PTC’s Unscripted series brings playwrights, audiences, and the imagination together

UNSCRIPTED: The Frontliners


Vancouver, BC 2016: It is late January 2016 and Canada is in the throes of resettling the first wave of 25,000 Syrian refugees. As three frontline workers battle Vancouver’s housing crisis to move families out of an East Van hotel, their lives are brought together in ways that irreversibly shape them.

Join our New Play in Development Prize winner, Zahida Rahemtulla with co-host Davey Samuel Calderon (Dramaturg, Public Engagement & NPiDP Dramaturg) and learn about working on the frontlines during the intake of refugees to Canada back in 2016, today, and even in Canada’s future.

Our upcoming stream features a mix of live and pre-recorded conversations with expert speakers and audiences engaging via Youtube Live. Unscripted allows for deeper conversations about the representation of minority groups and their narratives in theatre, the immense pressure immigrant frontline workers are under during a refugee crisis, and larger conversations around how newcomers are and aren’t portrayed in news and media. You’ll also get a sneak peek of The Frontliners development as we share some original sound design for the play (design from the talented Heather Kemski) and a scene excerpt read by our talented workshop cast.

Guests include frontline settlement worker Gulalai Habib (Director of Settlement and Integration, Burnaby Neighbourhood House), award-winning reporter Bal Brach (CBC News Vancouver), and award-winning Syrian-Canadian journalist Oussayma Canbarieh (Symage Media).



Zahida Rahemtulla is a playwright and short story writer currently based between Vancouver and Toronto. She has been a resident at the Banff Centre in Alberta, the Stratford Theatre Festival, and Millay Colony for the Arts in New York. Her first plays, The Wrong Bashir and The Frontliners, have been shortlisted for many awards, including the Playwrights Guild of Canada Surefire! Lists, the Ellen Ross Stuart Playwriting Award (Tarragon Theatre & Ontario Arts Foundation), the Voaden Literary Prize, and won the 2021 RBC Emerging Playwright Award and a national Silk Road Institute Award. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Alice Munro Award and longlisted for the CBC short story prize. Zahida has worked for several years in Vancouver’s immigrant and refugee nonprofit sector in the areas of housing, employment, and literacy. She is currently studying Adult Education at the University of Toronto. The Wrong Bashir will premiere as an audio play with the Arts Club Theatre Company in March 2022, and The Frontliners will premiere on stage live with PTC’s New Play in Development Prize in September 2022.



Gulalai Habib headshot: Woman with short borwn hair, glasses and blue, grey and black carf Gulalai Habib
Working with displaced populations in Canada and abroad for over 25 years,  Gulalai Habib was a former Program Officer with United Nations Development Program (UNDP); experienced in community centered engagement in Central/South Asian regions; and involved with grassroots women’s mobilization and community organizing among displaced populations. Since coming to Canada as an Afghan refugee, she worked for over fourteen years with the Resettlement Assistance Program of ISSofBC, with direct oversight of the Syrian operation, and intimate involvement in the broader restructuring of Settlement sector spaces to include the lived expertise of refugee/migrant professionals. She went on in this capacity to cultivate a community-centred settlement vision, and currently serves as the Director of Settlement and Integration Programs at Burnaby Neighbourhood House; and sit on the Board of Directors of the national Women’s Economic Council.

Bal Brach headshot: Woman with long black hair, brown eyes, wearing a chmabray shirt and leaning forward to rest her chin on her fistBal Brach
Bal Brach is an award-winning broadcast journalist with nearly two decades of experience working in newsrooms across Canada.  She has been a producer and reporter for the country’s major news networks — CTV, Global News and CBC News.  In 2016, Bal was awarded the highest honour in B.C. journalism — a Jack Webster award for her continued coverage of Syrian refugee resettlement. She is also the recipient of multiple regional and national Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) awards. Bal’s digital storytelling skills have been recognized by the Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) and the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. In 2017, Bal was a finalist for a Canadian Screen Award — celebrating excellence in film, television and digital media. Currently, Bal spends her time working on independent projects through her company Wrise Productions Inc. She also continues a working relationship with Canada’s public broadcaster, as a guest host on CBC radio.

