Photo of Andre Mendard singing in Rubaboo CREDIT: ZOË ALEXANDRA KING
Menard explained to the audience that Rubaboo comes from the Michif word for "leftover stew" or "big pot."

The world premiere of Rubaboo, A Métis Cabaret starring Andrea Menard had its opening night on March 10 at The Grand Theatre. The 90-minute performance highlighted songs and storytelling between Menard, Nathan Aswell, Robert Walsh, and Karen Shepherd. As their voices carried across the Spriet Stage, a combination of emotions were portrayed to the audience.

Sitting in the front row gave me an unobstructed view of Menard and her friends, standing in front of the largescale artwork by Métis artist Leah Dorion. Métis pieces remained as the backdrop on the stage throughout the production, letting the audience take in all their tiny details. I remember noticing what seemed like bubbles in the middle artwork behind Menard which then scaled upward into what looked like a representation of fire. I later realized the importance of the four elements to Menard and how the artwork tied into her story.

As the performance began, the beautiful melody of Menard’s voice is what I heard alongside the different instruments that Walsh, Aswell, and Shepherd were playing. Some of these instruments I had never seen before and when Menard named them, they were words that I hadn’t heard either. The only instrument that I did recognize was Walsh’s guitar.

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After the first song concluded, I recognized that this was the first performance that I had attended at a theatre that was so interactive. Menard began engaging with the audience by asking questions with the expectations of a response. One example was her asking if there were any farmers in the crowd. I remember this vividly because there was a farmer sitting beside me who answered her. Also, when certain songs were sung, she would invite the audience to sing along after guiding us through what words and melody to use.

Besides the interactions throughout the performance, there was a strong sense of community at The Grand when it came to Rubaboo. The voices throughout the audience when told to sing and the clapping between and during the songs all contributed to a sense of unity in the theatre. Menard explained to the audience that Rubaboo comes from the Michif word for “leftover stew” or “big pot.” This Rubaboo was a combination of songs and storytelling of Menard’s Métis heritage. This production was fascinatingly personal and sculpted to show how Menard became the person she is today.

Whilst the storyline of Rubaboo was quite compelling, I also found it easy to get lost in the angelic voices on stage. I would be lying if I said that my concentration was solely on the storyline. This was simply because I got too distracted appreciating the talent in each stage members voice as well as their talent playing the instruments.

Throughout the production, Menard focused primarily on the four elements of earth, fire, water, and air, and how she acknowledged each of them. Whenever she described a certain element, the effects that the stage crew presented felt so real that if I closed my eyes for just one second, I could feel as though I was really right in front of them. The sounds of fire crackling and water gushing through the speakers with warm and soft coloured lighting all played a part in this realistic feeling.

Each song had its own unique story and meaning to it, and I couldn’t help but notice the connection created between Menard and her friends with their deep eye contact throughout. The sense of unity on stage and in the audience was so strong that it was an indescribable feeling. Before attending this performance, I was not very educated in the Métis culture and heritage. I can say that when I left the show, I had more insight into some of their traditions and it opened the door to making me want to learn more.

As the performance came to an end, the audience applauded the stage members in sync with the beat of the song playing through the speakers, everyone in awe of this beautiful performance stayed a few minutes in consistent applause.

This experience of learning about Menard’s journey watching Rubaboo on opening night was insightful and left me with a feeling of belonging. Rubaboo is performing at The Grand Theatre until March 25 and will next travel to Vancouver, followed by Edmonton next year.