Theatre group gives them chance to share their tales

Carlos Osorio/torstar News Service


From left, Juliette Burgos Garcia, Veronica Agudelo Correa and Deborah Garcia are part of the Crossing Gibraltar theatre group, an outreach group for young refugees to Canada.

Five years ago, Veronica Agudelo Correa was fleeing Colombia, leaving her family behind in the ravaged city of Medellin. Her parents only had enough money to send the youngest family member, so at age 18, Agudelo Correa arrived here alone and unsure if the authorities would let her stay. Lonely and unable to speak English, she became silent and withdrawn.

Not that you can tell now, as she jumps around in front of an audience while acting out a scene with a fellow participant of the Crossing Gibraltar theatre group, an outreach group for young refugees to Canada. For the last eight weeks, the now 22-year-old Agudelo Correa and the other group members, who come from Tibet, Somalia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and elsewhere, have been spending their Saturdays in a colourful, light-filled workshop space in Parkdale.

"Veronica was shy at the beginning, but she has opened up to be quite confident," says Marjorie Chan, who oversees the Crossing Gibraltar group, started by Cahoots Theatre Projects, a Toronto theatre company that focuses on Canada’s cultural diversity.

"Here I feel comfortable," Agudelo Correa says, arms linked with Juliette Burgos Garcia, another group member. It helps that the participants are all in the process of learning English as a second, third or even fourth language, says Chan.

Thanks to Cahoots, Agudelo Correa and the other newcomers who wouldn’t ordinarily get to take drama classes are getting theatre training from professionals.

To say communication is a big deal at these workshops is an understatement. The focus at Crossing Gibraltar is all about sharing and using methods of Forum Theatre, a type of interactive theatre courtesy of famed Brazilian director Augusto Boal.

He developed Forum Theatre as part of something he called Theatre of the Oppressed, which he first taught in poor areas of Brazil to help villagers find their own solutions to racism, poverty and political oppression.

Since the 1970s, it has found its way into classrooms and theatres around the world.

"It was designed to take a group of people and help them move through an oppressive situation to a solution," Crossing Gibraltar facilitator Alysa Golden says about Theatre of the Oppressed, which is also known by its more positive-sounding name, popular theatre.

"It’s called popular because anyone can use it," Golden explains. Language isn’t an issue because you use gestures, expressions and tone of voice to communicate.

"These guys," Golden says, indicating the dozen or so teens and twentysomethings in the room, "have been using it to build community and to share experiences and tell their stories."

After the program finishes this month, Cahoots will be asking promising participants to join a professional cast for a production of the lauded The Sheep And The Whale by Moroccan-born Quebec playwright Ahmed Ghazali.

Set in the Strait of Gibraltar as a freighter tries to unload its unwanted human cargo, it’s a story of being caught between two worlds. Directed by Soheil Parsa, The Sheep And The Whale will have its English-language world premiere this February at Theatre Passe Muraille.

And Agudelo Correa and other Crossing Gibraltar grads will be there. Chan says this was the plan Cahoots had all along — to ensure the tale of refugees is told by refugees.

Latest From ...