While Vancouver has been criticized for a lack of connections between citizens, a local theatre company is not only helping to build meaningful relationships between participants but getting audiences to think about their relationships to each other as well.
Some Assembly Theatre Company is now in its 15th year of creating and mounting collaborative plays by youth, aged 13 to 18 years old, about issues that matter to teenagers.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Some Assembly executive director Valerie Methot explains that she has personally experienced the power of lending an ear to youth.
She says she struggled with depression and experienced abuse herself as a teen and when an adult friend asked her how she was doing at the time, she says she felt profoundly moved.
"I'm a very firm believer that youth need to be heard and that's why I started this project," she says.
Methot says she always starts with an open call to find youth who want to participate in the project and who want to express concerns or raise awareness about issues. She begins, she explains, with a scriptwriting workshop, which involves the participation of a youth counsellor.
"It's important that everybody feel safe and comfortable because we delve into quite intense subject matter with our company," she says.
This year, the theme of isolation became inciting point for the project, as youth brought up issues like loss, abuse, and discrimination.
Methot describes herself as a "scriptweaver", as she incorporates the various contributions from participants and oversees the creation of a cohesive narrative. In order to have the characters all converge, the group came up with the idea of a train station where all the characters meet.
"It was important to all of us that there were meaningful connections created between the characters so that they could share whatever they were going through and discover their own strengths so that they felt empowered by the end of the play," Methot says.
She adds that there's also an unexpected twist in the story that forces everyone to connect, whether they wanted to or not.
However, conflict also arises which "brings conversations out into the forefront even more because they have to be resolved", she says.
The resulting piece, Missing From Me, takes its title from a literal translation of tu me manques—the French expression for "I miss you". It was brought up by a French participant in the show, and she says when the multicultural characters share that expression in their various languages, it becomes a pivotal point for the ensemble.
"They're discovering what family means to them and they realize they connections that they've made with each other are quite meaningful and they realize that they've been the missing piece from each other's lives," she says.
While the participants come from all over the Lower Mainland, they also have a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, including individuals of Chinese, French, Greek, Japanese, Kurdish, Mongolian, Serbian, and Squamish Nation heritage. While crosscultural exchange is incorporated into the fabric of the material, it was also part of the creative process.
For instance, Methot cites the example of a shy girl, who had moved here from Japan only a few months before joining the production, who was incredibly touched to be "so amazingly accepted as part of the group".
But it's not just an educational experience for the youth participants. Methot says that it's also for adult audiences, and that her young artists have also educated her. As one example, she says a transgender male participant, who created a trans character who has to contend with transphobia from another character, taught her a lot that she didn't learn growing up in a time when depression wasn't even talked about.
"Every year, honestly, I am inspired by the youth but I never thought this year that I would be so incredibly moved and be taught so many things from the young people that's helping me in my life because there are issues that are being dealt with that are so familiar to me."
Some Assembly Theatre Company presents free performances of Missing From Me at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from May 4 to 7.