Kate Nundal anxiously awaits the Trinity Western University’s latest theatrical presentation to open next Tuesday.
The third-year theatre major longs to meet the woman, whose story she is bringing to life on the stage in a “devised theatre” piece called disPLACE: Refugee Stories in Their Own Words.
Nundal is one of five TWU students and one theatre director who have taken real personal interviews with Canadian refugees and – working collaboratively – woven them into a powerful and poignant original theatre production debuting Nov. 22.
“I have not personally met the young woman whose story I am telling, though I feel as though I know her, having listened to her tell her story in an interview many times. But, I am excited to meet her when the show opens,” said Nundal, who has – at times during the process – personally connected with her character’s story.
The show presents the true stories of people who courageously shared their experiences, said director Angela Konrad.
disPLACE shares stories from Mennonite immigrants who fled Europe after the Second World War to recently arrived Syrian refugees.
One family, fleeing guerrilla forces in Colombia, concealed themselves among the furniture in a moving truck.
A refugee from Iraq arrived in Delta as a teenager, braving the social dynamics of high school with very little English and her head shaven from surgery.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have the privilege of hearing these stories,” and being challenged to convey one of them on stage.
“Her [character’s] story has spoken in many ways to me at this time,” 19-year-old Nundal said.
“At the beginning of the semester, I nearly lost my father, and her story of grief, of being young and dealing with a family experiencing suffering echoed very powerfully with me and in many ways is helping me personally to deal with the struggles I’ve been facing over the semester,” she explained.
These and other personal experiences, captured word-for-word in the dialogue, take on even more poignancy with the original music woven through the production.
“I was stunned by the stories we heard,” said Nundal, who also plays violin and viola in the show.
“I’ve seen stuff like this on TV, but knowing that someone right here in my community actually witnessed a moment like that – hearing it from her own lips – that’s something else altogether. Creating disPLACE has changed me more than any other theatre experience I’ve had.”
disPLACE, which is not a faith-based production, features five actors who transform themselves into multiple characters over the course of the show: Nundal, Uliana Akulenko, Emmett Hanly, Jane Oliphant, and Keenan Marchand.
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Marchand (in photo above, right) is a fourth year TWU student pursuing his bachelor in fine arts in acting.
The 21-year-old student from Langley has previously directed theatre and written before.
But he describes this process, where they listened to interviews with refugees then worked collaboratively create this play, as life altering.
“It has been humbling, fun, as well as terrifying,” said Marchand.
“This process has been quite a journey, and not always an easy one. As a cast we have bonded over laughter, tears, and heartbreak,” he added.
“All the stories we heard made a great impact on all of us, and I think we were all just blown away by the bravery and humanity these people showed so brilliantly.”
The production runs Nov. 22 to Dec. 3, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3.
Each performance is followed by a talkback, moderated by a specialist in refugee issues.
Tickets can be booked online at www.twu.ca/theatre or by calling 604-513-2188.
“This is a powerful, unique production I would encourage everyone to see,” Nundal said.
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New company emerging
Konrad, chair of theatre at TWU’s School of the Arts, Media + Culture, conceived disPLACE to be presented in the SAMC season as a launch piece for her newly formed company, Dark Glass Theatre.
The school’s leadership readily agreed to partner on the production.
Humanitas Anabaptist-Mennonite Centre, which has ties to TWU, is the umbrella organization for Dark Glass Theatre and will continue to support the company’s future productions, Konrad explained.
The mandate of Dark Glass Theatre is to tell stories that enable us to see, face-to-face, people we might not otherwise meet, Konrad said.
“Compelling, personal stories can have a profound impact – decreasing judgement, increasing compassion, and fostering empathy. I believe it’s essential for TWU students to work on projects like this,” she added.
Konrad and the rest of the creative team will host an informal, educational event for high school students on Wednesday, Nov. 30. The night includes dinner, admission, and a post-show talkback for $10. To register, email email@example.com.
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Elaborating on the process
The process is quite unusual, Konrad said.
“Yes. It’s collaborative – all of the actors and director create it over the course of the rehearsal process, rather than writing a script first. So technically, there are six authors (five actors, one director) but it’s conventionally called ‘devised theatre’ as the piece is devised rather than written,” she explained.
Each actor transforms into multiple characters, weaving together an “unforgettable journey” using verbatim testimony and original music, Konrad said.
“While I have written and co-written a small number of plays before, I have never worked on something quite like this,” Nundal said of the undertaking.
Admittedly, she said, she auditioned at the end of the last semester without “any real idea of what the show was or what it was planned to be,” she shared.
“The collaborative effort that has been integral to the devising of this show has been, in way, almost magical in its cohesion. I expected that it would be difficult and slow at times, and certainly no creative process is without its ups and downs, but at no time was that due to any conflict between various members of the creative team,” she said.
The fact that they are all working towards the same vision of the show has been so rewarding, as have the “deep friendships” formed in what she described as an open and empowering atmosphere.
“This process has been so personally formative and so incredible,” she said, echoing the sentiment of Marchand.
“This has been my first real experience of collaboration in regards to creating a script. It has been a strange process, but it helped me grow as a writer and simply in awareness of the world,” he said, explaining that he wrote and directed a play in high school and another for a 24-hour theatre event at TWU.
“Collaboration also helps educate you about not holding too tightly to the things you write,” Marchand added.
“I would love to do this again, but perhaps that is just my bias because I was able to work with such a like-minded, fun, supportive and passionate cast and crew,” he said, describing it as a theatre family.
“I have gained so much from this effort,” Nundal added. “I learned to work so completely with others that every rehearsal feels like a gift given and many received. I’ve learned to sing, play, write, act, and share in a special kind of harmony with this group of people, and I’ve formed several deep, meaningful friendships as a result.”