Celebrating Community-Based (Applied) Theatre

Janis La Couvee explores community theatre and its role in our arts community

Did you know Victoria is a locus of Applied (also called community-based) Theatre—the use of theatre and drama skills for the purposes of teaching, bringing about social change and building a sense of community?

The University of Victoria grants degrees in the discipline; practitioners can be found throughout the city working across a vast spectrum: with immigrants and refugees (Puente Theatre and the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, in prison (William Head on Stage and the Prison Arts Collective), among seniors (Target Theatre), and in the community (Will Weigler).

Wiegler, who Victoria audiences will remember for From The Heart: Enter the Journey of Reconciliation, the vast 14,000 ft 2 installation in empty retail space at Uptown in 2013, has just published The Alchemy of Astonishment: Engaging the Power of Theatre, complete with a deck of staging strategy cards that will enable actors and community members to enter into collaborative co-creation. The book launch is April 26 at First Met Church (see willweigler.com for more details) and the book and cards are also available at the UVic Bookstore.

At the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, facilitators Lina de Guevara (profiled in my February column) and photojournalist Quinton Gordon are hosting Belonging Storytelling Forums; “I’ve Not Always Been Canadian” in April and May as part of Canada’s 150 year celebrations.  The forums provide a space for newcomers to Canada to share their stories of arrival and settlement, and are part of a larger project that seeks to capture a fuller expression of Canadian identity—to increase public awareness and understanding of diversity.  Look for an interactive launch event on Nov. 23 at the Royal BC Museum. icavictoria.org

Target Theatre started in 1986 as a group of older adults with an interest in the performing arts and has grown into a company of mature actors who provide a voice for the concerns of seniors. Their plays focus on two main areas: health and safety and quality of life.

Recent productions have dealt with Alzheimer’s—I’m Still Here—, technology—Firewall produced at the Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival in 2014, and online scams—Dot Con.

Currently the troupe has completed a series of research interviews about the effects of hearing loss. A playwright has recently been engaged.  Look for a new production soon. targettheatre.ca

William Head on Stage (WHoS) recently celebrated 35 years of producing theatre and is Canada’s longest running prison theatre company. Originally the plays were scripted but in recent years the inmates have been devising and creating their own work in collaboration with the Prison Arts Collective.  Members of the collective meet with participants weekly to improve techniques and explore stories and issues. There is currently an open call for artists who would like to work with WHoS. Whonstage.weebly.com

Another approach to community (and not applied theatre) is Dr. Jennifer Wise’s A Queer Trial, a site-specific community play, set in Bastion Square April 13/14 that recounts the trail (and subsequent acquittal) of an openly gay man in 1860 Victoria.  Directed by UVic theatre alumnus Matthew Payne (Theatre SKAM), it is the culmination of THEA 311, a course about creating site-specific theatre. finearts.uvic.ca/theatre/50th/trial/

 

 

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