An upcoming Belfry Theatre play gives audiences a window into the experience of refugees who came to Canada and their sponsors.
Being Here: The Refugee Project has moved to a filmed production due to the pandemic.
The play is based off of interviews with refugees and their sponsors that were conducted by journalist and playwright Joel Bernbaum. Those interviews were recorded and then transcribed with punctuation to reflect the exact inflection, pace and mood of the subjects.
That was done because Being Here is a verbatim play, meaning every word in the script comes from real-world exchanges. Being Here’s director said the play’s actor have never heard the tapes from the interviews, they’ve only seen transcripts.
“The voices of the actual people come through the actors,” said Michael Shamata. “They’re just working from the transcripts, so they’re embodying the people that were interviewed.”
He said the play seeks to show the perspective of what went behind the refugees’ journeys to Canada and the challenges they faced once they got here. That will help put a human face on what Shamata said has become a “blanket issue.”
“It’s an opportunity to get a first-hand perspective on what has been a major part of the country, forever,” he said. “The reasons that they come here are very different and the experiences are different.”
The show is made up of five major stories, performed by a cast of seven actors that will play multiple roles throughout.
Included in the play is the story of two Ghanaian men who lost their fingers to frostbite after they crossed into Manitoba by foot in mid-winter, with the hope of seeking asylum in Canada.
The project has evolved over the last four years. In the beginning, Shamata said it was specifically going to look at how Syrian refugees were settling into their new Canadian lives. However, the director said those stories were being widely covered by multiple media outlets, so the project eventually landed on the angle of looking at the refugees and their sponsors.
The refugee-sponsor relationships portrayed in the play cover ones where the two parties got along, but also ones that were fraught with challenge.
The filmed play is about 90 minutes and runs from March 16 to 21. Tickets and more information are available at belfry.bc.ca.