Richard Wagamese is one of those rare artists who seem able to do it all. A consummate storyteller, Wagamese doesn't stop at merely writing or telling his tales; instead, he uses his many talents to bring his words to life.
On Friday, Nov. 6, a small, appreciate audience had an opportunity to see and hear Wagamese at his finest.
He began the splendid event at the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) with a story of the beginning of mankind. From the mysticism of the Creator breathing life into the world with the one singular breath from which "we became family" to the often-hilarious portrayals of the biased and bigots among us, there wasn't a dull moment for two solid hours.
And while many of the stories resulted in loud laughter, there was also the underlying message that the Creator intended that we should "walk gently upon the earth and do each other no harm" a thread Wagamese wove throughout his thought-provoking one-man show.
To drive his message home, the author used many different talents. He sang and drummed the songs of his people, the Ojibway Nation. Four times he raised the drum to sing the song of life. He took time to acknow-ledge his host, the Sechelt Nation, and spoke of the special honour of coming to another First Nations community.
This was Wagamese's second trip to the Coast in four months. He was a featured author at the Festival of the Written Arts in August and the only First Nations author to date to give the Bruce Hutchinson memorial lecture. His amazing talent convinced the SIB to bring him back.
Nothing about Wagamese is ordinary. His entry into the world of writing and journalism tells a lot about the character and chutzpah of the man. In 1979 he saw an ad for a magazine reporter on a job board at the Native Employment Centre in Regina. Fed up with what he called mind-numbing, unskilled work, Wagamese applied for the job, and after spinning a few embellishments, he was told to return for an interview several days hence. A high school dropout, he spent the time to the interview at the local library studying writing and journalism. And it worked he got the job.
Over the course of the evening in Sechelt, Wagamese became many different people. One, 'Know-it-all Paul' came complete with a curly brown wig. True to his name, this character could tell you every cliché ever voiced about every ethnic group including but not limited to "Indians."
Another was the hyper-cool Tony Mazarelli. This caricature provided the audience with one of the best lines of the night when he asked a First Nations person he gets to know if they have reservations. "Yes," came the quick reply, "but only about politics and hip-hop."
On and on the voices came, each complete with a different accent and persona. One of the funniest of the night was an African-Canadian blues brother. The audience hooted during that character's assessment of one of Wagamese's physical attributes.
"My man's got no ass. You'll never be able to shake it."
During his presentation Wagamese (morphed as a tired elder) relayed the legend of the first canoe made by the Ojibway people. An important message came from the description of the building of the birch bark canoes. "Grandson, take something back to the people. Tell them to paddle slowly, paddle gently, paddle in rhythm," the elder said.
Stories are everywhere; storytellers are everywhere, according to Wagamese. Perhaps, but they don't come any more talented than he.
Wagamese made a miserable rainy November night one for his audience to relish.