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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Death in a Dumpster: The Musical is as raw as it is important

“The arts, more than any other therapeutic modality, is known to ameliorate depression, suicidal ideations and isolation in marginalized and street-involved youth.”

Despite 700 street-involved youth in Vancouver alone, access to arts programs for this group is nearly non-existent. One organization looking to change that is Directions Youth Services (DYS).

Through its media and arts programs, DYS offers street-involved youth with regular arts and music activities inside its Media Lab. Operated out of its Burrard Street location, the Lab offers DYS clients an opportunity to be creative, learn new skills or to simply have some fun. It is wrapped inside the need for “a safe, supportive space that celebrates the creativity of youth”, and as “first points of entry to help youth access services, regain confidence and reclaim their lives.”

One offshoot of the DYS Media Lab has been the creation of the stage musical Death in a Dumpster: The Musical. Based on the play Death in a Dumpster: A Passion Play for the Homeless by anti-poverty activist Sheila Baxter, this adaptation has been reworked and set to music by the youth themselves, who also perform. With the help of professional mentors and assistance from the Access to Music Foundation, Death in a Dumpster is helping to shrink the gap between arts and social services.

Two years in the making, Death in a Dumpster: The Musical takes a harsh, and sometimes humorous look at life on the streets as it tells its story of Danny, who hitchhikes to Vancouver in a search of his mother who abandoned him as a child. The musical follows his life on the street, the community he finds, and the events that ultimately leads to his death.

From the transgendered sex worker to the young man with mental health issues, Death in a Dumpster works hard against its stereotypes, and is ultimately successful through the knowledge that its performers come to the show with first-hand knowledge. It is at times chaotic, but it never lacks heart.

There is no denying that Death in a Dumpster: The Musical is raw, but that lessens none of its import. This cast is fearless and we should both celebrate and encourage what we hope is just a beginning. Elka S. Yarlowe of the Access to Music Foundation sums things up perfectly inside the play’s program:

“Two years later, we have an ensemble of actors that supports and respects each other and themselves. Some are still on the street. Some still struggle to find a meal or overcome an addiction. But tonight is their night. … They have been gently pushed skyward. They are flying. They are going to entertain you, provoke you, make you laugh, make you cry, and hopefully make you carry home the message that No One is Disposable.”

Death in a Dumpster: The Musical based on an original work by Sheila Baxter. Written by Michael Jesmer and Trinity Firth. Co-written by Dominic Hayes, Kali Olt-Sedgemore, Dakota Niko Carrie Pauls, Julian Deegan Fawcett, Brandon Macrae and Peter Salisbury. Music by Colin Andrew Ford. Lyrics by Trinity Firth, Michael Jesmer, Kali Olt-Sedgemore, and Dominic Hayes. Orchestral arrangements by Neil Weisensel. Directed by Trinity Firth. An Access to Music Foundation presentation in association with Directions Youth Services. On stage at the Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island) on November 11 and 14. Visit for tickets and information.

Death In A Dumpster – Official Trailer from Urban Sherpa Films on Vimeo.

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