From left to right: Sisters Gabriel (Andrea Markiewicz), Mary (Nicole Saugstad) and Agnes (Jacqollyne Keath) in the Portal Players Dramatic Society’s production of Sisters. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Portal Players production touches on residential schools

Sisters chronicles a convent-run residential school in Canada

This weekend, the Portal Players Dramatic Society will take a look at the history of residential schools in Canada with a new show opening at the Capitol Theatre.

Sisters, written by playwright and politician Wendy Lill, is a tough, uncompromising look at a convent-run Native residential school. Although the show chronicles in graphic detail the establishment of residential schools in Canada, it also takes a look at the cultural infrastructure and values of the society which created those schools—the church and the state of white, colonial, paternalist Canada.

“It’s not so much about residential schools as it is about the conditions in colonial Canada around it,” explained Portal Players director Brent Ronning.

Ronning first encountered the play at Theatre BC’s Mainstage provincial drama festival in 2017 in Vernon, BC and determined that it was something that needed to come to the Alberni Valley under his direction.

“It’s a complex show,” he said. “It challenges the audience. It’s a memory play, so everything that’s happening on the stage is from the perspective of one character’s memory. It’s up to the audience to determine if the narrator is reliable.”

As the Portal Players’ president, Ronning has been involved with the dramatic society for many years. But this is the first major production he has directed.

“I had a very definite viewpoint and knew what I wanted it to look like,” said Ronning. “I surrounded myself with talented people who were willing to offer their help.”

The strong cast includes many familiar and talented faces from the Capitol Theatre stage, including Teresa Drew, Nicole Saugstad, Andrea Markiewicz, Mitch Coté, and Curtis Dewar. Sisters will also feature recent arrival to the Alberni Valley, Jacqollyne Keath, who is fresh off of directing the recent production of Looking. Award-winning lighting designer Diena Tyne will be developing the very unique look of this production. Producer hinatinyis, most recently heard as the voice of Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors, also joined Ronning’s efforts to bring the challenging production to the stage at the Capitol Theatre.

Sisters has been chosen to represent Portal Players Dramatic Society at the North Island Zone Drama Festival, being held in May in Qualicum Beach. Whoever wins the zone festival will have a chance to perform at Theatre BC’s Mainstage Festival, which is being hosted in Port Alberni in July.

“I’m really confident in the quality of our show, but I know our zone is quite competitive,” said Ronning.

Portal Player’s production of Sisters will premiere at the Capitol Theatre on Friday, April 26 and will run for three weekends on Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online (, at the box office (Monday-Thursday, 3-6 p.m.) and the Rollin Art Centre (Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

There is a strong trigger warning, especially for residential school survivors and their families, and Ronning urges people to ensure that they have supports around them if they choose to watch it. The cast and crew will also be available at the end of the show to offer support for those who need it.

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Nicole Saugstad (left) and Teresa Drew play the younger and older versions of Sister Mary in the Portal Players Dramatic Society’s production of Sisters. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Mary (played by Nicole Saugstad) and Louis (played by Curtis Dewar) in the Portal Players Dramatic Society’s production of Sisters. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

The cast of the Portal Players production of Sisters, opening April 26 at the Capitol Theatre. SUBMITTED PHOTO

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