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More about From the Heart: enter into the journey of reconciliation

Rather than perform a play on a stage for an audience to sit and watch, we built a 14,000 square foot indoor labyrinth made from hundreds of salvaged doors and windows, a forest of tree branches, shadow theatre screens, and huge swaths of fabric, all lit by paper lanterns. Every twenty minutes, six times a night, an audience of eight people were invited to find their own way through the alcoves and chambers of the labyrinth. It took about eighty minutes from beginning to end. Along the path, they encountered seventeen different songs and scenes, shadow and marionette theatre vignettes, and visual installations. These were performances and hand-crafted art environments based on stories that members of the core ensemble felt had opened their eyes to better understanding the history and lived experience of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, the legacy of colonialism in Canada, and the meaning it has for us today.

 

In a climate of emotion-laden conflicting opinions and a widespread lack of historical understanding, conversations about the fraught relationship between settler and Indigenous communities can be challenging. We set the show in an immersive theatre labyrinth in order to give the ensemble of community participants a brief, focused opportunity to create and perform a scene or song, or to produce a soundscape or visual installation, that conveyed to others: “This is the story that led me to see things differently; this is what I’ve created to help you understand what I see.” The premise of the project is that when the ensemble members create evocative performances inspired by what had led them to experience a shift in understanding, and then invite the audience to be witness to those performance pieces, it may open up new ways of understanding among the audience members as well. The spectators’ journey through the show reached its culmination when they rounded a final corner and arrived at the heart of the labyrinth—an inviting salon-like room where they were warmly greeted and offered a cup of tea. In this welcoming space, they were able to take time for a pause before leaving. They could reflect on the experience in conversation with others who had come through the labyrinth and with First Nations professional counselors, who we’d invited to be present in the heart chamber each night.

 

There were opportunities to browse a collection of books about Indigenous histories and cultural perspectives. They could draw or write on paper leaves or small paper booklets and then leave their notes on the branches of a tree near the centre of the room where others could read them. The response by Native and non-Native audience members, and by the participants themselves, was overwhelmingly impassioned and enthusiastic. From the Heart won the honour of Best New Play at the 2013 Victoria BC Critics Choice Awards. Every one of our 120 performances sold out and many audience members lingered for an hour or more in the heart chamber before continuing on their way.