The Power of Theatre to Unite Local Communities

By Jedidah Nabwangu
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

I think most would acknowledge the power that creative outlets have in the maintenance of our daily well-being. Whether it is the escapism we experience from witnessing our favourite movie unravel, or the joyful sensations we feel when exposed to sweet summer songs, the arts can significantly uplift individuals and communities.

In Canada, Montreal and Ottawa are home to some of the most innovative, artistic non-profit organizations, which harness the power of theatre to promote social justice and community development. In Montreal, organizations such as Black Theatre Workshop (BTW) and Imago Theatre help alleviate social isolation through their artistic vision and commitment to social justice.

Established in 1971, BTW uses its platform to highlight the stories of racialized and other marginalized individuals historically left out of the artistic sphere. Specifically, their mandate is to “promote and produce Black theatre that educates, entertains and delights its audiences.” Further, the company strives “to create a greater cross-cultural understanding by its presence and the intrinsic value of its work.” The result is the creation of a powerful sense of individual and collective awareness, empowerment and identity reclamation for members of the Montreal community.

Similarly, Imago Theatre has been around for several decades, having been founded in 1987; however, it was not until the turn of the century that it adopted its revolutionary feminist voice. The theatre company “programs plays whose stories are centered around women’s lived experiences” and “[bridges] gaps between French and English communities.” Additionally, Imago’s board of directors is entirely female, which underscores its focus on female agency both on and off the stage.

In Ottawa, A Company of Fools emphasizes the social aspect of its productions and does excellent work building community. Each year, the theatre company organizes its renowned Torchlight Shakespeare in the Park Series in which a variety of Shakespeare classics are performed in city parks to members of the Ottawa community.

The company also takes steps to maximize accessibility and facilitate the building of relationships among audience members. As explained on its website, “753,858 Ottawa residents (85% of the population) live within a ten-minute drive of a Torchlight Shakespeare performance” and “102,123 of Ottawa residents (12 % of the population) live within a ten-minute walk.” Furthermore, the cost of admission to performances is entirely by donation, making viewership more economically feasible for many.

Artistic initiatives like these are well worthy of our support, especially at the local level, as they have a unique ability to strengthen the values and connections in our lives that we cherish most.

Is there a theatre company or artistic initiative making an impact in your community that you would like to highlight? Please let us know!