Writing Roles: Volunteer Actors Prepare to Perform Their Tide Water Tales

Theatre is a tremendous tool for tapping into people’s creativity. It is also a tremendous tool for exploring the past and developing empathy and understanding for those who have come before.

ARTCi recently hosted a theatre workshop at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site where creativity reigned and the voices of the past were born again through the pens of a new generation.

Using historical documents, and after being given a brief introduction to the many cultures and people who contributed to Britannia’s history, participants selected a character, for example, a Japanese picture bride, an Indigenous net mender or a European shipbuilder. We then did some role playing games. In character, participants created tableaux (frozen pictures) of a day in the life at the Shipyards. We tapped each on the shoulder and they spoke, using their character’s voice, telling us what they were feeling, sensing and doing. Holding on to these details, participants then did a timed writing in role.

The results were spectacular. The sample monologues below are unedited and came directly from the imaginations of the participants, some as young as sixteen, as they walked a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Samreen wrote from the point of view of a Japanese picture bride.

“My dream had always been to provide for my family. At the age of nineteen, my mother told me it was time to get married. She showed me pictures of many different Japanese men in Canada who I could choose from to live a prosperous life outside of Japan. The idea of travelling to a foreign land excited me, as well as the idea of working and earning a living to help my family. I picked a fine looking Japanese man and soon sailed to a place called Steveston in Canada where I met my husband, Ren. He had the rather disgusting job of cleaning the guts out of fish, but he somehow always managed to have an appetite after working. I couldn’t blame him. We barely had two meals a day when we first settled here. In my first few months at the cannery, my skills were mediocre compared to the others and I ended up making less than half of what my husband made. I learned how to pick up my pace after being taught by the other Japanese women in my community. This gave me the opportunity to achieve what I had come here to do…make money. A year later though, my son was born, and work became ten times harder.”

Joanna wrote from the point of view of a young Japanese girl helping her mother.

“I bend over to carry a stack of empty cans to Mom’s work station. Yoshi, my baby brother is strapped to her back and is crying so loud I can hear him over the thunderous noise of the machines. I better take him from Mom and change him. He smells better than it does in here. Five more years before we get to send him to that Canadian school, Lord Byng. Aki goes there now and he is happy. It makes it easier for Mom. When I’m done with Yoshi, I’ll start some dinner and pick some vegetables from our garden. Maybe later I’ll go to the pharmacy. I’ll have to think of a good excuse. That Canadian boy, Oliver, he is handsome…”

Join the ARTCi team on Saturday, August 18th and Sunday, August 19th at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site for the Coastal Mission Boat Rendezvous to see some of these volunteer actors in action, portraying the historical characters that they have resurrected.

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