Theatre artist Emelia Symington Fedy: "I love you Vancouver, but you're breaking my heart"

Actor tried to make it work here, but the city became impossible to live with—and so she and her family are headed east

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      I grew up in a small town and moved to Vancouver in my early 20s to follow my dream of being an actor. I know some newcomers to Vancouver say that this city is a cold, hard place to make friends. The common line is “Hey, let’s hang out sometime! I’ll call you!” And then the call never comes… But I’ve never felt that. Maybe it’s the B.C. girl in me but I’ve always felt held and loved by the people here—not to get too dramatic, but almost cradled in the mountains.

      On the first day of theatre school the teacher said to us, “If there is anything at all you can imagine doing for a living—go. Leave now and don’t look back. Being an artist is gruelling work and there has to be no other choice for you.”

      I stayed put.

      And holy F-bomb, she was right. After I graduated, I hustled. I auditioned for “blow-up sex doll” and “fat chick”. I worked in restaurants till my early 30s; I kept getting fired because I was so bad at it, but I kept re-applying for serving jobs because living here and being a theatremaker was the only thing for me.

      About 15 years and 150 grants later, the theatre company I cofounded with Anita Rochon (the Chop Theatre) started gaining some recognition for creation-based work that toured nationally and internationally, yet monetarily it was still very tight. I lived in co-op housing. I didn’t eat out or drink or take days off, but it was still worth it. I was doing what I loved for a living, and that’s something you can’t put a price on. Right?

      So now, at almost 40, I am officially considered a successful Canadian artist. I made it.

      And then I got married and I had kids. And things changed.

      We rent. I work all day while they are in daycare for $2,500 a month, and then after dinner, stories, and bedtime I work another four hours to try and get a few more pitches, ideas, grants out—just to barely (sometimes not) pay the bills. At any moment we could be renovicted, and if we were, our comparable option would be a one-bedroom basement suite. And that’s not living. That’s not thriving. It’s not.

      It’s the hustle. I can’t do it anymore. I love Vancouver. I’ve cultivated a huge and rich community here, but I just can’t keep up the pace. So we have to move. I have to leave my home and I’m heartbroken about it.

      I don’t have big aspirations. I don’t expect to own a house here. I don’t need to go out for dinner. I don’t need to buy new clothes. All I want is my kids to have a back yard. And for that, I have to move across the country and begin again.

      So goodbye, Vancouver. I don’t want to go, but I feel like you’ve become an abusive partner. You’re treating me like shit and I’ve given you everything I’ve got and I’m tired and I think you might be losing your heart.

      Two decades of potlucks and picnics and bike rides and farmers markets and cherry blossoms and street festivals. We complain so much about this city, but now that I’m leaving all I see is its beauty and I weep.

      Thank you to the community acupuncture places that have helped me heal affordably, thank you to my favourite coffee shop on St. George Street that is classy as hell and at Christmas gave my kid his first fear of Santa. Thank you to the library that doesn’t fine my kids for overdue books and to the beach where I met my husband.

      Thank you to the fierce LGBTQ2 community that has taught me, a privileged white woman, how to be an active ally, and to the people of colour who are brave enough to stand up and fight for representation on Vancouver stages. #BlackLivesMatter. Intersectional feminism, community gardens! I’ve learned a lot about how to be a better human here, and not from school but by being surrounded by such incredible inclusivity.

      That’s another thing I’ll miss.

      I’ve contributed to the arts community in Vancouver for two decades. I’ve lain naked on-stage so you could contemplate your own mortality; I’ve passed my Chihuahua around the audience to have a snuggle; I’ve taken you through an audience-participation yoga/theatre class, poking lovingly at our city’s over-the-top spiritual questing.

      I’ve spoken publicly online (tryingtobegood.com) and on the radio about the death of my mother and the crushing grief I experienced, creating a network of folks who have also lost loved ones, to support each other.

      Sonja Bennett, Emelia Symington Fedy, Jody-Kay Marklew, and Juno Rinaldi in Motherload, 2015 at the Cultch.
      Emily Cooper

       

      I built a collective of Vancouver theatre artists who shared their personal stories of new parenthood and the isolation and darkness they felt, and then we brought that show to the Cultch for two sold-out runs, with mothers in the audience laughing/crying in recognition, thankful that they were not alone.

      This is not bragging. This is my work. I’ve given my creative soul to Vancouver—freely and happily—and now I have no choice but to leave.

      I’m losing my home and Vancouver is losing me.

      I don’t want to go, I’m clutching at the doorknob, no, no, don’t make me. I’m pretending it’s not happening. I’m begging for a miracle. I say, “There’s opportunity.” “It’s an adventure!” “Hey, the East is supposed to have great winters!” (Just kidding.) And I try to convince myself if I really hate it I’ll come back, but we know that’s not true. Once you’re out of the rental you found from your best friend’s boyfriend’s dead grandma’s neighbour, you can’t afford to ever get back in. We all know that.

      So we are moving. I’m taking my art, my community service, my collaborations with kids, teens, students, and artists to Halifax. (It’s the only urban centre with an arts community where we could get a mortgage on a starter home in Canada.)

      Do you want this, Vancouver? Do you want to lose the only thing that makes a city a home—its creative spirit?

      I’m begging you not to lose anymore of us.

      The irony is, with the money I’ll save on childcare I’ll be able to fly back here and work a few times a year.

      So, hey Vancouver, let’s hang out sometime, okay? I’ll be waiting for your call.

      Emelia Symington Fedy runs the Chop Theatre and is a storyteller, writer, and radio producer.

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