Power behind performances convinces

Post image for Power behind performances convinces

March 28, 2013

Theatre for Living
March 8-24
Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver
Ended March 24, 2013

Reviewed by Mark Leiren-Young

Almost thirty years ago David Diamond began drawing inspiration from global theatrical innovator Augusto Boal, creator of “Theatre of the Oppressed,” to inspire his work with Vancouver’s Headlines Theatre. After working with Boal–one of a handful of people on the planet to have pioneered an internationally recognized form of theatre–Diamond created his own way to tell stories with local communities and developed his own form, “Theatre for Living.” It’s not as catchy a name as “Theatre of the Oppressed,” but it’s catching on worldwide. It’s the name of his book, written at Boal’s urging, and also the new name of the theatre company formerly known as Headlines.

Theatre for Living the company made its debut March 8 at the Firehall with Maladjusted–a show designed to explore the challenges facing Canadian mental health care in an age where all systems are becoming less personal and more . . . systems.

A Theatre for Living production works in two acts.

Act one tells a story full of complications. In this case a teenaged girl, who may be clinically depressed or may simply be grieving, is diagnosed by a doctor who looks at the chart without ever looking at the girl or her needy and likely alcoholic mother. Meanwhile the doctor’s co-worker–a social worker with a heart of gold but no time to have a heart–tries to help a guy off the streets and into home care. The catch? He’s on prescription meds and the only available room is in a place that’s all about drug rehab and takes his meds away to be assessed and approved by a doctor who’s never there. Problems ensue, followed by chaos.

In Act Two members of the audience get to yell “freeze” and insert themselves in the action, replacing the character they relate to in the hopes of finding a solution.

The actors are cast by Diamond after creating the material through a workshop process that translates their own experiences, and the experiences of dozen of others into theatre.

And while the acting in the show is uneven, the power behind the performances is unmistakable. Theatre for Living productions open with built-in gravitas–not just because they explore vital issues, but because they engage communities in searching for solutions.

In this case someone was on hand to record all the suggestions and interactions in order to create what Diamond told me is, “a policy document that suggests either implementation or removal of policies that would enhance human-centered care in mental health–the policies having been articulated via the theatre process, the voice of people living the issues.”

The results will be presented to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health and the Canadian Nurses Association. So audiences don’t just get the chance to see a play, but potentially affect public policy–which seems like the perfect ride from Theatre of the Oppressed to Theatre of the Empowered.


Mark Leiren-Young is a playwright, filmmaker and author who lives in Vancouver


Previous post:

Next post: