Wait…West to East? While much of this week was spent traveling from East to West as we made our way from Toronto to Winnipeg (stopping to perform in Orillia, where we were blessed to spend time with a very welcoming congregation, and later stopping to sleep in Thunder Bay) yesterday was a day of going from West to East, as we performed in two very different settings here in Winnipeg – Westgate Mennonite Collegiate and EastView Community Church. I (Kimberlee) figure I’ll put in a photo of each of our locations so you can get more of an idea of what our day looked like…
Westgate Mennonite Collegiate is a private school of about 300 students, grades 7 to 12. We performed in a large, echo-y gym, with blue exercise mats propped up to make “wings” for us to change behind. The bleachers the students sat on were packed, and we had to be very intentional about projecting loudly and never accidentally pointing our heads anywhere other than directly at the kids in order to be heard. We had never performed for a highschoolers before, and wondered if they would be interested. Characters in the play are adults with jobs and children – would the students be able to relate? Would seeing the play be anything more to them than a chance to get out of class? As it turns out, the vast majority of the students were with us all the way, laughing at anything that was even slightly funny (there are a lot of awkward pauses in the play… if highschool today is anything like I remember it, perhaps awkwardness is something that all teens can relate to!) and listening attentively to the more serious/dramatic parts. The question and answer period we had at the end of the play was certainly the most fun one we’ve ever had with questions ranging from the traditional “what was Phil’s crime?” to the serious “what would you do if an offender started coming to your church?” to “if you are wearing glasses now and you weren’t when you were acting, were you worried that you would bump into things?” Afterwards, we had the chance to visit a grade 10 world religions class, and continue the discussion about Restorative Justice, as well as about being a theatre troupe. This was also a lot of fun, as we got to answer questions like, “what’s the craziest thing that has ever happened on tour” and “what do your parents think about you being actors?” Hummm! It was a great day.
That afternoon, we pulled into the “downtown campus” of East View Community Church to set up for a 7pm show. In the busyness of touring, it’s hard to keep all of these churches straight, so we were surprised when we arrived to find that the church looked more like a cool upstairs coffee shop with faith-inspired art, and chairs set up around tables for discussion rather than pews. This church meets on Thursday nights and congregants come from all walks of life. Performing the play at East View felt different than it ever had before, mostly because we were all aware that many of the folks in attendance were currently living what we were acting out. After the show, Ben had a chance to talk to a man whom had been released from prison less than a week before, I talked to someone who’s story was identical to Phil’s in the play, and John got some acting tips on playing a prisoner from three guys who had done time. Because the subject matter was so close home for many of our audience members, the Q and A felt like just the beginning of processing of emotions that the play brought up for all of us. The experience was weighty but really quite beautiful, and what gave me hope after the performance was the knowledge that the church has been and is continuing to become the kind of place where it is okay to have these kinds of difficult conversations! It has been really inspiring to meet and hear stories of congregations that are doing what the church in the play perhaps fails to do – welcome and support offenders in their re-integration in safe and healthy ways.
How fortunate we are to meet such diverse, interesting and beautiful people on this journey! From East to West (and yesterday, from West to East) our audiences continue to surprise and inspire us in their willingness to grapple with this tough topic.