disPLACE is an original production by Dark Glass Theatre that first premiered at Trinity Western University’s Freedom Hall in November 2016, and has expanded outward from there. In the verbatim piece, theatre students from TWU share the stories of refugees mainly from the Congo, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Columbia in the refugees’ own words. Mars‘ Hill wanted to get the story from the inside, so we asked each of the actors to share some of their experience.
Tell us a bit about disPLACE and its origins.
Uliana Akulenko: disPlace: Stories of refugees in their own words, is a devised [created during the rehearsal process] verbatim [in the same words as the original] theatre piece and the inaugural production of Dark Glass theatre. Like any other story, this play begins with people. The stories themselves came from our artistic director Angela Konrad and associate producer Jessica Garden, who conducted several interviews with refugees, which were recorded and later transcribed by actors, and then brought together to the rehearsal hall. Stories were cut substantially to fit the time limit of the whole production but were mostly kept original, and 98% of the show remains the unedited versions of the audio interviews. There isn’t one definitive time and place where these stories begin, but each person, at least during one point in their lives, was displaced by the inevitable circumstances that they had to face and overcome. As Angela put it in one of the first rehearsals: “Devised theatre is like archeology. You don’t build something from scratch, you rather uncover it layer by layer.” It was there all along, we were simply tasked to brush the dust away and make these stories clear for people to see.
What has been the goal of disPLACE?
Alexandria Bay: The goal of disPLACE is essentially the mandate of Dark Glass theatre: Dark Glass Theatre exists 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.
How has participating in this project changed your perspective of the refugee crisis?
Emmett Hanly: Before I knew I was going to be cast in disPLACE, the refugee crisis isn’t something I thought about. As a student, it’s like, I’ve got enough on my plate as it is with assignments, work, and rehearsal, I’ve got no time to do anything about this. But after being cast in this show, I was forced to think about it. People are dying, and I can’t feign ignorance anymore. I feel that as Christians we’re obligated to try and love our neighbours. It’s easy to think of refugees as statistics and/or as a danger to our country, but nobody is a refugee by choice. They’re all just people like us, trying to keep their mothers and fathers and children from dying. They are human beings with personalities and interests and favourite songs and foods. They’re just trying to live, and we can’t ignore their cry for help.
What aspect of disPLACE has most challenged you as an artist?
Keenan Marchand: The most challenging aspect about disPLACE is the fact that the stories we’re telling are those of real people, who are still alive after going through so much. There is a great deal of pressure and a tremendous responsibility as an artist to portray the person’s story as truthfully as possible. But until the actual refugees came to see the play, I think we were all hesitant. I know I definitely was terrified, because I had so many characters I had portrayed or talked about in my roles come to the show. However, their reception was far more positive than I could have ever anticipated. There is a special trust between a person with a story to be told and an artist willing to tell it as truthfully and respectfully as possible. It was very daunting, but also richly rewarding. It’s really made me appreciate the power of art to affect positive change in the real world.
How has being involved in this project affected you spiritually?
Jane Oliphant : As a cast we had all agreed that we should keep [my character] Nika’s prayer as part of the show. Her words are so honest and human and, in some way I think we can all relate to them: God, I want a way. Please give me the way, I need way to . . . I don’t know what I need, just please give me the way . . . I trust you my God.” In the rehearsal process while speaking these words, something happened to me. My heart hurt and I became a blubbering mess. It had become too real. Our director encouraged me to let people see Nika through me, but to do this I had to be open to be completely and utterly vulnerable. God has really shown me through Nika and this show to trust him. It has been a whirlwind of fear, doubts, joys, trepidation, energy, lack of energy, grief, uncertainty . . . but in all this we are not alone. As Nika’s story testifies, the impossible can become possible—not only in her life, but in mine, this show. Often it is hard to see or understand what God is up to, but Nika and this project are teaching me to let go and to trust Him. I can see evidence of His goodness at work and I need to remember and hold onto these things so that I can stay in the Truth and not lose hope. This show is about humanity and heart. I had to let go of my perfectionism and fears and allow myself to be seen in order to give my best and let God take care of the results.
What has reception been like to this project and what does the future of Displaced look like? – Kate Nundal
Last fall, when we first put on disPLACE here at TWU, we were very well received. In talkbacks after the show, we get to see just how deeply some people have been affected by the performance. During the latest tour over reading break we had people asking if we are intending to put disPLACE on again and what they can do to help. As artists and the messengers who get to tell these stories, that’s really invigorating. We don’t feel like we are finished with this show yet! We are hoping to possibly take small pieces of the show to various churches over the summer as sermon replacements, and if it is at all possible we dream of doing some kind of national tour in the summer of 2018. We aren’t really sure yet how it is going to happen but this show’s message is just as necessary now as it was last Fall, and unfortunately I don’t think it will cease to be necessary in the coming years.