Nika, a young Syrian woman, was walking down the street in her hometown when she heard a loud shot.
Suddenly, a man in front of her fell to the ground with his head gaping open, exposing his brain.
As she watched in horror, she realized the man lying there was still alive.
Her uncle, too, saw the scene and stepped in. He pulled the man into his taxi and rushed him to the hospital.
When Angela Konrad (pictured below), chair of the theatre program at Trinity Western University, first heard this story, she was at a loss for words.
“I think of all the things that I heard, the idea of that is so zombie apocalypse,” Konrad said.
“This is not something that actually happens.”
But as Konrad and her students learned, scenarios like this are happening to millions of people around the world.
Nika is one of several refugees now living in Canada who were interviewed by Konrad and her associate, Jessica Garden, for their groundbreaking play disPLACE: Refugee Stories in Their Own Words.
After premiering at Trinity Western University in November, the play is returning to the stage for encore performances this weekend in Abbotsford, Richmond and Vancouver.
The show follows the true stories of refugees, who have narrowly escaped death and destruction to make a new life in Canada. There is Eduardo, a father fleeing guerrilla forces in Columbia; Nasira, an Iraqi teenager struggling to make friends at a Delta high school; Emanuel, a human rights activist in the Congo; and Maria, a Mennonite escaping Russia during the Second World War.
Apart from one story, which was derived from a video, the refugees were all personally interviewed and recorded by Konrad and Garden, and their stories transcribed into text.
From there, the editing began, and with the help of the TWU students cast in the play, the five stories — each roughly a two-hour recording — were dissected and woven together into a 90 minute production. Each of the refugee’s stories were so complex, that many details, including Nika’s encounter with the man being shot in front of her, could not fit into the script.
The style of disPLACE is verbatim theatre — where the refugee’s stories are told in their own words by actors — with songs, inspired by the stories, incorporated between scenes.
“One of my actors, after we had listened to some of the (recordings) early on, said that it — I hesitate to use the word surreal — but I don’t know what other word would be better. It’s a bit surreal because most of us have seen movies that portray all kinds of atrocities, but this is an actual person who actually experienced this,” Konrad said.
“And sometimes, I think even if the show didn’t impact anyone else who came to see it, what it has done for the students who have created it would make it worthwhile. That’s not where it stops, and I’m grateful for that, but it’s been a really fabulous experience for all of us. Such a privilege to hear these stories and to have the opportunity to tell them, to share them in this way.”
disPLACE is the first production under Konrad’s new company, Dark Glass Theatre — a passion project she has been pursing for the past year.
“I realized that what I’ve always wanted is to tell stories that I really care about. And so I started thinking about a number of different seeds that have been planted in my head about shows that I wanted to do over the last number of years. And they got to a point where they were kind of coalescing into a vision,” Konrad explained.
“And I, personally, have always been drawn most to theatre that has something substantial to say. And the plays that I have most cared about directing have been ones where I felt passionately about the theme and the ideas in the show.”
That vision, she realized, had a strong resonance with Anabaptist theology in its themes of peace and social justice. And so, through partnering with the Humanitas Anabaptist Mennonite Centre and TWU, Dark Glass Theatre was born.
“The mandate is to tell stories that enable us to see face-to-face people we might not otherwise meet, thereby decreasing judgement, increasing compassion and fostering empathy,” Konrad said.
“Anytime you meet someone that you wouldn’t otherwise, that’s going to be educational. That’s going to enrich your life in some way.”
Konrad believes that stories told through live theatre can affect audiences differently than ones shared through a book or a movie.
“One of the beauties and challenges of something like this is that live theatre is temporal and ephemeral,” she said.
“Live theatre is constricted by time and place. And that’s hard because it means when people say, ‘How can we get this story out there?’ The answer is not easy. Polishing it doesn’t make it what it is. And yet, it’s also beautiful because the whole idea of seeing face-to-face, is actually seeing face-to-face — not looking at something that is two-dimensional.
“There’s something magical that happens when you’re in the same room breathing the same air as this other human being — even if that human being is represented by an actor. There’s a way in which you walk alongside them in a powerful way. And I think that really increases perspective.”
STAGE OF FORGIVENESS
The name of the company, Dark Glass Theatre, evolved from a series of quotes that held meaning for Konrad and Garden.
Originally, they were going to title the company Stage of Forgiveness, but it soon became clear that the stories they want to portray encompass much more than forgiveness.
“We started talking through what the ideas were, and there is a C.S. Lewis quote that we had pulled for the website that is ‘My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others.’
“There’s another quote on the website, which I also love that is from Martin Luther King about forgiveness: ‘We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.’”
They were also drawn to a verse in Corinthians: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’
“So those two verses together just felt like everything that we want to do in the company. And even the idea that the second part of that verse is about being known. Every aspect about it we felt like OK, that’s it, that’s the rock.”
CALL TO ACTION
The refugee stories told in disPLACE are only the first of many that Konrad wants to tell through Dark Glass Theatre.
She hopes to partner with other local theatre companies to pursue productions about anti-bullying in high schools, or the challenges for those who identify as both queer and Christian. In particular, she is most passionate about staging the Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Ruined, which tells the story of women working in a brothel in the Congo.
Because of the social justice themes that will be explored through Dark Glass, part of the show experience will be talkbacks after each performance. During these sessions, audience members can ask questions to actors and discuss solutions to some of the real-world problems that may be presented in the plays.
“(Talkbacks) are something I plan to do a lot of the time with Dark Glass because all of our plays will be very theme driven,” Konrad said.
“A few years ago I directed The Drowsy Chaperone. Love that play, I think it actually was a powerful show in a lot of ways. I think laughter is incredibly healing, etc., etc. We don’t need a talkback after The Drowsy Chaperone. You can go out for a drink and talk to your friends after. There’s not a ‘What do we do?’ There’s no call to action after it. Whereas, I think most of the plays we’re doing, there won’t necessarily be a call to action exactly, but there will be substantial societal issue questions (and) social justice questions that come out of it.”
Encore performances of disPLACE: Refugee Stories in Their Own Words, take place March 2-5.
On Thursday March 2, the show travels to Mennonite Heritage Museum, 1818 Clearbrook Rd. in Abbotsford, for two performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. To reserve tickets, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday March 3, the show will be staged at Trinity Western University’s Richmond campus, 5900 Minoru Blvd, for two performances at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at: http://displace-twurichmond.brownpapertickets.com/