Play helps youths re­lease fears

> BY JANET SMITH

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

On one level, The Re­lease Party is a youth-writ­ten play about just what it sounds like: in it, Wind, a young Indige­nous artist, is hold­ing the de­but cel­e­bra­tion for her new sin­gle.

But in the unique process de­vel­oped by RHYTAG (the Round­house Youth The­atre Ac­tion Group), there’s another kind of re­lease go­ing on: the un­leash­ing of voices that haven’t been heard, and the let­ting loose of se­crets, anger, and fear over is­sues as di­verse as men­tal health, bul­ly­ing, and vi­o­lence against women.

“I love RHYTAG be­cause that’s where I found my con­fi­dence to find my voice,” says Latisha Wad­hams, a 17-year-old Kwak­waka’wakw stu­dent with a love of spo­ken word, speak­ing to the Straight by phone be­fore the show pre­mieres dur­ing B.C. Youth Week. “Ex­press­ing th­ese things through art is a re­ally pow­er­ful thing.

“Be­fore, th­ese were just things that were there and I didn’t re­ally know what to do with them,” she adds, “but do­ing this piece has re­ally al­lowed me to be lis­tened to.”

In the show, Wind and her mag­i­cal friend Em­ber­lin in­vite a group of youths to share and per­form. The play is a mashup of dance, mu­sic, spo­ken word, rap, vis­ual art, and even park­our. A big com­po­nent of The Re­lease Party is pro­jected film, fea­tur­ing Wad­hams’s friends, in­clud­ing a pal in New Zealand, talk­ing about what it means to them to be Indige­nous.

In a process Some Assem­bly The­atre Com­pany co­founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor Va­lerie Methot has been de­vel­op­ing for 17 years now, she and other the­atre pro­fes­sion­als work with youths to iden­tify the is­sues they want to raise and cre­ate a for­mat to ex­plore them. “I start by ask­ing the youths what they need to feel safe and ex­press what they want to ex­press,” she ex­plains dur­ing the same phone call. “The struc­ture in the writ­ing process is we write as a group once a week and then write in­di­vid­u­ally and in small groups.”

“We had to talk about our ev­ery­day life,” says Wad­hams, who joined other youths aged 13 to 19, and from cul­tures as di­verse as Viet­namese, Rus­sian, Ser­bian, and Greek, in the process. “When I go there, it’s heavy, but it doesn’t faze any­one; they’re there for me.”

Wad­hams wanted to raise the plight of Indige­nous women in her play, since her own grand­mother sits on the Na­tional In­quiry for Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and her aunt was mur­dered when she was six.

“We have those fears as women. We carry knives in our pock­ets. We’re in sur­vival mode,” says Wad­hams, whose spo­ken-word piece about the is­sue be­came a cat­a­lyst for The Re­lease Party. “The scari­est thing is there are still Indige­nous women go­ing miss­ing on the Down­town East­side. So I re­ally wanted to ex­press my fear and anger about that through the play.”

The stresses the group works through are a mi­cro­cosm of the larger anx­i­eties that youths face to­day in Van­cou­ver, Methot points out.

“It’s an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause they’re all di­verse in so many ways, not just cul­tur­ally, but also their back­grounds and their chal­lenges, so they have dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” Methot ex­plains. “Work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively is such a chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but so im­por­tant: we need to lis­ten to each other. We re­ally need to un­der­stand that we share this world to­gether and it’s im­por­tant to lis­ten to one another and care for one another, and it af­fects all of our fu­ture. I’m moved ev­ery sin­gle day I’m with them.”

More than any­thing, Methot stresses, The Re­lease Party— both the play and the process be­hind it—tries to bring light to the dark sub­jects that teens strug­gle with to­day.

“Even though we dive into th­ese deep is­sues, it was re­ally im­por­tant for me in my method to bring hope, to bring hu­mour to big ideas,” she ex­plains. “It’s about how we can work through th­ese chal­lenges.”

The Re­lease Party,

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