Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume

Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume wants to use theater as a healing tool
Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume performs during Ideafest at the First Peoples House

Discovering the power of theatre

As the last act wrapped, Fiona Donnelly-Rheaume looked around the great hall of First Peoples house with tears in her eyes. “I still get choked up thinking about it,” she says, “Elder Vic Underwood, a residential school survivor, addressed the settler children as if no one else was in the room and thanked them for caring.”

As her final project in her applied theatre degree Fiona, under the mentorship of Professor Phil Duchene, worked with Royal Oak Middle School students to perform the play No Stepping Back during UVic’s IdeaFest. The play, written by Dr. Warwick Dobson and Phil Duchene, aims to address the complex history of residential schools and their catastrophic effects on Indigenous communities, families and individuals.

“Seeing kids act out what happened at residential schools made the suffering and pain that Indigenous youth endured more real,” Fiona says, “Theatre is a powerful tool that can bring about social change and help to build a stronger community.”

Building a community

For Fiona, the theatre has played a prominent role in her own self-discovery. As a young military wife and mother, Fiona joined theatre groups in every town that her family was transferred to. “It helped me learn to adapt to change and express my feelings,” she explains,” And the people I worked with became like my extended family; people I could lean on.”

It was that experience that led Fiona to move to the University of Victoria to study theatre at the age of 48.

“Despite being a little older than my peers, I immediately found my place in the theatre department,” Fiona says, “It seemed that everyone shared my belief that theatre could help heal people and communities.” 

Muriel Conway Scholarship

Her passion and hard work on projects like the “No Stepping Back” didn’t go unnoticed. Her professors nominated her for the Muriel Conway Memorial Scholarship.

“I was sitting in a coffee shop when I received the email,” Fiona says. “It was like a scene in a television show my knees buckled, and I was overcome with shock and happiness.”

Fiona’s decision to pursue her degree was not an easy one. It meant she would have to live separately from her daughter and husband who was still in the military and stationed in Yellowknife.

“Receiving donor support not only took some pressure off my family financially, but it meant someone saw promise in me, and I can only hope to live up to that promise.”