50 YEARS OF FIRST DRAFTS – Savannah Walling


Every PTC artist has a story of their “first” with the company.

Here’s Savannah Walling’s:

September 12, 2023 – Among my fondest memories of PTC’s residence in the Downtown Eastside were our annual get-togethers with Heidi and Kathleen, to confer and devise. We talked about emergent trends in Vancouver’s theatre scene, changes and new developments in the Downtown Eastside’s historic neighbourhoods, and challenges our organizations were navigating.  We bent our imaginations towards creative relationship-building. Over several years, we devised mutually beneficial artistic and cultural endeavours – projects to simultaneously benefit PTC, Vancouver Moving Theatre/ Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, the Downtown Neighbourhood House, and playwrights with whom we were engaged.
This process was always fun, meaningful and the results beneficial for all of us.
Playwrights and collaborators from those years who come to mind were Davey Calderon, Pedro Chamale, Derek Chan, Beverly Dobrinsky, Patrick Foley, Hiro Kanagawa, Renae Morriseau, Brenda Prince, Lisa Ravensbergen, Quelemia Sparrow,  and Veronique West.
On a personal level (wearing my writer’s hat), I hugely appreciated Kathleen’s Flaherty’s dramaturgical support for  “Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way”- a multi-year and multi-layered creative journey
produced  and toured (in 2018) by Vancouver Moving Theatre in collaboration with partners across the country: Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, the En’owkin Center,
Native Earth Performing Arts and Théâtre Cercle Molière. 

The process? It was complicated.

The play and cultural encounter, directed by Renae Morriseau and performed by Indigenous artists, was conceived and created on Coast Salish homelands in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Its creation was supported by developmental assistance from Playwright’s Theatre Centre (Vancouver/Coast Salish homelands) and from Weesageechak Begins to Dance Festival (Toronto/Treaty 13).
The script was conceived and co-written by Renae Morriseau with Rosemary Georgeson and myself, hugely adapted from ‘Storyweaving’, a theatrical encounter we co-wrote in 2012.
Its content was enriched by contributions from partnering communities, knowledge-keepers and the cast (including Sam Bob)..
The story about an Old One and his journey to reconcile with himself, his family and his community was gathered from lived experiences. These were interwoven with storytelling, songs, drumming, Indigenous languages and world views;  poetic language, oral history, oratory, projected images, pre-recorded soundscapes, the ancient stick came of Slahal, cultural teachings and cultural work. The script held spaces within it for unscripted, unrehearsed contributions from a youth from each host territory.
The script container held space for songs, cultural teachings and ceremony. It held space for witnessing and songs by cultural speakers from the host communities to open and close the events. .
A new play developmental process was led by dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty (PTC) and in Toronto with consulting dramaturgs Keith Barker (NEPA) and Ange Loft (Jumblies Theatre). A relational and community oriented dramaturgical process was guided by Renae Morriseau (cultural ambassador, director and lead writer) and – while on tour  – with Elder Latash Maurice Nahanee. This latter process was ongoing from conception to performance. it was even being negotiated within the public presentations as they took place on tour.
The organizational challenges and journey were formidable: to navigate deep cultural work,  Indigenous protocols and protocols of practice, underlying historical tensions and traumas,
challenges of decision-making and dispute-resolution in a consensual process;
and tensions between professional and community agreements,
and between performer union regulations, community-engaged art practices, and Indigenous cultural practices.
Kathleen helped us to creatively and respectfully navigate these shoals of collaboration, cross cultural communication and community engagement.
Lots of fun and laughter, frustration, fears and tears…..learnings continual….
She challenged us  – with her rigor, her questions, and her steadfast support for the journey’s goals and values – to dig into the story’s deep structure and heart.
To preserve the intentions of the journey as we navigated our way past aesthetic, cultural, and ethical differences towards consensus.
To arrive at a consensus Imperfectly but beautifully realized.
I am  hugely thanks to Kathleen for being part of guiding, participating and learning alongside the co-writing team on this extraordinary venture.

Savannah Walling



Do you have an anniversary story you’d like to share? Email us at anniversary@playwrightstheatre.com.

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