions into the Fringe theatre tradition? 

J: Change happens slowly. Sometimes we wish change would happen more quickly, but at the end of the day we cannot force something to happen faster than it is meant to. The creation of this venue and the inclusion of Indigenous ways of knowing is a massive step forward for the Edmonton Fringe. Yet we see this as merely a step, one of many more to come.

This venue is one part of the solution, and we look forward to continuing to work toward even bigger goals. Ongoing reflection is going to be a highly active part of this process of change. 

 This year’s Fringe Theatre Event asks everyone to think about what being together again means. Fill in the blank – Together We ______ 

J: Together we build change.

Thank you for sharing this journey with us, Josh! And the same goes for you reading this, fringer. We’re glad you’re here. Check out the (soft) schedule for performances at pêhonân and join our circle. 

What happens here in Edmonton doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It’s going to be a long road back to the Edmonton Fringe experience we’ve built together over the past four decades. 

Will you help support the future of Edmonton Fringe? Your gift will help us imagine what’s possible for the next 40 years for fringing.  

Thank you for caring, thank you for the last 40 years, and thank you for supporting the future of Fringe.

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