I have written a rather unique book, titled Committing, which was launched recently at a special event at Mount Royal University. Committing features a short script and commentary dealing with the sensitive issue of teen suicide. If you know me and know my writing, this might be the last thing you’d expect from me. This is how it came about.
For a few years now, I’ve been associated with Helen McPhaden and the Stardale Women’s Group. (Please see my post Attention Must be Paid, December, 2012, which is actually included in the book.)
Not long after I wrote that post, Helen received funding to create a performance dealing with the problem of suicide among young people in the aboriginal community. She asked me if I would oversee such a project and I was intrigued and even flattered to have been asked, and so I took on the role of, in Helen’s estimation, the artistic director.
A year and a half ago, then, we began the arduous journey of creating a play – or at least a performance piece – dealing with this very sensitive subject. Being neither aboriginal or adolescent, and for the most part quite ignorant about suicide in general, my real goal was to help create a piece using the information and language the girls themselves would provide.
In this project, we were serving (at least) three masters. One was the creation of a meaningful and performable piece, through improvisation and other theatrical techniques. The second was to provide some training for the girls, who knew virtually nothing about the acting process. Finally, we needed someone to direct the play for at least one performance, which happened a year ago in Edmonton. (There were to have been more in Calgary last June, but then the flood happened and we all know what happened then . . .)
Because of the dark nature of the material, I thought it would be a good idea to go against the grain and hire a director with a background in clown and physical theatre. That person was initially Elaine Weryshko, a wonderfully talented performer from Calgary, but she was presented with the opportunity travel and so we lost her. The road beckoned, and who could blame her for following it?
And so the project was handed off to Geneviève Paré, another young and wonderfully talented performer based in Calgary, with what is certain to be a bright future and good career ahead of her.
Any credit for the work that was finally presented must go to Gen. In my mind she did the almost impossible, wrangling 25 – 30 girls to create a text in the first place and then directing them, all the while imparting the basic fundamentals of the theatre and performance – all in a very limited time frame.
While she was doing this, I sat back and took notes. When you hire the right person, there’s not much else left for you to do, unless you want to try your hand at micro-managing which has never interested me.
These notes I took form the bulk of the book Committing. This allowed me to include in the book many of the images and ideas that came up in our improv sessions, but that didn’t make it into the final version of the play. For this reason, I think the book would be of interest to those involved in dramaturgy and collective creation as well as to those who work with youth and for whom suicide is an issue of interest.
The book obviously contains the script of Committing as it was performed that one time in Edmonton, but I think it is really more of an archival record of what happened, rather than a blueprint for future performances.
Finally, the book also contains an introduction by Stardale Director Helen McPhaden underscoring the seriousness of the problem today in our First Nations communities and beyond.
This year, the Stardale girls have created a different performance piece, a dance in partnership with Alberta Ballet, titled Alesha’s Dream. This piece was performed at the Wright Theatre at Mount Royal University on Wednesday, May 21. Following Alesha’s Dream we launched the book Committing. I gave a short reading from the work and copies were available for purchase. All proceeds will go towards supporting the ongoing programming at Stardale.
It’s lovely book, designed by Vincent Joachim, and an important one on many levels. If you would like a copy but couldn’t make it to the launch, I’m sure Helen would love to hear from you. Books can be ordered by emailing her at email@example.com. Suggested price is $20.00.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s one of my favourite songs by the incomparable Robbie Robinson . . . .