Reconciliation through theatre: Interactive play sparks heavy conversations
The Theatre for Living production šxʷʔam̓ət is returning to Boyle Street Plaza Tuesday
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A play with funding from Alberta Health Services is stirring up discussions around reconciliation.
The Theatre for Living production šxʷʔam̓ət – a Coast Salish dialect word that refers to “home” – gets audience members to step in halfway through, at the height of conflict, and work together to find solutions.
Director David Diamond said the play’s Edmonton debut Sunday at Boyle Street Plaza got a prolonged standing ovation from a packed house.
The cast, which includes Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors, will return for one more performance Tuesday.
“The play builds to a crisis and stops. It offers no solutions. It deals with our blockages, at a human level, to true and honourable reconciliation,” Diamond said.
“The audience gets to stop the action of the play, come into the play, and try to move through those blockages – inside individuals, inside family and friends, inside the larger context of Canada.”
He said the audience participation has led to some lively and “terrifically insightful” interactions.
Diamond, who is not Indigenous, specially directs plays focusing on social issues and has worked with AHS in the past on a play about mechanization of mental health system.
The idea for šxʷʔam̓ət came after he went to a number of reconciliation events and noticed “all of them were hosted by and run by Indigenous people and organizations.
“There’s a voice in me that went, why is that? Is reconciliation their job? In fact it’s not their job, it’s our job, meaning the non-Indigenous community.”
Diamond said some topics that arise from the performances involve non-Indigenous people recognizing they have a duty to educate themselves, rather than relying on Indigenous people to educate them, and that feeling guilty is not enough – it’s necessary to move through guilt into transformative action.
The urgency of reconciliation was underscored by the verdict that came down Friday in the death of Indigenous man Colten Boushie in Saskatchewan, where Gerald Stanley was found not guilty by an all-white jury.
The decision sparked protests across Canada over the weekend.
“What happened there has been happening for years. So that story is an ongoing part of the context that this is happening in, unfortunately,” Diamond said.
“The psyche of the nation is turning a corner. But the Indigenous communities have been working on reconciliation issues forever, since the immigrants got here. And the rest of Canada is in baby steps dealing with this.”
Despite the heaviness of the topic, though, Diamond said there is always plenty of laughter on stage as well.
"That’s the saving grace of this – because of the nature of the format, it’s fun. And lots of funny things happen, in the middle of looking at really serious issues."
AHS contributed $40,000 to the touring performance, which is also making Alberta stops in St. Paul, Medicine Hat and Calgary.
Colleen Turner, Vice President of Community Engagement and Communications, said in an e-mailed statement that AHS is supporting the play to encourage Albertans to challenge their own perceptions.
“It is our hope that through learning more about reconciliation we can positively affect healthcare for Indigenous Albertans,” Turner said.
“We know that the past has greatly affected Indigenous Albertans health and wellbeing, but it is our hope through reconciliation we can help the healing process.”
The play is also sponsored by the University of Alberta.
Tickets are available online.