Sexual assault, the housing crisis, online bullying, environmental devastation—the stresses facing young people today are the focus of the Some Assembly Arts Society’s new play, Rewire. But so are the skills needed to overcome or at least mitigate those concerns, which the young cast members—none of whom are professionals, and some of whom are first-time actors—will learn while creating the show with director Valerie Methot and other support staff.
The adults are also getting an education, as Methot readily admits in a telephone interview from her East Vancouver office. “If there’s anything that I’ve learned by working on this production,” she says with a laugh, “it’s that if we want to be able to function, we have to be open to rewiring our brain to deal with whatever’s going on.”
Although Methot had an idea, based on her conversations with youths, that the topic of stress would be at Rewire’s core, looking into what her cast thought about it yielded some surprises. “Some of them said that stress is good in their lives,” she says. “They were looking at it in terms of, you know, it’s a motivator, and it’s exciting.” For the most part, however, her actors—mostly sourced through the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre’s youth programs—were more concerned with its negative impact on their lives. Developing the script involved one-on-one conversations between Methot and the teens, and during these, the director says, a number of topics kept reccurring, including grief, poverty, and fear.
“Conversations about grief, about losing a loved one or a family member who has died, and not quite knowing how to process that” were important, she says. “There’s also the topic of poverty, not knowing where the food is going to come from. And then the third big stressor that really had an impact was sexual assault. And in this time of the #MeToo movement, it’s really interesting to address this, especially with young people.…Although there’s a bit of a red flag and a concern, too. Do we really want to go there?”
In the end, Methot and the cast felt they had to, although they’ve decided not to tell their own stories. “I view theatre as a safe art form for raising awareness around issues facing young people, and I don’t want the young people to be acting out their own trauma,” she explains. But by embodying others, they’ll learn empathy and understanding—skills that will serve them well in whatever stressful situations the future holds.
“Through the collaborative writing process,” she says, “the youth learn how to communicate in a group setting, so that they are being mindful about what they are saying and empathetic towards the people who are opening up about vulnerable topics.” They’ll also get to show off more than their acting, writing, and listening abilities; two cast members, for instance, will contribute original songs to the live soundtrack.
Between the songs, the stories, and the pointedly low-budget staging—a cardboard box stands in for one character’s cramped basement apartment—Rewire aims to convey a realistic sense of the issues, while sparking the desire for change in cast, crew, and audience alike. “It’s a really interesting visceral experience for the audience, and a very thoughtful experience, and it’s going to really make them move forward in their thinking.…It’s like, ‘Okay, everybody, we need to face, head on, what is happening in our society, and we need to make a positive change about it.’ ”
The Some Assembly Arts Society presents Rewire at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Friday and Saturday (May 3 and 4).