Footage flickers from the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots. It looks like everyone is angry and no one knows why. Green and blue jersey wearing rioters cover the backdrop of the stage of the Cultch as six actors lurch, kick, destroy, and vent frustration that we all suspect has very little to do with hockey. It is a jarring start to a play that is ultimately about acceptance, collaboration, and compassion.
Us and Them is a play meant to invoke dialogue that was created from dialogue. It is the culmination of 20+ forums held in community halls and houses over a period of two years.
“We tried to create something here in which we ARE the riot,” explains David Diamond, Artistic and Managing Director/Joker of Headlines Theatre.
As the riot visuals fade away and the stage lights brighten, the play unravels a series of connections in which each character takes on a role of both “us” and “them”. This false distinction, or “othering”, unravels throughout the duration of the first half of the play. What the audience experiences, should they look close enough, is six individuals who try desperately to protect themselves by lashing out at others. A Pilipino immigrant, a Muslim woman, a white man, two cousins who have come to the city from a small Native community, and a transgendered boy all unintentionally create conflict for themselves by building walls or unlocking the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of the people around them.
Their collective unconscious othering of each other results in frustration, anger, and fighting. They result, in short, in a riot.
As the play ends on a low note – with a physical fight on the verge of happening – Diamond steps in to invite the audience to take part and enter a place of dialogue. Should an audience member relate to any of the characters in any of their moments in the play (at this point scenes to chose from are projected on the board behind), then they are invited to come on stage, take that person’s role, and try to build a bridge where perhaps a wall was before.
One audience member attempts to help one character create boundaries for herself, another tries to be more understanding of a friend when they reveal a complicated truth, a third gets out of the way when a family argument materializes.
“A new revolution is required on the planet,” explains Diamond about the project on the Headlines Theatre website. “Somehow, we must find a way to let go of our mechanistic need for certainty, our need to know that ‘we’ are right and entitled and therefore ‘they’ must be wrong and not entitled. We must find a way to relax into the certainty of Uncertainty: to know that in whatever geography, whatever politic, whatever context, there is no certain ‘them’; there is only an ever-evolving us.”
Us and Them is an artistic dive into a dialogue on a difficult topic. It takes on race, class, and gender without having to address them directly and invites the audience to consider how they relate to characters, and in relating, how they can become bridge-building and compassionate.
Us and Them is playing at the Cultch in Vancouver, BC, until November 12, 2011. Tickets $20 at 604-251-1363 or http://tickets.thecultch.com. Shows at 8pm, with 2pm matinee on November 2.
For those out of town, there will be a live, interactive, global webcast on November 12 at 8pm (PST).