If for some Kafka-cum-Pinteresque reason your understanding of metropolitan Vancouver’s population were based solely on what the larger theatres are showing, you might conclude that we’re a city of nothing but British ex-pats and the children of American draft-dodgers.
Hardly surprising since larger theatres — wrestling to attract a younger, more diverse audience without turning their backs on their loyal but dwindling (read: dying) subscriber base — can’t afford to step too far outside the box when programming their seasons.
What they can do is offer partnerships to smaller companies. By sharing rehearsal and performance spaces, access to marketing departments and professional mentoring, the more established theatres can attach their names to riskier projects that only the smaller companies dare tackle.
The Vancouver Playhouse last year struck such a partnership with queer theatre group Screaming Weenie. With funding from the federal government administered by EmbraceBC and the provincial Ministry of Social Development, they launched All the World’s a Stage in July 2011.
The two-part project, which also received funding from Qmunity’s Rainbow Refugee Committee, Mosaic and Leaky Heaven Circus, engaged emerging/non-professional theatre artists and recent immigrants from diverse cultural and social backgrounds in a five-month course of mentoring and creation.
The first component paired the participants with professionals in sound, lighting, set and costume design, and management and outreach. Collectively, they assisted in mounting Falling in Time, by gay Vancouver playwright CE Gatchalian, in November.
Gatchalian’s play ambitiously spans two continents and four decades in its raw exploration of cultural conflict, sexuality and forgiveness in the shadow of the Korean War.
Screaming Weenie’s producing director Seán Cummings was thrilled with the show’s success. “We took great care in reaching out to the queer East Asian population, as well as East Asian communities and artists.”
He points to one unsolicited bit of audience feedback that left him particularly pleased: “I am not a kung fu master. I am not a math nerd. I didn’t get accepted to MIT at 17. And yes, I have a penis,” one graduate student from Burnaby wrote. “Thank you to Falling in Time for proving this on my behalf and on behalf of gay Asians everywhere.”
The second half of the project is the collaborative creation and design of Chasing Home.
Under the guidance of Cummings, Gatchalian, and facilitator and drama teacher David Beare, the participants are now drawing on their experiences as cultural outsiders — immigrants, refugees and people who have been forced to flee their homelands — to create an exploration of home and family, discrimination and patriotism.
Pedro Chamale, whose Guatemalan parents immigrated to Canada before he was born, says that so far the collaboration is going well.
“Knowing we were there to work on something together broke down the walls,” he says of the creative team. “We wanted to trust each other.”
Chamale says it was the collaborative aspect that drew him to the project. That and his love of storytelling.
“I remember lying in bed with my parents, with my head on my father’s chest, listening to him read from the Bible or National Geographic. I grew to love the power of story.”
The participants’ contributions to Chasing Home are proving to be as varied as their backgrounds. While some are comfortable writing personal narratives, poems and possible scenes, others express themselves more physically.
Stage manager Carolyn Yu’s story is inked on her body in a series of tattoos that represent her family and significant milestones in her life.
Born in Hong Kong, Yu moved to North Vancouver with her family when she was six.
“I have peacock feathers tattooed on my lower arm. The blue and green ones are my parents and older sister. The grey one is my grandmother, who raised me. And the red one represents me — I’ve always felt like the odd one out.”
Yu says it’s her bisexuality that makes her feel like an outsider in her family. “My family knows I’m bisexual, but we don’t talk about it. It’s a cultural taboo to talk about sexuality, period. But to talk about homosexuality is not common. It’s a Chinese thing,” she says.
Chasing Home is now fully cast and in rehearsal. It will have a three-night run at the Vancouver Playhouse Recital Hall this month.