Ten years ago a ground-breaking creative project took place in the Downtown Eastside – In the Heart of a City: The Downtown Eastside Community Play. Featuring tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, this wild joy ride through 100 years of laughter and tears was coproduced by Vancouver Moving Theatre and the Carnegie Community Centre in honour of the Carnegie building’s 100th anniversary. Building the play turned into an epic year-long event that involved over 2000 volunteers, 50 organizations, 60 artists and employees. Community members were involved in every aspect – from research to creation, workshops to parades, rehearsal to production.
The play told the story of a young First Nations woman arriving in today’s Downtown Eastside to carve out a new life for herself. Searching for her Aunt Rita and looking for a job, she encountered the life and times of the neighbourhood past, present and maybe even the future. Stories from the community came to life in words and music, song and dance, giant puppets and shadow puppets, and in memories of struggles for human rights and dignity by people who fought back, spoke out and changed their lives. Directed by James Fagan Tait, the play featured over 80 performers young and old (including an appearance by Mayor Larry Campbell); and premiered in eight sold-out performances and standing ovations at the Japanese Hall for audiences from throughout the Lower Mainland and for residents of the Downtown Eastside.
“A vibrant Downtown Eastside theatre community has been created. People are getting to know each other. People connected to the play are greeting each other on the street. They know that their play refl ects the strength, pain and beauty of our multicultural Downtown Eastside that rises like the phoenix from one generation to another.”
– Sandy Cameron, Carnegie Newsletter
As a result of the community play’s success and impact, in 2004 the Carnegie Community Centre and Vancouver Moving Theatre launched – with the help of a host of community partners – the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival. The vision: to provide an annual and sustainable event to promote our community, serve as a bridge-building presence within the community, and give voice to our artists, cultural traditions, history, activism, people and great stories.
– Savannah Walling