‘Maria and the Mennos’ set to air in September

New sitcom tells story of Mennonite-Filipino family dynamics

February 22, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 4
Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe | Manitoba Correspondent
Kenton Dyck and Victoria Exconde play lead roles in Maria and the Mennos. (Photo by Paul Plett)

The story of a young Filipina woman who marries into a Mennonite family and moves in with her in-laws will soon be broadcast on screens across Canada. Maria and the Mennos is a Manitoba-made television show that depicts the interaction of these different cultures and the hilarity, frustration and joy that ensues. The show is currently filming in Manitoba and will premiere in September.

Mennonites and Filipinos are two of the largest communities in Manitoba. The province is home to the largest concentration of Filipinos, per capita, outside of the Philippines. It also hosts 39 Mennonite Church Manitoba congregations and dozens of other Mennonite churches.

Yet the diverse stories of these Manitoban communities are rarely portrayed on television, says Tina Fehr Kehler, one of the show’s three creators. “There’s this idea that either you don’t know anything about Mennonites or you have this image of horse and buggy in southern Ontario or . . . colonies in South America,” she says.

Fehr Kehler comes to the show from Winkler, Man., with a master’s degree in sociology and more than a decade running Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba’s Low German program, helping Low German-speaking Mennonites with immigration and integration supports.

Co-creator Hazel Wallace is very familiar with being boxed in by stereotypes. “Usually what you see on screen is not Filipinos being strong lead roles,” she says. “We’re the nurse, or nerd, or funny sidekick, or ethnically ambiguous third best friend in a trio. Being a Filipina actress and growing up watching TV, it’s really difficult to see yourself and feel connected to what’s represented on screen.”

Wallace was surprised by how many more similarities Mennonites and Filipinos shared than she expected. She jokes that adding water to the shampoo bottles to make them last longer is one of them.

“Whenever you’re talking about different cultures,” Fehr Kehler says, “it’s not just about what the differences are, but what is our common human sameness, so when we see the other we don’t ‘other’ them, but we’re all one family.”

The team of creators, which also includes Winnipegger Paul Plett, director of Ode Productions and maker of the well-known film, I Am a Mennonite, agreed they all wanted the show to be a progressive one that challenges and moves beyond stereotypes.

They made the main character, a Filipina woman, a fashion designer instead of a nurse. The Mennonite family, instead of wearing clothes that set them apart from the rest of society and having conservative views, are in line with progressive, modern ideas in the society around them.

“I think this story is so important to put out because it puts on screens voices we don’t usually see [in] that light,” Wallace says. The 21-year-old has been acting since she was 15. She grew up in a biracial household and knows how difficult navigating two cultures can be.

Both Wallace and Fehr Kehler have worked with Plett on previous video projects and, when he approached them about this story, they were enthusiastic. The three began meeting frequently in October 2021, creating the premise, building the characters, developing the storyline, and then wrote the show together over nine months.

They were joined by writer and actor Alec Carlos, who brings to the project his own experience of being born in the Philippines and growing up in Steinbach. Numerous others, including executive producer Orlando Braun of Prairie Boy Productions, make up the approximately 50-person cast and crew.

The lead actors are Victoria Exconde of Winnipeg; Kenton Dyck of Steinbach; Chuck Fefchak of Morden; and Erna Peters, originally from Winkler, where the show is set.

“There is so much Filipino talent in Winnipeg and so much Mennonite talent here,” Wallace says, adding how important it is to produce content with Manitoba crews and casts.

The 13 episodes are filmed mainly at one house in Winnipeg. Additional filming will take place around Winkler, at an MCC thrift shop and a barn; and in Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship’s church building in Winnipeg.

The show will air on YesTV—a Christian broadcaster in southern Ontario—and its streaming service. The team is working to air it in Manitoba through a local broadcaster. 

Kenton Dyck and Victoria Exconde play lead roles in Maria and the Mennos. (Photo by Paul Plett)

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Interesting concept.

So I understand the article correctly to suggest that it is essentially going to be an Ontario/Manitoba series—unavailable in other provinces—unless one subscribes to YES TV?

Hi Clare. The show will definitely air on YES TV and its streaming service. It might air in Manitoba. As for other provinces, nothing has been announced. You can always follow "Maria and the Mennos" on social media for updates about where and when the show will be broadcast.

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