A Southern Manitoba playwright, who is also the Vice Principal and Guidance Councilor at Winkler's Parkland Elementary School, will see a project that's occupied nearly eight years of her life hit the stage in June.
Rehearsals for Janna Larsen's musical "RIEL" began last weekend, coinciding with Louis Riel day.
Larsen was encouraged to tell this important story by her late father, Norm Larsen, who was the first lawyer for Legal Aid Manitoba.

"I promised my dad I was going to do this. I was hoping I would have done it years before, but there are reasons like COVID that sort of stalled it a little bit," shared Larsen. "But if it weren't for him insisting, you know, this is a very important project and story, and a way we can help our journey to reconciliation or ‘RIELconciliation.' " 

Larsen said if it weren't for her father, she doesn't know if she ever would have dove into such a meaty story, and become truly aware about the impact Louis Riel made on us here in Manitoba.

"I know my dad's watching and he's listening, and I think he's going to be excited when this comes around."

Janna with her dad, Norm. (submitted)Janna with her dad, Norm taken on Louis Riel Day in 2017. (submitted)

Beginning from the age of 13 until his death at 41, the musical looks at who Louis Riel was as a man, and delves into his human side.

"RIEL" will feature a wonderfully diverse cast of people with different backgrounds and different experiences from Manitoba. Some of the cast are currently studying in Ontario and will be coming back to Manitoba to perform in the "RIEL".

"We've got 11-year-old Zoe Reimer here from Winkler," exclaimed Larsen. "And Rochelle Drudge, who is a music teacher locally, who I went to high school with, we're collaborating on this as well. And then my husband, Paul Henderson, who works at NPC (Northlands Parkway Collegiate), is going to be part of the band as well. So, we've got a number of Manitobans from age 6 to 52 that are involved." 

Part of the cast of RIEL (including Keenan Lehmann, far left, who will be playing Louis Riel, and Pierson Alibudbud, 3rd from the left, who will be playing Louis Riel at age 13) - submittedPart of the cast of RIEL (including Keenan Lehmann, far left, who will be playing Louis Riel, and Pierson Alibudbud, 3rd from the left, who will be playing Louis Riel at age 13) - submitted

"If you read through his (Riel's) transcripts of his trial, he talked a lot about overall human rights. He talked a lot about bringing people together, Protestants and Catholics, and spirituality of different types, and how we can all live together and that we are all here for each other as humans," added Larsen.

She said Riel contributed and wanted the best for Manitoba. "I think it's important we recognize that, because he really did help it become what it is today." 

Larsen said the musical is almost like a gentle serving of Riel's life, sharing events that happened.  "Now that you know what you know, what do you do from there? Now you have this knowledge. How do you move this forward?"

Larsen said they are all pumped to bring this to the people of Manitoba and beyond. "This is a story that's really important and it's really valuable and I hope people will be open-minded enough to give it a listen and to come and see the show and really be open-minded to see what they maybe learned from it that they may not have known before." 

"RIEL" will hit the stage at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre from June 7th To June 9th. Tickets will go on sale through Ticketmaster beginning in May.