Here and Now

A Headlines Theatre production. At the Ross Street Temple Community Annex until Sunday, November 27, and the Surrey Arts Centre Studio Theatre from December 1 to 11

Headlines Theatre's aim is not to entertain a passive audience with a flashy show, but to offer opportunities for people to engage with a truthful experience of struggle. Here and Now is not only powerfully relevant in its subject matter, it's one of the most aesthetically satisfying Headlines productions I've seen.

Before the show, artistic director David Diamond explained that the inspiration for Here and Now came from the increasingly sensationalist news coverage of gang violence in the Indo-Canadian community. He noted that the media seems to go through cycles of targeting particular ethnic groups-Chinese, Vietnamese, and Latino people have all had their turn-while the predominantly white Hells Angels "get to be just a gang".

At the heart of Here and Now is Jay, an Indo-Canadian teenager who lives with his parents, sister, and daadi (grandmother). Their home life is fraught with tension, and Jay becomes an easy target for Kam, who recruits Jay into his gang by offering him a job-and later, a gun.

Seems is the operative word here. Headlines uses the techniques of forum theatre, which empower the audience to change the play's outcome. The actors perform the piece once, then repeat it and invite viewers to interrupt and take over the role of a character they identify with, altering the course of events.

On the night I saw the production, the audience was timid, but Diamond facilitated their interventions with great skill, showing how subtle shifts in the family dynamic could preempt or accelerate Jay's gravitation toward gang life. Cast members handled these interventions beautifully. While only a few are professional actors, all are confident performers, emotionally honest and very adept at improvising in character. Especially noteworthy are Balinder Johal (Daadi), Jagdeep Singh Mangat (Kam), and Shawn Cheema (Jay).

Almost everyone in the crowd acknowledged a personal connection to the issues in Here and Now. Few plays offer such an opportunity for collective understanding, and such a powerful catalyst for change.