Show goes on in Vancouver after Gaza tensions derail Victoria’s career

Vancouver’s PuSh Festival is sticking to theatrical tradition that the show must go on and will stage “The Runner” this month even though the play was canceled in Victoria over tensions related to the war between Israel and Hamas, officials say of the festival.

Victoria’s Belfry Theater removed the Canadian play from its spring lineup after receiving dueling petitions in recent weeks calling for both its cancellation and a continuation of its run at the venue, which was spray-painted with graffiti reading “Free Palestine” the month past after a tense community. meeting.

It’s not the right time to present “The Runner” by Christopher Morris, a Canadian playwright and actor, Belfry said in a statement earlier this week.

But the one-man play, which explores reactions to an Israeli rescue volunteer’s decision to save a Palestinian woman accused of violence against an Israeli soldier, will run Jan. 24-26 in Vancouver.

“The world is a complex place and it is easier when it is black and white. But it’s not black and white,” said Gabrielle Martin, programming director of the PuSh Festival, which deliberately uses a capital S in its name.

“The message that we think the work has… is about transcending the type of society we are in, (which) could tell us how we see ourselves in relation to others, and really stand up for the fundamental equality of all the humans. ” she said. “This is something we consider the play trying to do.”

Simon Fraser University’s Woodward Cultural Programs is presenting “The Runner” at the Goldcorp Center for the Arts, a PuSh venue.

Woodward Cultural Programs Director Michael Boucher said the play challenges the character’s sense of purpose and place in the world when he finds the dead Israeli soldier he was sent to retrieve, but chooses to rescue an injured Palestinian woman who may have killed the soldier.

“Sometimes you just have to get past any filter to help and save someone else,” Boucher said. “I think that’s the story of this. That’s why I’m behind this. “It is unfortunate that there has been a cancellation.”

Morris said in a statement earlier this week that he was disappointed that Belfry canceled his play, but sympathized with the theater’s situation.

He acknowledged that “The Runner,” which premiered in 2018 and won awards and critical acclaim, was still scheduled for the PuSh Festival.

Boucher said the PuSh Festival and the Downtown Eastside university venue have staged controversial productions in the past and faced criticism, but have not been forced to cancel a show.

“As we say, the show will continue what we are doing here and continue,” he said.

Since the war broke out, protests have been held throughout the country, in city squares or directed at politicians. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was confronted at a Vancouver restaurant in November by dozens of people calling for a ceasefire in the war, and then police had to be called to another restaurant to help Trudeau into a vehicle among hundreds of protesters.

British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender said in November that the war between Israel and Hamas had led to a wave of discrimination and violence against Jews and Muslims.

Martin said the festival has scheduled “Dear Laila” as part of the festival, running Jan. 20 through Feb. 3 at the Fish Bowl on Granville Island.

He said the production is a one-on-one immersive experience by artist Basel Zaraa, where viewers are invited to experience a model of his childhood home in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Lebanon.

“We are showcasing a diversity of voices that we believe all support the development of empathy among our audiences and ultimately support the acceleration of social change,” Martin said, acknowledging the “anger” and “pain” felt by the people for war.

Martin did not speak directly about safety, but said festival audiences, including people attending “The Runner,” will be well treated.

“We are thinking a lot about how we plan the work and how we plan to care for the audience,” he said.

Pro-Palestinian supporters walked out of a Dec. 22 community meeting in Victoria at the Belfry Theater, saying their concerns about “The Runner” were not being heard.

Nico Slobinsky, vice president of the Pacific Center for Israeli and Jewish Affairs, said he was saddened and disappointed by the Belfry’s decision to cancel the play.

“They should not have allowed themselves to be intimidated and harassed by the loud and aggressive anti-peace mob that persecuted them for presenting the play,” he said. “Let me be clear: if the play were not based on the ethical dilemma of an Israeli religious man, there probably would not have been pressure on the Belfry Theater to remove the play from the program.”

Slobinsky said he applauded Vancouver’s PuSh Festival for standing up for freedom of artistic expression and making the “right decision.”

The Vancouver office of the Palestinian Association of Canada did not respond to a request for comment.

Boucher said “The Runner” is a story that asks the audience to examine their path through the pains and challenges people face.

“If dialogue fails, I don’t know what we will have,” he said. “We hope to continue to lift that torch and celebrate the beauty of being in a democracy where we can actually do this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2024.

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