Dramatizing stories during pandemic poses challenges and provides rewards

VICTORIA, B.C. – Students in their second year of studies at the Canadian College of Performing Arts will unleash their talents this week in their first live-streamed presentation of the 2020-21 season, with two productions that pack powerful but distinctly different dramatic punches.

This temporary alternative to traditional live presentations at the College is in keeping with the season’s COVID-era theme of Forging a Way Forward.

In Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Colleen Murphy’s I Hope My Heart Burns First, six youths break into a mansion, determined to loot their way out of a drug debt. Part black comedy and edge-of-your-seat thriller, the play, described by director Jessica Van der Veen as “hilarious, shocking and intense,” pushes resentment, violence and class differences to emotional extremes.

“I call it a “terrarium of mayhem” because the young people who break into the mansion are energized by their addiction and furious at opulence and security they have no chance of ever achieving,” says Van der Veen. “Acting is a path to compassion, and walking a mile in these shoes, while tackling the pacing and comic timing, the emotional demands, and the physical exploration inherent in roles like this is a superb opportunity for students’ growth as people and as artists.”

Live-streamed from the College’s Performance Hall, 1701 Elgin Rd., I Hope My Heart Burns First opens Wednesday March 10 at 7:30pm, with an additional performance at 7:30pm on Friday March 12, and a 2:00pm matinee on Saturday March 13.

Falsework, adapted for the stage from the book of poetry by Gary Geddes and directed by Christopher Weddell, dramatically recalls the worst industrial accident in Vancouver history, on June 17, 1958, when the Second Narrows Bridge collapsed while under construction. 79 workers were flung 95 feet into the water amid a mass of tangled steel. 18 men died.

This workshop production is an elegiac portrait of the many lives affected by the collapse of the seemingly indomitable structure. Balancing documentary and fiction, it follows several compelling characters through intimate vignettes as families and workers struggle to come to terms with this tragedy.

While serving as a reminder of the sacrifice and courage of the bridge construction workers and their families, Falsework also functions as a whodunit. Was it human error, as the press reported at the time, or because of an engineer’s sloppy math or unsafe labor practices?

“Each day some 140,000 vehicles cross the bridge that replaced the fallen structure,” Weddell says. “How many commuters consider the deadly cost of building the bridge? How many ponder the sacrifice and daring of the builders?”

He notes a passage from the production, which he terms an “intimate scrapbook of the mishap, a gritty and moving ode to the intrepid workers and their families” to underscore its depth.

“Shortly before her father dies in the collapse, young Marie tells him: ‘A bridge is a metaphor, meaning to transfer, to bear across.’ It is also a metaphor for striving: two sides (labor and big business, child and parent, man and woman) struggling to close a gap and come together. When that striving fails, something ineffably precious is lost.”

Falsework will be live-streamed Thursday March 11 at 7:30pm, Friday March 12 at 2:00pm, and Saturday March 13 at 7:30pm.

Both productions reflect the College’s commitment to telling “our stories,” says Managing Artistic Director Caleb Marshall.

“The College is committed to telling Canadian stories that connect our past to the current realities we face. Stories that also feature celebrated Canadian playwrights while supporting the development of new voices,” says Marshall. “These two plays do all of this and provide our students with the invaluable learning and the pride that comes from exploring regional and timely stories that need to be heard.”

Their themes are particularly relevant at this challenging moment in history. They underscore the need for society to embrace a sense of community, close the gap, and acknowledge an often overlooked pandemic of addiction and wealth disparity that parallels COVID itself.

What: I Hope My Heart Burns First / Falsework
Where: Live-streamed from CCPA Performance Hall, 1701 Elgin Rd., Victoria
When: March 10, 12, 7:30pm; March 13, 2:00pm / March 11, 13, 7:30pm; March 12, 2:00pm
Tickets: Single viewer: $16.45; two-person household: $27.01; three-person household: $42.85
Tickets can be bought online at ccpacanada.com, or over the phone (250 940 6851).

Michael D. Reid