Culture Shock

MTYP’s latest work explores bullying, racism, tolerance and empathy

Neila Carmichael

New Canadian Kid could not have arrived at a better time.

Nestled into the middle of Manitoba Theatre for Young People’s (MTYP) diverse lineup, the theatrical production is centred around a young boy, Nick, who is adjusting to a new life within a different culture.

Originally penned in 1981 by Dennis Foon, the themes of the work are more relevant now than ever before. In the wake of the now-infamous Maclean’s article naming Winnipeg as the most racist city in the country, issues of race, otherness and diversity seem to be everywhere.

“Whether you’re outraged by the article or you’re enraged by the fact that people are enraged by it, no matter what side you follow it brings up the fact that it’s important that we continue to look at ourselves and ask those questions about how we relate to the people around us,” MTYP Artistic Director Pablo Felices-Luna states.

MTYP’s interpretation of Foon’s work, directed by Heidi Malazdrewich, focuses on newcomer Nick’s experience in an unfamiliar cultural setting where issues of bullying, racism and tolerance are explored. 

In a brilliant playwriting move, Nick and his family speak English while the “Canadian” characters speak a made-up language unfamiliar to Nick or to the audience. This language barrier, combined with Nick’s tendency to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the viewers, builds empathy and understanding of Nick’s isolating position.

“Theatre as a medium is a wonderful tool for teaching understanding,” Felices-Luna says. “The audience is able to really experience the issues and able to develop empathy. It allows you to question your own preconceptions and cultural biases and ideas of how things should happen.”

Sid Williamson, who is a teacher, librarian and inquiry support currently working at King Edward School in Winnipeg’s North End, agrees that theatre is a very beneficial tool to develop understanding and curiosity.

“Not only is theatre a good teaching method for all types of learners but it’s also a great way to start a conversation with the kids,” Williamson explains. “Say we’re looking at issues related to bullying, seeing a play dealing with those issues provokes a powerful response and gets the kids asking questions and figuring out how to deal with the problems.”

Each MTYP performance is followed by a talk-back with the actors, where audience members are encouraged to ask questions. 

Good theatre, according to Felices-Luna, should not provide simple answers. Good theatre should ask provocative questions and provide multiple sides of a polemic. The post-show talk-backs gives the audience a chance to figure out what they think are the messages that need the most attention. 

“I do think that there’s some deeper and more in-depth conversations that we are going to have to have surrounding New Canadian Kid,” Felices-Luna says. “And not just about newcomers to Canada but also about our relations to First Nations people in our community.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 4, 2015)

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