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.
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.
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
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.
AWAKE is at Next Stage
Quanceta Hamilton, Richard Stewart, Peyson Rock, David Shelley, Beryl Bain, Muoi Nene and Lauren Brotman