Performance interventions at Lumberman’s Arch, a big cultural feast, and a cross-country train trip of art-making: these are just some of the wide-reaching events taking place as part of Tracks, the Canadian Community Play and Arts Symposium, which runs here from Sunday to Tuesday (May 10 to 12).
The seventh annual event brings together community-engaged artists from both the First Nations and immigrant realms.
“It is all of what makes of Canada today,” explains Savannah Walling, artistic director at Vancouver Moving Theatre, which is presenting the event in partnership with the Vancouver park board, Toronto’s Jumblies Theatre, and Enderby’s Runaway Moon Theatre. “We feel like the Downtown Eastside and all these different rural and urban places are in need of reconciliation and need to heal communal wounds,” she adds, pointing to histories of residential schools, homelessness, and racism. “We believe our communities have stories to share…and that can help to move forward in a positive way.” The event also shows how the arts can play a role in that healing.
“Using the language of arts as a mechanism to bring cultures together is the ultimate joy of doing community theatre,” says VMT board and symposium steering-committee member Renae Morriseau, speaking to the Straight from Toronto, where she’s directing a new run of the play God and the Indian before it comes to the Firehall Arts Centre later this month. “In finding voice through the struggles, we get to create art and make effec-tive change—that’s the ultimate reason why I’ve committed my time to make community-engaged theatre. And these are voices that rarely get heard.”
The symposium encompasses panel discussions at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Monday. The Big House happens on Sunday: a huge cultural feast created with the Coast Salish and other aboriginal and immigrant communities, with food, song, dance, and storytelling at the Ukrainian Hall. Walling says it plays on the idea of feasts that are shared in all the Downtown Eastside communities, from Chinese to Ukrainian and aboriginal.
On Sunday at 10 a.m., the public can attend performances at Lumberman’s Arch by Musqueam rap artist Christie Charles, Squamish weaver Tracy Williams, and Tsleil-Waututh cultural presenter Dennis Thomas. Later that day, at 2 p.m. at the Roundhouse, Cree-Métis Kamala Todd will curate free screenings of movies about community art that are open to the public.
Walling will travel on the Train of Thought, which will depart from Pacific Central Station after a leave-taking ceremony based on First Nations traditions. The Via Rail train will then head to nine provinces until June 23, with performances, ceremonies, and other community-based art projects happening at stops all along the way, starting with Enderby, B.C.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Walling says. “I’m a first-generation immigrant, and for me, coming to Canada, this is a rare opportunity to connect in a deeper way.”