Some Assembly Arts Society’s latest play, Uprooted, opens with a love letter to the Earth. Cowritten and acted by youths between the ages of 13 and 20, it revolves around a group of young campers near Chilliwack.
“It happens to be on some land leased by one of the youth’s parents,” playwright and director Valerie Methot tells the Straight by phone. “And these parents also are heading a contract for tree removal so that a pipeline could go through there.”
Another one of the youths is Indigenous, and because he spent a great deal of time there with his grandparents, he feels that the site is sacred. That sets the stage for the young actors to explore how it feels to be uprooted in the midst of a traumatic climate crisis.
To reinforces this story line, Methot intersperses multimedia presentations, including a video clip of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“Greta Thunberg certainly has become this incredible force of inspiration and energy for young people to express themselves, which has helped greatly,” Methot says. “Because I strongly believe in the importance of processing concerns and using one’s voice to express these concerns.”
To enhance the play’s accuracy, the youths received script assistance from experienced climate advocates, including lawyer Michael Doherty and Wilderness Committee campaigner Peter McCartney.
“We had our regular rehearsals and workshops with Zoom,” Methot says. “We didn’t miss a beat, actually.”
Since its inception, Some Assembly has enabled more than 2,500 youths to perform in front of more than 30,000 audience members. The society partners with Vancouver Coastal Health, which provides counsellors and clinicians to support youths in need of help.
Uprooted features Haley Christenson, Raylen Adriano, Rune Campbell, Fox Hunt, Ben Gauthier, Mitch Broome, Ron MacGillivray, Ciara Wilkinson, John Aung, and Veronica Johns.
The young people eventually formed their own bubble and rehearsed in the Vancouver Opera’s space. The play was filmed at the York Theatre.
"Meeting agreement" creates safe space
Trauma isn’t a new subject for Methot.
As a result of her experiences as a young person, she founded Some Assembly Arts Society with the Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group in 2002. The goal was to nurture youths’ artistic expression using theatre to process difficult topics.
“I certainly used art to help me work through my traumatic situations—and it’s been really helpful,” she says. “I’ve also had key adult allies in my life who helped me express myself through art.”
Methot emphasizes that she has no interest in traumatizing audiences. This is why she balances her productions with beauty, hope, and humour while raising awareness about serious issues.
She also stresses the importance of creating safe spaces for youths. This is accomplished through an artistic methodology that she developed as a master’s student in UBC’s theatre department.
A key component is a “meeting agreement” in which participants define their boundaries in advance.
“It’s really important to me that we’re all aware of our boundaries and that we be really mindful about what we say and what we do to protect ourselves,” Methot says. “I strongly believe that we can address the seriousness of issues while not putting ourselves into vulnerable situations.”
As a graduate student, Methot first used theatre to process difficult issues in a play called Treated With Tango.
“I wrote it to honour my friend [John St. Louis] who died of AIDS, and I really wanted to celebrate his life,” Methot recalls. “I also wanted to address the stigma attached to AIDS and I wanted to promote awareness and dialogue about the issue.”