There is a story inside every building

Winnipeg’s architecture examined in audio dramas

Liam Zarrillo is one of three playwrights whose work will be featured in Winnipeg Stories, an audio-only online theatrical experience from Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Prairie Theatre Exchange’s next production is in a different format than one might expect.

Winnipeg Stories is a free, online, audio-only series that runs from Feb. 15 to March 31. It showcases playwrights Ellen Peterson, Liam Zarrillo and Jo MacDonald as they share takes on Winnipeg’s older architecture and its relationship with history.

Ellen Peterson, writer of Stories Houses Tell, says although it is good to save these buildings, what is more important is to preserve the stories they help tell.

“The physical structures of a community are really just homes for the stories, the people and for the culture to grow in,” she says.

“When the ice melts in the spring, we will all remember this COVID winter for the restrictions, the masks and the outbreaks, but we will also remember the (Assiniboine River Trail) and what a good time we had.”

Stories Houses Tell discusses an elderly woman and her shared memories with buildings that are now gone.

Peterson says these buildings give Winnipeg its physical character and provide excellent film locations, but she acknowledges that there should be a balance between the old and the new.

“The Exchange District and parts of downtown that have preserved buildings are interesting and beautiful, especially when new construction has been carefully designed to fit with existing structures,” she says.

“I do feel we need to develop the city carefully and try to preserve and use what we can. Environmentally, this is the best choice, as well.”

Liam Zarrillo’s The Green Building also highlights the personal significance of old buildings, but Zarillo says the play focuses on a more internal struggle.

“It is a piece about the pressures that we face to become, to make something of ourselves and what it means to design a life that lives up to expectations,” he says.

“When a building is your body, sometimes the cracks that come from within reveal themselves over time.”

Zarrillo says this struggle is inherent in the city.

“You can look at Winnipeg from very different perspectives, and based on what your experiences are, what your identity is and how close you are to the dominant voice, that really influences the privilege and the success or the potential barriers and challenges that you face in our city.”

Zarrillo says these self-imposed and external expectations can be alienating experiences, but he notes there is something in the city that brings people together.

“I would be remiss to talk about isolation without mentioning the community that comes from that,” he says.

“There are incredibly resilient and robust communities that can be found all over the city. From that struggle, something has evolved, something really strong and radical that, in my mind, really defines Winnipeg for what it is and what it can be.”

Winnipeg Stories runs from Feb. 15 to March 31, and the links will be available at pte.mb.ca/performances/winnipeg-stories.

Published in Volume 75, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 10, 2021)

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