Trickster Theatre’s Mark Dawson previously helped students at Little Buffalo School, near Peace River, learn about First Nations history.

Trickster Theatre’s Mark Dawson previously helped students at Little Buffalo School, near Peace River, learn about First Nations history.

Maskwacis-area students to learn about suicide prevention through collaborative theatre

Calgary’s Trickster Theatre is coming to Erminskin Primary School next month

Suicide prevention and other health issues will be tackled in “playful,” theatrical style at Ermineskin Primary School, near Maskwacis.

Trickster Theatre actors from Calgary will be at the school April 18-21 to explore with Grades 3 -6 students various health issues affecting the community — including mental health, dental and dietary wellness and other topics.

The goal is to bring kids out of their seats and into an active learning environment, said David Chantler, producing director of a company embarking on its Canada 150: Our Many Faces school tours.

Chantler believes that First Nations cultures appreciate a more “circuitous,” rather than confrontational approach to issues, so actors will involve students in metaphoric stories instead of lectures.

Since kids who stay in school have better mental health, Chantler said this lesson will become a play. Two students might slide a hockey net around the gymnasium to “scoop up” other students. The net represents all the negative forces that cause a student to drop out of school, said Chantler — gang and peer pressure, family troubles, etc.

To stay out of the net, students must come up with positives reinforcements, such as staying connected to community elders, and traditional teachings, including aboriginal dancing, singing and drumming.

Another play focusing on dental health might involve some students playing teeth and others depicting plaque that grabs hold of teeth if not vanquished by brushing, said Chantler, who believes these playful games reinforce pathways to positive behavior.

The four days will culminate in an original performance, co-created by Ermineskin students on April 21.

The school’s principal Debbie Michael believes in presenting alternative teaching methods to reach kids that thrive in creative, energetic environments. “Anytime we can get the students to engage, that’s the goal.”

She noted that mental health problems crop up in many people who have experienced trauma, both in the First Nations community and general population — so Michael feels it’s never too early to get students thinking about health and wellness.

“As educators, we have to teach the whole child, and theatre is part of that.”

This is the first time Trickster Theatre is coming to the 480-student Erminskin Primary School, although the company has worked in about 75 other First Nations schools. Michael’s staff are applying for a grant to bring the group back to focus on literacy in 2018.