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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Les Filles Du Roi (The King’s Daughters) shifts perspective on Canadian history

Written in English, French and Kanien’kéha (Mohawk), new musical tells this piece of Canadian history through the eyes of the indigenous people living on the land at the time

From the creator of the ground-breaking Children of God, Corey Payette joins forces with Julie McIsaac for another new Canadian musical, Les Filles du Roi (The King’s Daughters).

Playing at the York Theatre in East Vancouver, Les Filles du Roi is the story of a young Mohawk girl and her brother whose lives are disrupted upon the arrival of les filles du roi in New France (now Montreal) in 1665.

Filles du roi (King’s Daughters) is a term used to refer to some 800 young Frenchwomen who immigrated to New France in the 17th century as part of a program sponsored by Louis XIV. Designed to boost New France’s population, the program saw women and girls actively recruited by the government of the time, whose travel to the colony was paid for by the king.

Approached by McIsaac three-and-a-half years ago, Payette was excited by the idea of telling the story of these new arrivals and their impact on Canada at the time from a unique viewpoint.

“I think what drew me to it initially was the idea of shifting the perspective of this well-known story, as told through the eyes of the indigenous people who are already living on the land of the time,” he says. “And to experience the story through the eyes of the women who were making this extraordinary journey.”

Written in English, French and Kanien’kéha (Mohawk), the production will feature English surtitles. Incorporating a trio of languages has been both a unique and challenging process. This has been especially true as the duo tweaked the show.

“A scene that used to be entirely in English now has one-character speaking English, while my character, Marie Jeanne, responds in French,” says McIsaac. “It’s a high stakes scene, so re-wiring the specific thoughts and actions, alongside the emotional journey, was such a fun, tricky process.”

Members of the cast of Les Filles Du Roi (The King’s Daughters). Photo by Tim Matheson.
Members of the cast of Les Filles Du Roi (The King’s Daughters). Photo by Tim Matheson.

McIsaac can’t say enough about the cast, which has been responsive to the inevitable changes that come with developing a new musical. “It’s definitely more challenging than working on a piece that ‘is-what-it-is’ from day one onwards, and is monolingual, but I like that challenge,” she says.

While demanding, McIsaac also says creating a show in three languages has been powerful. “I especially love it when there are lyrics in the three languages being sung simultaneously,” she says. “That, to me, is a wonderfully unique texture that not only speaks to the complex history of our country, but also feels truer to contemporary Canada than if the piece were solely in English.”

In addition to co-writing the book and lyrics for Les Filles du Roi, McIsaac will also step onto the stage as Marie Jeanne, the 16-year-old fille du roi who, along with her younger sister, has volunteered to emigrate from France to Nouvelle-France (New France), as a ward of King Louis XIV, to marry and help populate the young colony.

“From the moment she arrives, she’s really living in the moment, fielding tons of new information, trying to make the best of the situation she’s in, and struggling to reconcile all this with what she’s been raised to do, and to believe,” says McIsaac.

Julie McIsaac and Raes Calvert in Les Filles du Roi. Photo by Tim Matheson.
In addition to being one of the show’s creators, Julie McIsaac (with Raes Calvert above) also performs in Les Filles du Roi. Photo by Tim Matheson.

While McIsaac enjoys the challenge of being on stage, she has come to realize the pressures of being one of the show’s creators. “There’s also the multitasking –  switching back and forth from actor mode to writer mode – which isn’t always easy, but I love the process, and I also love how Corey and I push one another to be the best artists we can be,” she says.

A big part of Les Filles du Roi is about language reclamation, particularly the spoken and sung Mohawk. Payette believes the show will be a unique experience for audiences. “One where English, French, and Mohawk are held together in a way that holds space for many more cultures than just the dominant culture to have a voice,” he says.

As a transplant, McIsaac points to Marshall McMahen’s production design as another reason to see the musical. “Not only the costumes, but there are these gorgeous painted drops, and as someone who hails from Eastern Canada, it takes my breath away; how these capture the quality of light, the shape of the landscape, the movement of the water,” she says. “It feels like home.”

Les Filles Du Roi (The King’s Daughters) is currently in previews and officially opens at the York Theatre in East Vancouver on May 17 and continues through May 27. Visit https://urbanink.ca for tickets and information.

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