Joelle Peters was born in Sarnia and raised on Walpole Island First Nation, Bkejwanong Territory in Southwestern Ontario. She is an actor and a playwright, with an interest in directing. She moved to Toronto in search of a better kombucha selection and also to attend post secondary. After completing the Acting for Camera and Voice program at Seneca College, Joelle has since worked as an actor with many lovely theatres and theatre festivals across Canada including the Toronto Fringe, Springworks Festival, Summerworks, Western Canada Theatre, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Storefront Theatre, and more. Joelle also works as a patron services representative at Native Earth Performing Arts. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the city with friends, dog spotting, playing the ukulele and watching those relaxing soap cutting videos on Instagram.
MultiplicityTO: What led you to pursue acting and directing, especially in Toronto?
Joelle Peters: I grew up on a small island in southwestern Ontario and have always felt drawn to performance. I started in school plays in elementary school, then high school, and then decided to continue pursuing it into my adulthood because I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else; acting is something I always really wanted to do. I figured I’d go where the work is: Toronto. I applied to a handful of post-secondary programs and decided on Seneca College, for their Acting for Camera and Voice program. It was a great opportunity for me to gain skills I still use today and although I consider myself more of a theater artist, my film/TV training comes in handy as well. I do love Toronto, it has grown on me immensely over the past 5 years I’ve lived here; although I’m not necessarily tied to the city. We do have a great theater community here!
MTO: Do you find yourself having to fit into a mold for when you act, and for when you produce/direct? Or, in your work so far, has it been a sort of a symbiosis between the two?
JP: When I started acting professionally, I was a constant nervous wreck. I thought I had to present myself a certain way, act a certain way, and be knowledgeable about all things POC related. It was incredibly draining trying to hold everything up and eventually I realized I don’t need to fit into any mold other than my own – my uniqueness is what keeps me working! And when I don’t know something, it becomes a great learning/teaching moment. I’m fortunate to have forged working relationships and friendships with folks within the Toronto theater community that have lots of knowledge to share from their own experiences. I hope someday to be able to do that for other emerging artists down the road.
Joelle portrayed Eugenia in
Women of the Fur Trade
Written and Directed by Frances Koncan
Theatre Passe Muraille
Joelle (right) as Catherine/Gennessee
Deceitful Above All Things
Written by Genevieve Adam
Directed by Tanya Rintoul
Factory Theatre, 2017
"We see so much content on TV and online that, while entertaining, isn’t relatable. I want them [Indigenous youth] to see people on a stage that look like them. That look like their brother or sister. Their mom or dad. Their auntie or uncle. Their grandma. We are still here and we still have so many stories to share."
Photo by Red Works Photography
MTO: You were Catherine/Gennessee in the play Deceitful Above All Things and Assistant Director of its sequel Dark Heart. What was the transition like from cast to crew?
JP: It was an easier transition than I was expecting. I hadn’t tried my hand at directing since the Sears Drama Festival. I was brought on as Assistant Director a bit later in the game as they had already cast the show and met with designers, did promo shots, etc. I felt like I was initially playing a bit of catch up, learning the show, seeing how the cast worked together, and watching the way Tyler Seguin (the director) worked with the team as a whole. I learned that directing is more of a front loaded job. When the actors go home, we continue working to make sure we’re prepared for the next time we meet. Or we’re figuring out logistics for lighting, for sound, props, etc. And then once the show opens, our job is pretty much done (not always the case, especially in indie theater of course, when most of the team stays on till closing because we wear other hats in the production.) Tyler is an incredible director so being taken under his wing and shown the ropes was such a great experience. He was really kind and encouraging, which allowed me to see what kind of director I might want to be someday - at the moment I’m a bit more interested in creating work as an actor.
MTO: Deceitful Above All Things is set in 17th century France, and its prequel Dark Heart in New France 1661. Can you tell us about working “in the past” and what opportunities it opened for you creatively?
JP: Both opportunities afforded me the ability to explore worlds I hadn’t experienced before, or ever really thought about outside of history class. I also learned how to research for period pieces, and it was great watching the work the other actors brought in as well.
MTO: Similarly, Dark Heart introduced a supernatural element with its story. Having been previously involved in the story line as cast, and being Assistant Director here, can you share your interest in the supernatural or the impact you think it had on this series?
JP: I’ve always been curious about the supernatural – I’m fascinated by stories and things that can’t be easily explained. Deceitful playwright Genevieve Adam researched myths within European culture and found similarities between the loup-garou (werewolf) and the bearwalker, which is an Indigenous legend. I can’t speak much to the impact it’s had on the trilogy aside from staying true to the dark tone set previously in Deceitful, but I can say that when I heard about the theme of the play and already knowing Genevieve’s writing, I instantly wanted to be involved. I haven’t seen many thrillers on stage before and what an opportunity, to help bring one to life.
MTO: In our publication, we are re-purposing and re-imagining the word “multiplicity” in order to mean “living, working, or being in more than one form”. We aim to transgress boundaries that exist within the realms of identity - cultural, professional, and otherwise. We feel that as artists, multiplicity exists in the messages pursued, the work created, or even down to the approach or material. That being said, how do you relate to this concept?
JP: A lot of the time my work transcends the boundary between work and personal life - the work we create as artists are things we feel strongly about and want the world to see & feel; it automatically becomes something that goes beyond our professional life and dips into our personal. Before taking on new projects I always think about how it will affect me, professionally and personally, and I think about how the new project will interact with other things I’m working on at the time. Multiplicity definitely exists in my world as an artist.
MTO: You’ve just completed a tour of Mistatim with Red Sky in BC. Previously in education, you’ve hosted youth acting workshops on Walpole Island. How do you view the importance of theater for youth, especially Indigenous youth?
JP: I think theater is a wonderful medium to reach previously unreachable audiences - commonly, this tends to be youth. It often wasn’t until doing talk-backs with the audiences at the schools we performed at that I realized that this was at least a handful of children’s first play they’ve seen. Theater impacts people in such deep and incredible ways that other mediums cannot. It’s live, it’s in your face, it can shake you to your core. And with Mistatim, I’ve been lucky to bare witness to the magic of theater for youth, especially Indigenous youth. It can open them up in ways that nothing else could. Their willingness to believe and listen to stories is so palpable. It’s incredible to witness and I’m so honored to be a part of sharing the magic of theater with them.
MTO: You’re currently in the process of writing your own play – what do you aim to represent to the work you create?
JP: I want to create real and honest art for Indigenous people. I especially want to reach the youth, as they are our future. I want them to see that they aren’t being forgotten. We see so much content on TV and online that, while entertaining, isn’t relatable. I want them to see people on a stage that look like them. That look like their brother or sister. Their mom or dad. Their auntie or uncle. Their grandma. We are still here and we still have so many stories to share.
MTO: What are you up to now?
JP: I’m about to present a reading of my first play, Niish, at the Paprika Festival here in Toronto. The festival runs from May 20-26th, with my play presentation on the 25th in the evening.
I’m gearing up for another Mistatim tour coming up soon, and I’m also part of a show premiering this fall in Toronto.