Last month, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre) co-hosted an innovative theatre event, called Reclaiming Hope, which toured Metro-Vancouver throughout March and early April. The SFU event was held in partnership with Check Your Head and Gen Why Media. We spoke to participant and community member, Robyn Livingstone, for a first-hand perspective on the evening.
Livingstone previously participated in an intensive workshop with Theatre for Living, and has attended five or six of their interactive plays. However, Reclaiming Hope was an evening of theatre without a play. In addition to the event on April 15 at SFU, Livingstone attended Reclaiming Hope at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House. He chose not to perform during the two evenings, but to observer the unfolding of both events.
The night began with an introduction by Theatre for Living’s artistic and managing director, David Diamond. “He can really get people out of their seats,” said Livingstone. Diamond had all of the attendees engage in a warm-up exercise, where partners pushed each others’ shoulders in attempt to find a balance between their strengths.
Recalling the next part of the process, Livingstone explained that Diamond said to the audience, “I need three stories. I need three of you people in the audience to come up and tell [your story], and you have one minute. And then we’re going to vote on the story you want to see performed.” The stage at the front of the room had no set or props, aside from three chairs for the storytellers.
“I couldn’t really relate to [the story of fear], but I really felt for the person that told the story. So, that’s big—when you’re rooting for them because you can tell they’re trying to make a tough transition.”
– Robyn Livingstone
“It’s interesting [. . .] and no one wants to get up. And then he just keeps looking, because he knows eventually someone is going to come,” said Livingstone. “Soon, someone gets up, and then someone else and someone else, [. . .] and then they tell their story. It goes from there. It’s a story about reclaiming hope, and what it means to them.”
The stories shared by the three participants identified a moment in which they experienced fear. Once the most popular story was selected by vote, Diamond engaged the individual participant with a series of questions in order to identify specific “voices of fear.” These voices of fear were then transformed into physical shapes, determined by the storyteller and enacted by the participants’ bodies.
Once the scene was built around the story, other audience members had an opportunity to take on the shapes of fear, and identify their voices as individuals in the storytellers lives—a process Livingstone explained was “a bit complicated.” Thereafter, other participants are given the chance to take the place of the storyteller in order to try and improve their situation within the scene. “It’s not so bad, but it’s not something I can do. I do other kinds of theatre, like I don’t do taking shapes and stuff, but it’s good for the audience, because then they become a part of the story [. . .] it takes a lot of guts to go up there,” said Livingstone.
According to Livingstone, Diamond is “really good” at building up a scene, especially with people who are not actors and who may, after a while, start to think, “what did I get into, because you have to stay up [on stage] for two and a half hours, [until] somebody replaces you to make the situation better, or safer [and] you go to the side of the stage, but you’re going to be up for pretty well two hours.” He added, “When it gets intense, he likes to lighten it up with humour.”
“The story didn’t really interest me too much. I couldn’t really hear it, because I was sitting at the back,” reflected Livingstone. “I couldn’t really relate to it, but I really felt for the person that told the story. So, that’s big—when you’re rooting for them because you can tell they’re trying to make a tough transition.”
Livingstone explained that telling the truth during the process is a huge part of reclaiming hope. In addition, he observed an emotional connection developed between the audience and the storyteller, which he believes brought them out of their seats to help the storyteller “reclaim hope.”