Bah! Humbug! in the 'hood

Vancouver Moving Theatre’s show is back in the Downtown Eastside—where Scrooge could learn a thing or two about giving

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      Scrooge and his ghosts get a decidedly local make-over thanks to the return of Bah! Humbug!, Vancouver Moving Theatre’s acclaimed adaptation of the Charles Dickens holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.

      The annual seasonal fundraiser for community arts in the Downtown Eastside is in its third year, and venerable local actor Margo Kane has been part of the cast since the beginning. Kane, who is also the artistic managing director of the theatre company Full Circle: First Nations Performance, told the Straight over the phone that her reason for returning to Bah! Humbug! is simple: community.

      “That’s the most important thing about the whole project: the number of people from the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver Moving Theatre and all of their constituents, the number of aboriginal people engaged, and the number of artists that cared about the project,” Kane said. “It was wonderful to be invited so we could all work together, so that community and professional artists can work together.”

      That was a key part of SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs’ mandate when organizers approached Moving Theatre to create a seasonal, inclusive arts event that would engage residents and offer financial benefit as well. Terry Hunter, executive director of Moving Theatre, which also produces the Heart of the City Festival, says the decision to adapt Dickens’s tale was an easy one because of the book’s simple message: “Charity begins at home and social justice begins next door.”

      Hunter, a resident of the community since 1975, who spoke with the Straight by phone, believes the piece speaks to his neighbourhood’s concerns. And to deepen the neighbourhood’s connection to its source material, Bah! Humbug! has been placed within the context of the Downtown Eastside and the area’s significant aboriginal presence.

      “The story begins with a Native carver on the street carving a cane, and that walking cane becomes Tiny Tim,” Hunter said. “So how the play’s been shifted is very powerful.…There’s the opportunity every year to adjust the piece to make local jokes, comments, or political statements, or reflections upon our community and the social issues we’re facing.”

      The motivations behind Bah! Humbug!—engagement, inclusion, possibility, art—are in line with Moving Theatre’s mandate to make connections between professional artists and nonprofessional ones who otherwise may not have a platform, despite their talent.

      Bah! Humbug!, Hunter said, “provides an opportunity not only for local residents to get employment, but to get great training and great performance experience and really profile their talent. And it brings a completely different flavour to a production when you have people from the community, when you see people on the stage and you really feel the story is about them and their community, as opposed to a professional actor just playing a character. It creates a lot more depth in the production.”

      In each of its first two years, Bah! Humbug! raised between $5,000 and $7,000 for its beneficiaries, the Community Arts Council of Vancouver and the Heart of the City Festival, which hosts a multidisciplinary arts series every year throughout the Downtown Eastside and its adjacent neighbourhoods.

      That money was raised over six shows, but this year’s run has been shortened to just two in a single day—a matinee and an evening performance. The structure has been pared down from full-scale production to staged reading but will retain the more than 20 songs that have become a beloved component of the show.

      “We didn’t want to have the picket lines going up and stopping the show like they did with Far Side of the Moon,” Hunter said, referring to a recent production that had its run interrupted by rotating strikes at SFU. Keeping the shows confined to one weekend day minimized the chance of interruption, but it also diminished the returns of the rehearsal time necessary for a six-show run. “So it is a staged reading with all the songs, and this year we’ve added a sing-along and a turkey draw.”

      Hunter hopes those new features, sponsored by Save-On-Meats, will allow the festival to meet its goal of doubling its fundraising. And the new intimacy of the show shouldn’t dampen the quality; if anything, it will be something of a treat to see Bah! Humbug! vets and local luminaries Jay Brazeau and Jim Byrnes, who will join Kane, in this stripped-down version.

      “It’s a disappointment, for sure, but we’ll roll with the punches,” Kane said of Bah! Humbug!’s shortened run. “But I really believe in the community-based process, where there’s inclusion for everyone to come into the theatre, for everyone to be part of expressing themselves and telling and sharing their stories and their particular perspectives. It’s really crucial to the development of us as artists with conscience, as artists and community members learning from each other. I think that’s what’s exciting. The camaraderie is very special.” -

      Bah! Humbug! is at the Fei & Milton Wong Theatre at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in SFU Woodward’s on Saturday (December 15).