Oussayma CanbariehOussayma Canbarieh headshot: Woman in green top with white flowers and matching green headscarf with sunglasses atop her head against a plush pale pink backdrop
Oussayma Canbarieh is an award-winning Syrian-Canadian journalist and documentary producer. Her production company, Symage Media, has largely produced stories about Canada’s immigrant and refugee experience. Oussayma’s media work has been featured on national and international media outlets, including CBC/Radio-Canada, Al Jazeera, AP, Deutsche Welle Radio, Huffington Post, AJ+, Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development and SNTV. Oussayma has a Bachelors degree in Business and Journalism and a Masters in Educational Technology from Concordia University. She has also trained and mentored journalism students and aspiring media makers. Oussayma speaks English, French, Arabic, and Spanish.  She also works as a cultural and language interpreter, and consultant.


Traditional xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) Welcome by Mary Point (Musqueam Representative and Activist)



Heather Kemski headshot: woman with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair in a strapless brown dress stands in front of a brick wallHeather Kemski – Sound Designer
Heather Kemski is a composer and sound designer who lives and works on the unceded lands of the Coast Salish People, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, colonially known as Vancouver, Canada. Heather’s passion lies in creating dynamic soundscapes for visual media, and shaping and communicating narratives through original music. Having worked on a great variety of projects, her background in music ranges from composing for solo instrument through to orchestral music, neoclassical through to synth-pop.

Olivia Etey Headshot: Woman with long brown hair and big smile wearing a red coat faces camera against backdrop of treesOlivia Etey – Production Coordinator
Olivia Etey is a Vancouver-based playwright, stage manager and the creator of the Or Festival (www.orfestival.com). She graduated from UBC with a double major in Creative Writing and English Honours. Most recently, Olivia’s play Woman Against Gravity was showcased in the Stage One Festival of New Canadian Work 2021 at the Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary. Olivia is grateful beyond comprehension to be working on The Frontliners as she is an outrageous advocate of everything and anything Zahida Rahemtulla creates. Olivia hopes you can attend this powerful show!

Sabrina Vellani Headshot: Woman with long balck hair, brown eyes and close-lipped smile, wearing burgundy top with gold-zip frontSabrina Vellani – Nadia (Performer)
Sabrina Vellani is an Indo-Canadian actor and poet.  She graduated from UBC’s BFA Theatre Acting program in 2018.  She has been in productions such as Killjoy Theatre’s Burqa Boutique (Directed by Gavan Cheema & Jamie King) and Axis Theatre’s co-production with Babelle Theatre entitled All My Friends Are Animals (Directed by Marie Farsi).  You can also find her work in Five Cedar Films’ short film: Speak (Directed by Shaheed Devji), which premiered in IFFSA’s Virtual 2020 Festival.  Her poetry and essays have been published under her pen name in various magazines across North America and the UK.  Her recent publications can be found in The Malahat Review, EVENT Magazine, Filling Station Magazine and The Anti-Langorous Project.

Tom Pickett Headshot: Man with short grey hair, black-rimmed glasses and white shirt and black blazerTom Pickett – Yusuf (Performer)
Tom Pickett, a Jessie Award-winning actor, has toured the US and debuted in London’s West End with the Hal Prince production of Show Boat. He has lent his voice to many Arts Club productions, most recently The Matchmaker.  Portrayed Gerald in Elephant and Piggie: We Are In A Play and Puppeted Winnie The Pooh in House At Pooh Corner (Carousel Theatre for Young People); and has appeared in several Vancouver Moving Theatre productions, including East End Blues/All That Jazz, Bah Humbug (co-production Simon Fraser University) and We Are The People. Tom’s most recent TV projects were Hallmark’s The 27 Hour Day and The Santa Stakeout. As well as an episodes of a Turner and Hooch remake and The Good Doctor. Tom is a powerful vocal artist who can soothe the heart and arouse an audience with an eclectic repertoire of jazz, blues, R&B, funk, soul and gospel and is transitioning into spoken word artistry. He dipped his “Big Hairy” toe into an audio teaser for Carousel Theatre for Young People with an adapted reading of The Thing at the End of the Bed.

