David Diamond, Theatre for Living, directs Reclaiming Hope. (collage graphic design by Dafne Blanco, photos by Wolfgang Rappel)
Starting on March 10, Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre) will be presenting a new event. Called Reclaiming Hope, it will “engage communities in identifying and transforming the narrative of fear that permeates our culture.”
Reclaiming Hope, led by Theatre for Living’s co-founder and artistic director David Diamond, will take place 12 times from March 10 to April 2 at various locations.
“The work that I do is really based in using theatre as a way to create dialogue in the community. We are a professional theatre company, but one that is really committed to collaborations with people in all communities,” said Diamond.
Diamond originally trained as a professional actor and came out of theatre school in 1975. He worked in professional theatre, radio, television and film for a few years before creating Theatre for Living with some of his peers.
“A number of us, writers, directors, actors, became frustrated in the late ’70s with the kind of work we were being asked to do. We wanted to do some kind of theatre work that was socially relevant. After complaining about that for a very long time, we decided we would stop sitting around and complaining, and we would do something about it.”
In 1981, Diamond and his peers created a play about affordable housing. It was a hit, and thus began the establishment of Theatre for Living.
Reclaiming Hope, Theatre for Living’s newest work, was born out of an unexpected turn of events. Diamond and company were initially planning a new project entitled Freedom, which would focus on the idea that corporations may unethically possess the freedom to generate exceptional wealth. But, as Theatre for Living was raising money for this production, the Canadian federal election took place.
“The impulse for that project was grounded, frankly, in Harperism. It isn’t that those issues have now gone away, the issues still exist out there, but the juice of it changed dramatically. Changing the government hasn’t solved all of those problems, but changing the government has changed the perception of those problems.
“We had to really reframe the project. Added to that, we were having trouble raising money for that project, because it was really challenging the financial structures that we have built around us. One of the elements of Freedom that we decided to focus on in Reclaiming Hope is that we are being asked to be afraid, we are being asked to live in fear from so many different sectors,” said Diamond.
Theatre for Living decided they would mount a series of theatrical events that would look at the different ways that various communities are experiencing being asked to live in fear. They would use theatre to identify those voices of fear that take up residence in the community’s psyche. They would also use theatre to try to change the community’s relationship to those voices, so that, according to Diamond, society could move into a more actively hopeful realm.
“‘Hope’ is a verb. ‘Hope’ isn’t just sitting in your living room wishing things were different. ‘Hope’ is getting up off your ass and doing something to make our communities safer in a really human type of way for everybody.
“Somehow,” he said, “we have decided on this little blue speck of a planet, that there is a ‘them.’ That decision that there is a ‘them’ out there, that there is more than just ‘us’ living here is fueled by voices of fear.”
Diamond believes that he and his peers are not inventing something new, but rather reaching back into something ancient. Moreover, he intends to bring back the ancient idea that art itself can once again be seen as the psyche of the community.
Diamond and his company believe that the community may reclaim its collective hope through art.
“Years ago, both as an artist and as an activist, I got really tired of working against a world that I did not want. I made a real choice to work towards a world that I do want. So, at the heart of our theatre work, is the sense of reclaiming positive action,” he said.
An audience member unfamiliar with Theatre for Living’s style should expect to be very active when attending Reclaiming Hope. The event, though structured, will be different every night, as it unfolds with the stories of its nightly participants. As each show will be sponsored by different co-hosts, Diamond anticipates that the chemistry of the audience will be different every night. (For the schedule and tickets, visit theatreforliving.com.)
Diamond will begin each show with a discussion about the idea of living in fear. The audience will then choose one story that resonates the most. The person whose story that is will assume a role on stage, interacting with other audience members who will act out the voices of fear found in the story.
“Audience members will come to play those characters not because they want to play a theatre game,” said Diamond, “but because they have information to share, they understand the ‘voice.’”
Each event will be highly improvisational, and Diamond expects both funny and profound moments to occur. Judging by past events, Diamond expects about 60 to 150 people per night.
On April 3, the series of events will culminate in a day of action planning. This day will only be open to individuals who have attended at least one of the Reclaiming Hope performances. The daylong session will consist of a facilitated workshop where people will form groups based on ideas gathered from Reclaiming Hope. These groups will then make concrete plans for actions that will be the ultimate realizations of Reclaiming Hope.
“On some level,” said Diamond, “I think it is important as a culture, as an over-arching Canadian culture, that we understand and reclaim this idea that culture is not a commodity, that theatre is not a commodity, but it is a language, and we are all supposed to speak. And if we were all of us in our daily lives speaking more art, we would be living in a healthier world.”
Jonathan Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His writing has appeared in the Canadian Jewish News, and various other publications in Canada and the United States.