Following the recent announcement of Christy Clark’s new anti-bullying program for schools, the Community Justice Centre is presenting the premier of a new play on the subject.
The play was commissioned from award-winning theatre director and Vanier drama teacher Lori Mazey.
Torn Rainbow, or Sticks & Stones & Names May Break Me has been in development for a year. It is based upon interviews with Comox Valley students and recent graduates about their experiences with homophobia, racism, and hate speech in schools and throughout our community.
The approach is similar to the one used by the Tectonic Theatre Company’s Laramie Project, which told the story of the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard in a small town in Montana in 1998.
Mazey presented the play through Courtenay Little Theatre in 2003, one of the first youth performances of the play in Canada. Mazey won Best Director and the production also won Best Production and Best Ensemble at the provincial drama finals that year.
Torn Rainbow is part of the CJC’s Arts Engagement project this year, funded through EmbraceBC and the Government of Canada. CJC offered the project as a support to the implementation of the School District’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy, which was adopted a year ago.
Scenes from the play were presented at last February’s Professional Development Day to both the teachers and the support staff. The teachers’ association and the support staff union (CUPE) have also contributed to the funding needed to bring the play to the stage.
It opened on the road in Nanaimo District Secondary on May 29 and has toured to Dover Bay Secondary, Alberni District Secondary, Carihi in Campbell River, and Port Hardy Secondary.
It was also the featured opening for the Destination Unity Inclusive Youth Leadership event earlier this month at Shawnigan Lake.
“Each audience has been totally gripped,” said Bruce Curtis, the play’s producer. “They were on the edge of their seats throughout and you could see on the faces of the students that they had either been the bully or been bullied.”
The cast of 16 includes Vanier theatre student Jesse Polito (winner of the Kim Cattrall $3,000 scholarship announced last month) and 15 other current and former Vanier theatre students.
The cast, under Mazey’s direction, are turning in stunning performances of real depth and understanding. They are clearly drawing from deep within their own experience of what they’ve seen and heard themselves and it is clear that the dialogue is having a powerful effect on their own emotions.
“Mazey’s work on this play has been inspired and she has produced a vital piece of theatre that achieves the goals,” Curtis said.
“The goals we set were to push the audience to think more deeply about the impact of their own and others’ hate speech and physical bullying on the victims, and to understand where those actions come from and how they have been tolerated in our culture for far too long.
“The play will be successful when we can begin to discern a change in our community’s attitudes.”
Woven through the script are the words of the Comox Valley’s own youth responses to a set of interviews conducted by Jesse Polito. Audiences will find the student’s thoughts and feelings expressed clearly and directly. Most adults will find themselves stunned as the experiences of our youth are starkly shared. Administrators and teachers at the schools where the play toured acknowledged it was challenging, but needed to be heard. One administrator said she hadn’t seen such sincere attention being given to anything in a long time. Two school trustees who attended one of the performances were very pleased with the impact and said this is what it takes to move our thinking and change people’s attitudes towards a most serious problem. They both departed with a sense of hope about making those changes in their schools.
Torn Rainbow’s impact won’t end when the curtain comes down on the production’s currently scheduled performances. The play is being filmed and a copy of the video will be provided with copies of the script to any community theatre group, high school drama department, of other group which would like to mount the play.
As copyright holder in the script, the Community Justice Centre is waiving the fees and royalties to encourage performances across the province and the country.
Torn Rainbow opens June 13 at 8 p.m. in the Vanier Secondary Theatre. There is a second performance June 15.
Tickets are $10 (general admission) and available through Laughing Oyster Bookshop in Courtenay, Comox Videos N More, and the Community Justice Centre in Courtenay. Curtis expects a large audience and said that if the two shows are sold out by June 14, people should place their names on the lists at the ticket outlets for a possible third performance on Saturday evening.
— Community Justice Centre