BY SHERRY D. RAMSEY
A new theatre program and a related project are keeping Cape Breton University’s Dr. Sheila Christie busy these days. The project, Neighbours, is a foray into applied theatre techniques and part of Dr. Christie’s research in Theatre for Social Change. The project is also tied to the new Bachelor of Arts Community Studies (BACS), Applied Theatre Major, to be offered at CBU this fall.
Neighbours started life as a project focused on Cape Breton’s Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016, which became commonly known as #floodsgiving. Applied theatre techniques encourage the use of theatre outside traditional applications, as a method of tackling issues and challenges to discover ways to approach solutions. The project and the flood seemed like a perfect fit: as Christie writes on the project’s website, “In this work, it’s not up to me to decide what matters to the people I work with; my job is to listen, to hear what people need to talk about. And what people talked about was the flood. Everyone had a story, stories of tragedy, of heroism, of survival.”
The theatre project was envisioned in three phases: a community workshop, in which a group of CBRM residents would meet to explore their experiences of the 2016 flood; a devising and rehearsal segment, during which four actors chosen from the community would create from the workshop ideas a short play to be performed at the Lumiére festival; and the performance itself.
As the project grew and took shape, however, it also changed direction. People had flood stories, yes, but the impact of the flood went deeper into the community, and Christie found that for many, the topic was simply too raw and recent. What talking about the flood did unearth, however, were underlying community issues like housing, food security, infrastructure failures and the significance of ethnicity. And beyond all that, Christie learned, “lies isolation, disconnection, lack of opportunities, gatekeepers, false choices.” Opening up the theme of the project has allowed fundamental issues in the community to surface.
Neighbours is currently in the second phase, as Dr. Christie and the actors use applied theatre techniques to explore experiences and build their play. Although based on personal stories, these stories are transformed for the play into fictional conflicts that will resonate with a larger audience. It’s hard work, says Christie, but worth it. “When it works, we learn truths that help us move past the places where we are stuck, as individuals and as communities.”
Three performances of Neighbours will take place on the evening of September 23, 2017, during the Lumiére festival. To learn more about the project and keep up with its progress, visit cbneighbours.wordpress.com
For more information about CBU’s BACS in Applied Theatre, visit the CBU Website.