The stories of the Downtown Eastside Community Play will come to life in a whole variety of styles including scenes, acting, songs, dances, shadow puppets, giant puppets, stilts and spectacle.
As our play begins, residents of the Downtown Eastside sing about their lives. Suddenly the Old One - a First Nations elder from a thousand years ago – appears. He is pushing a shopping cart full of bottles and bags. The Old One starts pulling out of his cart treasures of today and treasures of yesterday that reflect what has happened in this area of Vancouver.
The Old One draws a giant cedar out of a trash bin on the street and calls in the history of the area just before contact with the first immigrants. The cedar is felled and processed in a saw mill. Gassy Jack climbs out of the trash bin to sell the first official spirits of 1867. Jack and his aboriginal wife do well and the new town grows rapidly until it is incinerated in the great fire of 1886. But the town is not deterred as several tents rise up like a phoenix from the ashes.
A young native woman named Nicole arrives from Bella Coola to the contemporary Downtown Eastside. She is greeted by a variety of street people and gets drawn into the fabric of Hastings Street. As the play follows the story of newcomer Nicole, Chinese Canadian Nancy and many other contemporary characters, other people arrive from other places and from other times, including Birdie Stewart, Willie Shaparla, and the first immigrants from China and Japan.
The first transcontinental train reaches Vancouver in 1887. The train nearly runs over a child from 1971, prompting low income moms from the Raymur Housing complex to band together and stop the trains.
Historical events unfold, including the 1907 Anti-Asian Riot and the 1938 Post Office Strike (Bloody Sunday) plus fantastical episodes such as Andrew Carnegie’s accidental resurrection by three Carnegie Center musicians.
The play’s stories reflect dreams and despair, pain and joy, hope and triumph over adversity - all that it means to experience life in the heart of Vancouver, home to music, arts, and culture for over a century. When Vancouver sprang from the ashes of the fire of 1886 like a phoenix, a strong symbol for the continuing life of the Downtown Eastside was born – the symbol of perseverance, hope and faith.
Frequently Asked Questions
Join us in making a new play for and about the Downtown Eastside!
The Carnegie Center and Strathcona's Vancouver Moving Theatre are joining forces -
with a host just plain folks, artists and downtown eastside organizations (including the
Strathcona Community Centre, Strathcona Elementary School the Japanese Language
School and the Chinatown Revitalization Committee), - to create a community play
about the whole Downtown Eastside: from Gastown to Main and Hastings, from
Chinatown to Strathcona, from Japantown to Luk'luk'i and Victory Square. It's the
grand finale to Carnegie's hundredth birthday party. And it's a celebration from the
heart of our city - the home to music, arts and culture for over a century!
What is a community play?
A community play involves as many people as possible and a small group of experienced
theatre artists working together to create a work of art that expresses the spirit of their
What will the play be about?
Our play will celebrate the Downtown Eastside's history and peoples, its struggles and
triumphs and its cultures and art forms. The play is being specially written for us, with
your help, by a team of writers who are listening to your concerns and interests. If
you've heard any interesting, funny and amazing stories, let us know! The play process
is also about the coming together of all kinds of people from all the neighbourhoods that
make up the larger Downtown Eastside community.
How big will it be and who be participating?
Huge! There are 16,000 people in the downtown eastside, but we're going for 150
performers. We want you to be one of them or one of hundreds of people involved
backstage and in building the show. So come on out to act, sing, dance, build sets
and props, costumes and puppets, and be part of the play.
Can I join in if I've never acted?
Yes, it's your play! If you've ever had a secret yen to be involved in theatre, this is
your golden opportunity. There's an opportunity for every interest, age and background.
When will it happen?
Performances will be in November 2003. Auditions will take place in early September
(everyone gets a part!). Rehearsals and building begin in mid September 2003.
Starting in April, there will be lots of opportunities to participate in special events
and music, theatre, design, prop making, puppetry, mask and costume making
workshops taking place throughout the entire DTES neighbourhoods.
Who are the artists?
We're happy to announce that we've found a wonderful director (and co-writer)
in Jimmy Tait who worked on a big community play for the folks in Enderby, B.C.
He brings with him tons of experience, enthusiasm and a great sense of humour.
The rest of the co-writing team includes Savannah Walling (25 years in the DTES),
Adrienne Wong (artist in resident at the Fire Hall Arts Centre) and Renae Morriseau
(first nations documentary film maker, "North of 60" actress). Marina Szijarto
(13 years in the DTES) will design costumes, props, puppets and set.
Who will benefit?
All of us! People will share their memories and skills, discover new talents and
bring old ones to light, meet new people, learn new things, have lots of fun.
The play will express to the outside world our concern and love for the Downtown
Eastside - our respect for its people, rich history and cultural diversity - and our
pride in its vibrant energy and creativity.