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Fine arts professors' plays pack a political punch

Fine arts professors' plays pack a political punch

Faculty of Fine Arts professors are bringing three plays to Canadian stages this week – each packing a political punch. The thought-provoking plays tackle the Rwandan genocide, the Canadian election and the untraceable ghost population of the city of Whitehorse.

A catalyst for dialogue and healing is York film Professor Colleen Wagner’s Governor General’s Award-winning play The Monument. This electrifying drama was the inaugural production of Rwanda’s ISÔKO Theatre in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide (see YFile, June 27, 2008).

Left: Actress Jacqueline Umubyeyi, as Mejra in Colleen Wagner's The Monument. Photo by Nick Zajicek.

Translated into the local Kinyarwanda dialect and directed by Jennifer Capraru, a former student in York’s Graduate Program in Theatre and the founding artistic director of ISÔKO, the play premiered in Kigali and toured throughout Rwanda. Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage presents the North American premiere of ISÔKO’s production (with English surtitles) at York Quay Centre in Toronto April 27 to May 1.

Intimately staged and accompanied by song and African drumming, The Monument tells the story of a young soldier who has been convicted of war crimes committed during a genocide. Just as he is about to be executed, a mysterious woman who is both his saviour and tormentor offers him freedom − at a price. Billed as a “profound excavation into the nature of forgiveness”, this highly physical and imagistic production paints a contemporary portrait of a country whose resilient voice continues to be a beacon of hope and reconciliation.

Shortly before The Monument opens at Harbourfront, a second play penned by Wagner – this one a very topical, made-in-the-moment riff on Canadian politics – hits another Toronto stage. Wrecking Ball 12: Are You Dying to Vote? swings into the electoral debate tonight at Toronto’s Theatre Centre – exactly one week before Canadians head to the polls.

The Wrecking Ball is a fast and furious compendium of short works of political theatre. Playwrights hand over scripts to the directors and performers for rehearsal a mere week before the show, which is performed for one night only – usually to a fully-packed house. Founded in Toronto in 2004, The Wrecking Ball went national in 2008 when it was adopted in cities coast to coast.

Wagner is one of six writers contributing works “both strategically and from their hearts” to the current Toronto edition. The details of her piece have not yet been announced, but if The Wrecking Ball’s track record is any indication, it will be a part of a theatrical romp long remembered.

Showtime is 8pm. The Theatre Centre is located at 1087 Queen St. West at Dovercourt. Tickets are pay-what-you-can at the door.

Another catalyst for political dialogue is the latest work by York theatre professor and playwright Judith Rudakoff, which opened in Whitehorse on April 21. The River offers a vivid, poetic and unflinching glimpse into the intersecting lives of marginalized people in the community where it was created. Directed by Rudakoff’s colleague, Professor Michael Greyeyes, the production runs to May 1 at the Yukon Arts Centre Studio theatre.

Above: A map of Whitehorse drawn by Joseph Fish Tisiga, for the "Ashley Cycle" that inspired The River

The River was born out of Rudakoff’s ongoing Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada-supported project Common Plants: Cross Pollinations in Hybrid Reality. In 2008, Rudakoff visited Whitehorse twice to lead her "Ashley Plays" workshop, in which participants collectively devise a cycle of short, site-specific performances that share a character named Ashley and a common theme – in this case, the theme of "home".

The material developed in those workshops was so compelling that the collaboration continued into subsequent years. Rudakoff worked with local artist Joseph Tisiga and David Skelton, artistic director of Whitehorse’s Nakai Theatre, a professional company dedicated to the development of live theatre relevant to northern audience to write the play. Nakai is producing it in partnership with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition (YAPC).

The three artists drew inspiration for The River from both the extreme natural beauty of the Yukon and the ugliness that beauty can mask. Episodic and non-linear, the narrative is told by members of the largely untraceable "ghost population" of Whitehorse: a derelict vagrant, a missing high-school girl, a Tilley hat-wearing tourist, a transient worker and even an alien abductee. These disparate voices take the audience on an unbridled journey through a world of longing and belonging that is both real and imagined.

The production aims to promote conversation and action in the community. YAPC is actively inviting and offering free tickets to individuals who might never otherwise attend a production at the Yukon Arts Centre, as well as arranging a special invitational matinee performance at the local Salvation Army shelter. At the end of the run, YAPC and Nakai are co-hosting a community conversation to discuss the issues brought up in the play.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.