Canada·Future 40

'A really awesome journey': Future 40 winner Krystle Pederson keeps live theatre going during pandemic

Future 40 winner Krystle Pederson is writing music, working on live theatre and creating a Cree musical during the pandemic.

Nominate someone you know for CBC Future 40 today

Krystle Pederson is a Saskatoon-based performed and a 2018 Future 40 winner. (Sum Theatre)

When Krystle Pederson looks back at her body of work as a "singer-songwriter-actor-creative person," it seems her path has led her exactly where she is supposed to be.

The 37-year-old Cree-Métis woman has been singing and performing since she was a small child. Formal voice and music training started around age six and she began performing at local talent shows in her hometown of Saskatoon as a teen.

"It was something that was just inside me, from the beginning, and it was always nurtured, which was a blessing," she said. "I found joy in it."

As Pederson navigated her way through the world of performing arts, she began to realize the power of creative storytelling to influence how people see the world around them.

"It's just a gentler way of teaching, or guiding, in a sense," she said. "As you're discovering yourself as an artist you discover what your niche is, what is meaningful to you."

Tomson Highway and Krystle Pederson. (Submitted by Krystle Pederson)

A fateful meeting with acclaimed Canadian playwright Tomson Highway in her early 20s cemented her desire to explore her creativity as a theatre artist.

Pederson would go on to tour Canada with the National Arts Centre's production of the Gabriel Dumont Wild West Show in 2018, the same year she won CBC's Future 40. The year after, she was touring with Songs in the Key of Cree, a show created specifically for Pederson by Highway.

Krystle Pederson backstage at a performance of the Gabriel Dumont Wild West Show. (Submitted by Krsytle Pederson)

Theatre in the now

The last live production Pederson was involved with, before the pandemic, was Reasonable Doubt. The documentary play (created by Joel Bernbaum of Saskatoon community theatre company Sum Theatre) based its script off of real interviews with dozens of Saskatchewan people. The interviews dealt with reaction to Colten Boushie's death and the subsequent trial of Gerald Stanley, as well as racism and people's experiences and opinions on the fraught issue.

"There was something really nerve-wracking about it," said Pederson.

A collage of Pederson's showcasing her various roles and creative performances. (Submitted by Krystle Pederson)

Her role was to bring the words of some of those people to life on stage. Pederson said the combination of having to bring a real person's words to life — often knowing they were sitting in the audience — and her own experiences with racism in Saskatoon made the process difficult.

She said that in the weeks before the play hit the stage, the cast and crew were hearing rumours that tickets were being cancelled and that the community didn't want to see the play.

In the end, Reasonable Doubt sold out.

"People loved it … it was a show about our city, about our province… people were a little bit afraid of it at the beginning," she said. "It's one of the most memorable plays I have ever been a part of."

Pederson said that production helped shape her journey as an artist, solidifying her belief that if art can reflect someone's reality, it will mean more to them.

"If you can connect to your community, that's probably a great way of grabbing someone's attention," she said.

Live theatre during the pandemic

In October, Krystle accepted an  artistic associate position with Sum Theatre. 

She's been overseeing productions of The Last Sunday. The show used to be performed in a secret location. Interested audience members would meet someone from the theatre on Broadway and would be taken to an unknown spot for the show.

Today, it has a permanent home at the Broadway Theatre. Each edition is composed of a musician's performance, a rant, a 10-minute play and a hot-seat interview (last month Joel Bernbaum interviewed Jason Mercredi from Prairie Harm Reduction).

"Each element reflects on what is happening in the news for the month," said Pederson

At the time of publication, The Last Sunday was offering both in-person and online viewing options for each show, as well as a podcast for fans.

"Instead of saying we're just going to take a hiatus, we're trying to find creative ways that we can still do art and keep people working, in a safe way that makes everyone feel comfortable," she said.

Krsytle Pederson performing with Tomson Highway. (Submitted by Krsytle Pederson)

Pederson said the pandemic has also allowed for time to work on music again. She's writing songs for a solo EP she hopes to release next year.

She's also working on another original musical with Tomson Highway. Lynx Lamour Goes to Nashville will tell the story of a young Cree girl who dreams of becoming a country music superstar. Pederson and Highway are working on 12 original songs in Cree for the piece and expect to hit the road with it in 2021.

Pederson said she plans to bring more stories like this to life as she moves forward in her career.

"We have a magical way," she said of artists' abilities to connect with others through story. "I always call it magic because I find we're so magical."

Do you know a creative person who is dedicated to their craft and making waves? Nominate them for CBC Future 40 today. Nominations close on Sunday, Nov. 22.


Madeline Kotzer


Madeline Kotzer is an award-winning Saskatchewan journalist and social media news editor/presenter for CBC Saskatchewan and CBC Saskatoon.