Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Feature: Laura Mullin on AWAKE (Next Stage)

Beryl Bain
AWAKE and Sing!
by Laura Mullin, co-Artistic Director, Expect Theatre / Spark Collective
(photos: Steve Carty)

Sometimes during rehearsals for AWAKE, Chris Tolley and I will look at each other and say, we can’t believe this is our show. At first glance, the piece really has nothing to do with us. It is set in a community that we have never lived in, it’s about struggles we’ve never contended with, and it grounds itself in a church that we have never attended. In many ways, it is the antithesis of us, and perhaps that is why we are so drawn to this piece.

AWAKE was conceived four years ago when my business partner Chris and I were in the throws of producing our annual festival in the Jamestown area. It's called urbanNOISE, and for eight years we've had the privilege of working with the Jamestown/Rexdale community to showcase and celebrate the area's incredible arts and artists.

Peyson Rock

Prior to working in this area, we thought we had an understanding of what life can be like for people living in an "at-risk" community. In reality, we had little idea and we really felt we needed to share what has been an eye-opening experience with the people of Toronto and beyond.

Our introduction to this neighbourhood has had a profound impact on us, both as theatre artists, and as people. We discovered that this area is one of the most multi-cultural communities in North America. It also has an extremely high youth population that makes for an electric mix of energy, art and culture. This combined with the fact it also the location of Canada’s largest gang bust makes for a unique canvas to set a play.

Lauren Brotman
In the research phase of the project we did all kinds of interviews and it quickly became evident how much gun violence was contributing to the overall psyche of this community. Just about everyone we spoke to had a connection to gun violence, either directly, or through friends and family. It felt as though there was a collective post-traumatic stress disorder overtaking the community.

We also saw the impact of the perpetrators of gun violence rarely being brought to justice because violent crimes within the area are rarely solved. There's also the lack of trust of the police and a real reluctance to speak up, not just for fear of being labeled a snitch, but also for fear of becoming the next victim. So the wound within the neighbourhood never heals and killing leads to more killing.

The reality that so many people experienced bloodshed was a disturbing discovery for us. Even though we had worked in this area for years, we had never been privy to the full story behind what these young people were dealing with. It became obvious that there is a real disconnect between the experiences of those living in priority communities, and those who do not. (cont'd)

Richard Stewart and Lauren Brotman

We really felt that it was important for residents of Toronto to know that this is not just something that occurs in the high profile cases that make headlines. For some communities, it's a part of daily life. So we wanted to provide a stage for the people of Jamestown/Rexdale to express their own feelings by telling their own stories in their own words. And we believe the end result is more powerful than we could have ever imagined, let alone scripted.

To create this show, we interviewed nearly 100 people including gang members, youth in gang exit programs, youth workers, mothers who have lost children to gun violence, and police. We created the script using the words from these interviews. We are grateful to all of those who shared their stories and who spoke so candidly and bravely. Most of the people we interviewed chose to remain anonymous.

We would like to say a special thank you to Nadia Beckles and Audette Shephard. Their stories of the loss of their sons helped shape the overall direction of the piece. Loss seemed to be a theme that continually came up in the research of the show about this community: the loss of life, the loss of opportunity, and the loss of hope. Their strength inspires us and reminds us of the power of the human spirit to transcend unimaginable tragedy.

Most importantly, they helped us to realize that, what brings us together is far more powerful than what sets us apart. And nothing is more important than protecting young people from senseless violence. 

AWAKE is dedicated to the memory of Justin Shephard and Amon Beckles.

AWAKE is at Next Stage

Quanceta Hamilton, Richard Stewart, Peyson Rock, David Shelley,  Beryl Bain, Muoi Nene and Lauren Brotman

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.