On Oct. 27, local theatre company Theatre du Poulet finished their last performance of Settle Elsewhere, a play partly staged on a bus. It tells of the problems immigrants face in their day-to-day lives.
Carmen Lee, the company’s executive director and co-founder, said this site-specific show was like a second chapter to one of the company’s previous shows, The Extinction of Hong Kongers. That play was focused more on Lee and fellow company founder Roland Chun Sing Au’s personal experience of immigrating to Canada from Hong Kong.
According to the play’s associate producer Logan Robins, Settle Elsewhere aimed to show audiences “the everyday, average, daily lives we don’t really look at … because they are not extraordinary for us.”
An evolving idea
Settle Elsewhere began as an idea inside Lee and Shing Au’s minds. Lee said the concept was abstract in the beginning, but they were always sure the show would use masks. Lee said masks made the play more universal.
Lee and Shing Au have attended various character mask workshops and have learned how to use masks more effectively in their pieces throughout their careers.
In order to turn their idea for the show into a reality, the cast and crew did a residency at Ross Creek Centre for the Arts. Robins describes this process as “basically playing around … acting out different elements like fire, air, and water.”
During this time, the actors learned to become more comfortable acting in their masks. Robins said the residency allowed “the concept of the show” to “solidify.”
During the research phases of the show, the company heard from numerous immigrants about their own stories. Video interviews were played during the show, which showed the immigrants telling stories from their daily lives.
The cast, which was made up of actors who are immigrants to Canada themselves, were also able to bring their stories into the show. In an email to the Dalhousie Gazette, one of the actors in the play, Linda Meian, said the show was a “collaborative project.”
“Each of the performers got the chance to tell stories based on their real-life experiences or their culture,” said Meian.
A tour of Halifax
Settle Elsewhere took many risks and broke several traditional theatre conventions. The creators gave up the ability to control what exactly the audience could see and hear, as the play took its audience on a bus tour of various sites in Halifax.
The most striking decision of the play was the use of a school bus to transport the audience. Lee said she had wanted to use a school bus in one of her plays for a while. Lee also states the school bus was a symbol for all the immigrants who came to Canada as children.
The audience stepped onto the bus to go on a tour called “The Halifax You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know.” The tour took audience members from Pier 21 to spots like the Syrian Meat Shop on Gladstone Street, Point Pleasant Park and the Khyber Centre for the Arts, all with an extremely energetic tour guide.
The overall tone of the tour was a balance between sadness and sweetness. One second, the guide would make jokes that caused the audience to roar. At the next moment, the actors would perform a scene showcasing the harsh truths of the immigrant experience, leaving the audience speechless.
Origami boats on a bus
For the last scene on the school bus, the cast sat down next to audience members. One of the actors walked to the front of the bus and started doing origami while a recording of his voice played over the PA system of the bus. His character talked about how he will “find his way.”
The rest of the performers then started doing origami as well. The show ended with the actors handing out the origami boats they made to the audience. Inside the boats were quotes from the immigrants from the earlier video interviews. One of those quotes from an origami boat read, “Half of my heart isn’t here, and half of it is growing here.”
Disclosure: Logan Robins is the Dalhousie Gazette’s delivery driver.