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“For a Muse of Fire”

For a Muse of Fire brought humour and heart to SFU Woodward’s last week. Staged on July 18, the story takes place on the number 20 bus, inspired by lived experiences of community members of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a little bit of Shakespeare.

The play takes its name from the opening lines of William Shakespeare’s Henry V: 

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

William Shakespeare,
The Life of King Henry the Fifth

The script was a collaborative effort of the cast members of a community theatre group which brings together residents of the DTES, “including those who have experienced homelessness or are currently vulnerably housed.” The piece — exploring diversity and community issues like homelessness — was directed by Luisa Jojic and produced by Creativa International.

Creativa International is a Vancouver based not-for-profit organization that produces community-engaged arts projects and intercultural artistic initiatives.

“The setting of the #20 bus was chosen as it represents a place where a cross section of our city’s community comes together. The play weaves real stories with imagination and the playful freedom of theatrical fantasy,” explained Jojic.

For a Muse of Fire is full of personality, laughter, and song and dance — the culmination of the play was a wedding on board the bus, after which the cast broke out in dance to a rendition of “Transit Queen,” to the tune of “Dancing Queen.”

The group originally mounted For a Muse of Fire as a part of last year’s Heart of the City Festival and Homelessness Action Week 2015. Other supporters included Vancouver Moving Theatre, the City of Vancouver, the British Columbia Arts Council, Raincity Housing, and Lookout Emergency Aid Society. For their first production in 2014, they created and performed Much Ado About Something, which was staged at the Carnegie Centre and Waterfront Theatre

“There have been so many favourite parts of putting together and performing For a Muse of Fire,” Jojic reflected, “the laughter, the dialogue around the project within the group throughout it’s development, the abundance of ideas that emerged,  the discussions that happen in the Q&A with the audiences after, and the continuing interest for the show by different communities.”

She explained how the performance aims to cultivate an environment of respect and understanding: “After each show, we facilitate a dialogue on the issues that are raised in the play, giving the audience and performers a chance to discuss perspectives and engage in communication around the issues.

“Projects like this are extremely important as they are an accessible opportunity for community members to come together in an environment that promotes creativity, expression, artistic challenge, and a venue to voice issues that are of importance to our city in a manner that promotes dialogue and understanding, and therefore hopefully, a step towards creating change.”

Jojic also spoke to the challenges that the group has faced in finding space to rehearse and perform. “Look Out Emergency Aid Society and SFU have stepped up to that challenge to help us by providing space, but as the project continues to grow, we are looking for more options.” She added, “In a city where rent is so high, finding adequate, accessible space is difficult and is part of the obstacle preventing more work like this from happening.”

A continuing Creativa International project that Jojic heads is the True Voice Theatre Project, in which she leads free, weekly community-engaged theatre workshops for youth and adults, some of which are held at the SFU Woodward’s campus.

Take a peek behind the curtain of For a Muse of Fire with this behind-the-scenes preview.