RISER Recap: Saint Jackson

As our RISER 2024 artists come to the end of their program, we’re checking in to hear about their time in RISER and their brilliant new works.

Saint Jackson is an Edmonton-based poet, playwright, performer, and maker. Saint is also fondly known as Mx. Jackson as an up-and-coming drag and burlesque star.

In March 2024, Saint and a team of multidisciplinary artists workshopped their new play Prayers in Peril at the Roxy Theatre (thanks to our pals at Theatre Network!)

Thanks to Salem Clarke for the provided behind-the-scenes photos.

Common Ground (CG): Tell us what you got up to with your time as a RISER artist!

Saint Jackson (SJ): I developed the plot and first draft of my play Prayers in Peril. I brought a team of Black theatre artists and collaborators into a two-week workshop to explore the story and facilitate conversation. 

The play is essentially my coming-out story – but it is also an Afro-Futuristic drama revolving around spirituality, community care, and control. The short film The Fall (a film about a young newly-widowed immigrant woman who goes to a religious leader to request a funeral for her husband) was a major inspiration point – what came from this is that a conversation about religion can show what brings people together and tears people apart. Two different people from the same religion can experience that conversation so differently. 

Building a moodboard was a fun piece: Moonlight (my favourite movie) is a big inspiration, there are many images of water in Prayers in Peril. The five daily prayers are used as a plot device and the positions of the sun become a motif as well.

Every day was a little bit different. We had three different facilitators who took turns leading the conversation. It was all collaborative: The actors, the stage manager, the people who weren’t facilitating had creative input. It was really cool to have everyone’s voices heard. Everyone’s perspective was heard. We had an entirely Black room, but not everyone was Muslim – the conversation that flowed from that was so inspiring.

Something unique to this workshop was the spiritual aspect. One of our facilitators is a Shaman. This added a totally different dimension for people to access and consider a spiritual side of themselves and of the story. 

CG: What are a couple of your biggest takeaways and lessons from your time in the program?

SJ: One of my biggest takeaways is that there are so many resources out there and people who want to support art – in a general sense, but also on the individual level. I feel more confident in myself as an artist and writer on the other side of things.

People are interested in the story! People want to hear what it’s about and be part of it – everyone on the team agreed enthusiastically to be part of it. Getting a grant went a long way in feeling validated as an artist. At the top of the workshop, I had a lot of thoughts that I may not be able to do this, to write a story, to write a play – what if it’s all a waste of time? I have so much support around me that it is next to impossible not to believe in myself when so many other people do.

I learned it’s important to have goals, but to stay flexible about how we get there. Something we did at the top of the workshop (from D’orjay) was an exercise called VODE (values of desired experience). We all talked about the project and the end goal – about what we wanted to feel or experience at the end. Instead of “I want to write 40 pages” it’s “I want to feel seen, I want to feel joy, I want to be connected to each other, I want to feel satisfaction.” We all wrote them down and it was interesting to see where the overlap was. We essentially had achieved all of those things by the end. It wasn’t about a tangible thing, it was about what we wanted to feel and experience together.

CG: What are you excited to do next with Prayers in Peril and your other work now that you’re finishing RISER?

SJ: After RISER, I’m so excited about a progress showing of Prayers in Peril coming to NextFest this summer. I’m really looking forward to writing more and seeing what this story will look like. There are multiple drafts coming, it’ll grow and change, and that’s really exciting. 

Other artsy things are that I’ve been performing more drag and burlesque. I think my confidence has grown. Performing live does that very well, in particular drag and burlesque. They bring in a lot of different skills, costumes, makeup, dancing, acting, so it itches a very specific part of my brain to be able to bring all of those things together. There’s something special about performing in front of people and getting those reactions and feedback, it’s really levelled up my confidence. As a producer, it’s given me a lot more insight into how to organize and run an event. There’s so much overlap between drag, burlesque, and theatre – it’s all just different types of theatre. I haven’t produced many events, but I have experience now in budgeting. I feel more connected to the artistic community in general, and that goes a long way.

I’m just really excited to have this story reaching more people.

CG: Any advice you’d share to someone considering RISER for their work?

SJ: Dream big and ask questions. You’ll never know until you ask. It’s easy to minimize your goals and dreams for something that’s realistic or attainable, but anything’s possible and you won’t know unless you ask.

Even if you’re considering whether or not to apply: Just do it! Believe in yourself!

RISER 2025-26 Applications are open now. Click here to learn more.