Anishinaabe artist inspires new generation at Toronto youth theater

The new artistic director of the Young People’s Theater in Toronto is inspiring youth both on and off stage.

“I have to be responsible for opening new doors, opening new paths and creating relationships with communities that are often forgotten or neglected,” Anishinaabe actor and playwright Herbie Barnes told CTV News.

A member of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, Barnes is the first Indigenous person to lead the famed youth theater, which has seen the likes of Drake and Kiefer Sutherland perform on its stage. In his new role, Barnes not only makes plays for young people, but is also a teacher and mentor.

“I keep trying to encourage young writers to stop writing from the victim point of view, and start writing about our heroes,” Barnes said.

The Young People’s Theater was formed in 1966 and is the largest theater of its kind in Canada. Since 1977, it has been housed in a heritage building in downtown Toronto that is currently undergoing a $ 13.5-million makeover: the company’s largest ever expansion project.

The theater is offering online programming for now, but when renovations are complete and it reopens its doors to audiences this fall, Barnes’ play Bent Boy will be on stage – an arrangement fortuitously made before Barnes was brought on as artistic director.

“Herbie has a reputation as an amazing actor, an amazing facilitator and educator in the arts community,” the theater’s executive director, Nancy Webster, told CTV News.

From musicals to stand-up comedy, Barnes has traveled across North America living his dream of performing – a dream he had since he was a child. At Young People’s Theater, he will be able to both entertain and help other children live that dream too.

“I think it’s a huge honor,” Barnes said.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Daniel Otis

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