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Wilson brings life story to musical 

Courtesy Barbara Diabo

When Tom Wilson learned about his Mohawk lineage about 10 years ago, he had no intention of writing a book, making a documentary, or creating a piece of musical theatre about his story. 

But those are all the things he’s been doing. 

His life story made it onto the pages of his memoir Beautiful Scars, published in 2017, turned into a documentary in 2022, and has now been adapted into a musical theatre performance of the same name, which premiered late April in Hamilton, Ontario.

These three productions were not driven by ego, he said.  

“They were driven by the need to tell this story. Because I’m not the only one,” he said, referring to other children who were separated from their families. 

“That’s the job we’re supposed to be doing as Indigenous artists is making sure that our stories are being told through our art. And hopefully, this play will encourage a conversation that will lead to actions that will lead to people being aware.”

Wilson was separated from his mother at birth and raised in Hamilton, and he’d known his mother as his cousin Janie. 

“She was always on the fringe of the photograph. Even in real photographs, she’s kind of over on the very edge. And that’s the way it was where it was for 53 years.”

Ever since learning that Kahnawa’kehró:non Mary Jane (Janie) Lazare and Louis Beauvais are his biological parents, things started to change for Wilson, both in his personal and professional life. 

“Since then, I’ve been writing songs about longing and identity and the importance of telling the truth. And so, as a result, those 10 years of songwriting that I’ve done works its way into the play rather naturally,” said Wilson.

Wilson wrote the entire dialogue for the play, which he co-created with Shaun Smyth, under the direction of Mary Francis Moore, and was on site for the rehearsals, spanning two and a half weeks. 

Bringing his mother with him to the premiere made it all the more special. 

“I’ve been walking on stage for 50 years and been involved in creative projects, and that was the most nerve-wracking day in my life,” he said.

Kahnawa’kehró:non Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo was also involved in the play’s production as the movement director. “I just found it such a fascinating story,” she said, adding that’s what hooked her onto the project.

Musical theatre was a whole new world for Diabo, who is best known for her choreography, setting Kanienkehá:ka stories to contemporary dance pieces. But she was up for the challenge. 

“You have to think differently,” she said of adapting to the production’s needs, which requires considering not only movement, but also the character, the song, the intention. “It was really intense work, but really fun,” she said, adding she worked with a cast of seven. 

Her contribution to the piece went a long way for Wilson. 

“I am very fond of her. She brought integrity and she brought knowledge that not everybody in the room had,” he said.

The play is running at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton until May 11, and Wilson is glad to finally see the work pay off.

“I’m going to sound like a hippie, but I’m not. But if you approach the world with love, and patience, and you give everything you’ve got from your heart, really good things happen.”

nanor.fr@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on May 3 in issue 33.18 of The Eastern Door.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.