Fifty years for any organization is noteworthy, but when Amnesty International marks fifty years it is something to be celebrated. In a partnership with Vancouver-based ACTivist theatre collective, Amnesty International will mark this milestone locally with performances of Short and Sweet: Small Plays for Big Ideas at the 2011 Vancouver International Fringe Festival.
Included in the trio of shorts is Leave of Absence by Vancouver playwright Lucia Frangione, which was one of two plays chosen as part of the ACTivist theatre collective’s writing competition. Telling the story of 14 year old Catholic high school student Blake and her growing feelings towards her best friend Tracy, Leave of Absence explores broader issues around sexuality, not just homosexuality.
“It is more than just about a young girl who may or may not be gay,” explained director Jessica Nelson. “Blake is forced to deal with not only the everyday trials of being a teenager and going to school, but she also has to do this under the very watchful and strict eyes of her Catholic School. Blake isn’t given the freedom to explore her sexuality openly and discover whether she really is gay, or if she just happens to love this one person, her best friend, an isolated occurrence.”
Nelson’s connection to the play came the moment she first read it and knew she wanted to direct it for the group’s work with Amnesty International.
“Not only because I felt fiercely passionate about this work being seen but also because the oppression of the homosexual community is still happening today and yet it feels from an everyday perspective that those issues perhaps aren’t always present in our beautiful, pride parading, Vancouver city life.”
For Nelson though, when the issue of hostility towards gays around the world is viewed alongside the Catholic Church’s views on homosexuality, it takes on an even greater meaning.
“When you look at those issues in conjunction with the Catholic Church, which states that being gay is an anomaly and intrinsically disordered, the problem is quite large. To take a look at this issue with Amnesty, a company that is here to unite people against injustice, seems completely fitting.”
With its mandate to create socially aware and engaged theatre that strives to make a difference, the decision by ACTivist theatre collective to pair up with Amnesty International was a perfect fit for the group.
“I truly believe, as well as ACTivist theatre collective, that theatre can create a dialogue for change around the issues it takes a look at,” said Nelson. “This way not only is the show being presented to create change and discussion against human injustice, but also to honour the great work Amnesty has been doing all these years and continues to do every day. Plus who wouldn’t love a night at the theatre to celebrate Amnesty’s anniversary?”
With Short and Sweet playing off-island at PhotoHaus Gallery on West 7th Avenue, Nelson confesses to discovering the difficulties of the BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) part of the Fringe.
“But this route has pushed us to go deeper and be more inventive and creative when faced with tough obstacles to tackle,” she said. “There is the slight fear that it will be harder to achieve those full houses everyone hopes for, but it has also allowed us to create more of an event in its own for the celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary.”
Part of that celebratory event includes the addition of music, visual arts and even drinks to the theatre.
“We are having a bar for mingling, art for visual stimulation, and music for some lively interaction. All of these aspects are working together during the evening, along with our three plays, to create that party atmosphere we wanted for the shows and to help celebrate Amnesty.”
Short and Sweet: Small Plays for Big Ideas
Part of the 2011 Vancouver International Fringe Festival
PhotoHaus Gallery, 14 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver
Celebrate Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary. ACTivist presents Short and Sweet, an event with socially engaged theatre, live music, fresh art, and sweet justice (along with a cocktail bar and a host of treats). In Possible Lives a photojournalist struggles to capture the stories of women affected by Nicaragua’s abortion laws. And The Apartment and Leave of Absence are two scripts selected from over 100 submissions to our contest.