On one level, The Release Party is a youth-written play about just what it sounds like: in it, Wind, a young Indigenous artist, is holding the debut celebration for her new single.
But in the unique process developed by RHYTAG (the Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group), there’s another kind of release going on: the unleashing of voices that haven’t been heard, and the letting loose of secrets, anger, and fear over issues as diverse as mental health, bullying, and violence against women.
“I love RHYTAG because that’s where I found my confidence to find my voice,” says Latisha Wadhams, a 17-year-old Kwakwaka’wakw student with a love of spoken word, speaking to the Straight by phone before the show premieres during B.C. Youth Week. “Expressing these things through art is a really powerful thing.
“Before, these were just things that were there and I didn’t really know what to do with them,” she adds, “but doing this piece has really allowed me to be listened to.”
In the show, Wind and her magical friend Emberlin invite a group of youths to share and perform. The play is a mashup of dance, music, spoken word, rap, visual art, and even parkour. A big component of The Release Party is projected film, featuring Wadhams’s friends, including a pal in New Zealand, talking about what it means to them to be Indigenous.
In a process Some Assembly Theatre Company cofounder and artistic director Valerie Methot has been developing for 17 years now, she and other theatre professionals work with youths to identify the issues they want to raise and create a format to explore them. “I start by asking the youths what they need to feel safe and express what they want to express,” she explains during the same phone call. “The structure in the writing process is we write as a group once a week and then write individually and in small groups.”
“We had to talk about our everyday life,” says Wadhams, who joined other youths aged 13 to 19, and from cultures as diverse as Vietnamese, Russian, Serbian, and Greek, in the process. “When I go there, it’s heavy, but it doesn’t faze anyone; they’re there for me.”
Wadhams wanted to raise the plight of Indigenous women in her play, since her own grandmother sits on the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and her aunt was murdered when she was six.
“We have those fears as women. We carry knives in our pockets. We’re in survival mode,” says Wadhams, whose spoken-word piece about the issue became a catalyst for The Release Party. “The scariest thing is there are still Indigenous women going missing on the Downtown Eastside. So I really wanted to express my fear and anger about that through the play.”
The stresses the group works through are a microcosm of the larger anxieties that youths face today in Vancouver, Methot points out.
“It’s an incredible experience because they’re all diverse in so many ways, not just culturally, but also their backgrounds and their challenges, so they have different perspectives,” Methot explains. “Working collaboratively is such a challenging experience, but so important: we need to listen to each other. We really need to understand that we share this world together and it’s important to listen to one another and care for one another, and it affects all of our future. I’m moved every single day I’m with them.”
More than anything, Methot stresses, The Release Party—both the play and the process behind it—tries to bring light to the dark subjects that teens struggle with today.
“Even though we dive into these deep issues, it was really important for me in my method to bring hope, to bring humour to big ideas,” she explains. “It’s about how we can work through these challenges.”
The Release Party is at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from Wednesday to Saturday (May 2 to 5). (Shows are free, but seating is limited; for reservations, call 604-603-5247.)