MOSTAFA SHAKER headshot: Main with short curly black hair, brown eyes wearing a mustard sweater smiles at cameraMostafa Shaker – Omar (Performer)
Mostafa Shaker is an Egyptian-Canadian comedian, actor and creator. Growing up in the theatre, he’s acted in more than 20 productions both in Canada as well as Egypt. Notable plays include: A Comedy of Tenors, Cats the Musical & Beauty and the Beast. Mostafa has also acted in over 30 independent short and feature length Canadian films, including Is This A Date, winner of best comedy at the 2020 Florence Film Awards. He studied acting at the Vancouver Film School and is represented by PRINCIPALS talent.

Maria Zarillo headshot: Non-binary person with long black hair and black round glasses in a mustard sweater stands in front of a corrugated metal wall looking off to the rightMaria Zarrillo – Digital Producer
Maria is a queer, non-binary, first-generation Italian-Canadian producer whose practice is based on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. They have a background in producing, stage management, event organizing, marketing, publicity, and audience services, both in theatre and film, and have worked with a variety of companies and communities in these capacities, locally and nationally. Maria is pursuing a Master of Arts in Justice Studies, spent the last two years as the producer for Urban Ink Productions, and is a graduate of Studio 58’s production program.

Davey Calderon headshot: black hair, brown eyes, goateeDavey Samuel Calderon – Director & Dramaturg
Davey Samuel Calderon is an emerging director, curator, writer, producer, drag artist, dramaturg and settler on the unceded territories of the coast salish peoples: the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səlil̓wətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, and the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim-speaking Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation). He has his BFA in Theatre Performance and Communication from Simon Fraser University and is Co-Founder of New(to)Town Collective, an emerging theatre collective aspiring to provide accessible, experimental training workshops and creating new interdisciplinary works together. His role as Dramaturg, Public Engagement is a stewardship of the many artists and people who come to PTC, where mutual trust is forged when melding stories into meaningful theatre for our community. Both his PTC and personal artistic work aims to serve the many communities theatre has the privilege to amplify and represent on it’s stages.  Select directing credits include: My Name is SUMIKO (2019 Vancouver Fringe Festival, Assistant Director), The Bug Zapper / Bean and Hat (2019 Pull Festival, Speakeasy Theatre), How to Self-Suspend: Act I (2018 Discomfort Lab, Swallow A Bicycle Theatre) and How to Self-Suspend: Act II (2018 PuSh Off, Tender Container and Theatre Replacement).

FaroukAl-Samarra'i_Headshot: Man with short black hair and beard in honeydew-coloured shirt standing above cityscapeFarouk Al-Samarra’i – Cultural Consultant
Farouk is a software engineer with a background in community building and lifelong interest in Arabic music. Choosing to start with a double major Bachelor in English Literature and Ethnomusicology (Arabic music specialization) further enriched his passion for the performing arts and in connecting with people through a universal language. After moving to BC, Farouk worked as a small business specialist, taught his instrument, the Oud, and participated in multiple initiatives while continuing education to become a software engineer.

Majd Agha – Cultural ConsultantMajd Agha Headshot: Young man with short black hair and bear, brown eyes, wearing a pale grey button-down shirt standing in front of window with white blinds
Majd Agha is a Syrian Immigrant who landed in Vancouver in 2014 under the conservative government. He is a Business Graduate. Majd worked with ISSofBC for 3 years as a RAP worker and later changed his position to Case Worker. He is currently a Sales Manager in a Signage and Branding Company in Vancouver.


PTC would like to thank Canadian Heritage and Canada Council for the Arts.

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

The playwright gratefully acknowledges the support of the following people and institutions in the development of The Frontliners:

Davey Calderon, PTC’s New Play in Development Prize, BC Arts Council, Heidi Taylor, Joanna Garfinkel, Maria Zarillo, Belinda Bruce, Olivia Etey, Silk Road Institute, Mercedeh Baroq, Mohamed Shaheen, Mariam Zaidi, The 2019 Arts Club Emerging Playwrights’ Unit, Stephen Drover, Ashlie Corcoran, Bonnie Mah, Bronwyn Carradine, Mily Mumford, Scott Button, Stratford Theatre Festival, Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, Wet Ink Collective, Liesl Lafferty, rEvolver Theatre Festival, Pippa Mackie, Dave Mott, Taylor Janzen, Daniel Martin, Ottawa Little Theatre, Theatre BC, Voaden Literary Prize, Playwrights Guild of Canada Emerging Playwright Award.