By Maggie McPhee
VANCOUVER – This May marks Vancouver’s Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group Project’s 17th year, and with it, a brand new youth-written and -produced play. Valerie Methot founded RHYTAG after discovering an immense interest amongst teenagers to make their own plays based on issues they were going through. Methot and young writer/actor Haley Christenson share some insights into RHYTAG and The Release Party, a play about Wind, an Indigenous musician, as she celebrates her new single.
But within the title hides a second meaning. Christenson explains that her character Emberlin invites people to the party that she sees “quietly repressing emotions that need to be released.” Once together, they address things they’ve been going through: mental health issues, attempted suicide, and bullying.
“It’s a brave dialogue,” Methot says. “I feel like not only will youth get a lot from it, but also adults. It’s important we move past mental health being seen as something that shouldn’t be talked about, when really it’s something we need to welcome into our lives just as much as physical health.”
The more we talk about mental health, the more people can see it’s a problem affecting everybody in some way. Christenson views theatre as a valuable contributor to these conversations.
“The audience gets energy from the people onstage, so you can connect more,” she says.
RHYTAG goes one step further by hosting talkback sessions at the end of their performances. Methot praises the fruitfulness of these post-play conversations.
“There are audience members who share very moving testimonials saying they see themselves represented in the play, how that makes them feel part of the community and less alone with the issues they’re dealing with.” Together, the room grapples with possible solutions and shares resources — an opportunity rarely provided by big productions.
Emberlin encourages the guests at the party to explore what’s important to them and to find a meaningful way to express themselves. Their dialogue evolves into a kaleidoscopic diversity of expression.
“We have a real dynamic play that’s filled with people doing spoken word, dance, parkour, and visual art,” says Methot. “It’s a raw slice of life.”
“And we all have our different slices,” adds Christenson, “which makes a whole play that’s well-rounded”.
The Release Party runs from May 2-5 at The Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre as part of BC Youth Week.