Staging social change

A Vancouver theatre company continues its mission for a better community

Sarah Schmidt // Contributor

Since 1981, the Vancouver-based theatre company Theatre for Living has been using current social issues within our communities to respectfully bring to the stage what our society is facing, with the hopes that it will promote change. Using real-life stories and experiences, a mixed cast consisting of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members use the art form to create social change within our country.

The theatre name evolved from The Theatre of the Oppressed to Headlines Theatre until 2013 when it was redeveloped into Theatre for Living. It has won countless awards over the past 36 years, and gained recognition as a major influence in the Vancouver arts community.

In just the past five years, Theatre for Living has touched on topics such as LGBTQ+ (Voices of Love), economic prosperity and its relation to love (Reclaiming Hope). It has also brought awareness to the tragic history of residential schools and other forms of colonization, relating these traumas to mental health (Corporations in Our Heads).

Through every project, the company embarks on creating change through healing and empowerment. Although mainly seen on stage in communities across Canada, the company has had the opportunity to spread their messages all across North America and Europe.

Their latest work, šxʷʔam̓ət (home), directed by David Diamond, was performed at Vancouver’s Firehall Arts Centre in March 2016. The project brings awareness to reconciliation and how it has been affecting people across Canada and how it still lives in current society. The title refers to a sense of place or belonging and the performance focuses on the community to create a “healthy Canada.”

Acknowledging the makeup of a community is complex, they utilize the art of storytelling to create understanding and fellowship to spectators. Using history and not shying away from issues of theft, abuse, murder, abduction and assimilation in Indigenous communities even in current times, evoking emotion in the audience, šxʷʔam̓ət seems to have attained nothing but positive reviews.

šxʷʔam̓ət includes Capilano University graduate from the Acting for Stage and Screen Program, Madeline Terbasket. For her, reconciliation is about caring for our land and not manipulating it through the use of private ownership and putting the planet before our own need for success. On top of her work on stage, Terbasket also works alongside PHS, a province-wide program that aims to improve specialized health services and works with Indigenous youth to find their voice and their place despite the oppression they will encounter living in current society.

The theatre is a reflection of Vancouver-specific community, using cultural work to incite movement and development in Vancouver.

Working with the community through relationships with many charities, Theatre for Living also offers personal and community building in both intermediate and advanced classes. These programs help train the community to use the language of theatre and social change in their everyday life.

Currently touring and presenting šxʷʔam̓ət, the company is in the process of creating new projects. Working on community development through workshops including topics such as violence, suicide prevention and anti-racism, the company continues to be a large contributor to mental health and anti-bullying advocates within Vancouver.

All the cast and crew members play a large role as social justice activists outside of the theatre, working with an array of charities, support groups and standing on government and community councils within the Greater Vancouver area.

Theatre for Living is a small part of the community that is fighting to have their voices heard by our growing population. They are a leading example of how the beauty of art can create a movement and spread change.

With Vancouver being such a diverse place it is performances and projects like these that keep the community and sub-communities across BC connected and growing together.

 

To learn more about Theatre for Living’s work, visit theatreforliving.com

 

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