It’s hard to convey the experience of stepping off a plane into a new culture for the first time.
The sights, smells and sounds of a foreign country can be jarring, but a new play and dance performance by the Inter-Cultural Association aims to do just that.
Arrival: Stories, Mask and Movement tells five true stories of Canadian immigrants from Egypt, Germany, Philippines, Japan and Mexico who have built new lives in Greater Victoria.
“Our hope was one story from each continent, we didn’t get one from Australia, but we got four out of five,” says Paulina Grainger, who produced the play through the Inter-Cultural Association.
The tales are wound together as a cohesive play, drifting back and forth between the comforts of home and the stunted Canadian politeness that can lead to a sense of isolation for many new immigrants.
“One of the big themes (between the writers) was how silent it was when they got here,” Grainger says. “It seemed to be a very hard thing for them to naturally connect to.”
One story explores the difficulty of finding work, while another takes a lighter look at the vast selection of tomatoes available at local grocers. Wrapped within the presentation are themes of spirituality, depression and the discovery of personal freedom.
“We want to break down any stereotypes you might have, and you actually get to meet these people,” Grainger says. “We can go on the soapbox and talk about all the stereotypes and racism we come across, but this is more of a celebratory story.”
Each writer’s words were retained as much as possible in the adaptation for stage by Barbara Poggemiller, a former Monday Magazine People’s Choice Award for Directing winner, and an instructor at the Canadian College of Performing Arts.
“Barbara did a fabulous job of finding the similarities and weaving all the stories together as a collective arch,” says Yasmine Naylor, one of five actors in Arrival. “We speak these words as if we’re storytellers.”
Masks and props were designed and made by Miles Lowry, whose sculptures, paintings, words and mixed media have been a mainstay of B.C. culture for the past 30 years.
Enrique Rivas provides the live music as a multi-talented musician with an impressive ability to ad-lib worldly sounds.
Grainger said early reception to the play has been overwhelmingly positive, with many audience members relating to the emotions of moving somewhere new.
“There’s a universality to the story,” she says. “Canada’s an immigrant country. Everyone’s family has been through these experiences if they live here. This play just reminds you that we could all go through it.”
Arrival: Stories, Mask and Movement runs Feb. 22, 2-3 p.m. at the GVPL Nellie McClung Branch; and March 22, 2 p.m. at the Greater Victoria Public Library central branch courtyard. Register online at gvpl.ca.