After doing the same job for fourteen years, the average person may be forgiven for being a tad a complacent, but spend just thirty minutes chatting with Valerie Methot and she’ll show you that isn’t always the case.
Co-founder, executive and artistic director of Some Assembly Arts Society, Methot talks passionately and enthusiastically about her work over the last fourteen years as artist-in-residence at the Roundhouse Community Centre, and the creation of the Roundhouse Youth Theatre Action Group Project (RHYTAG).
“I really wanted to do projects with youth after finishing my Masters in Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia,” explains Methot. “In my Master’s thesis I talked about how theatre could be used to explore traumatic events. That inspired me to start the theatre company.”
That company is Some Assembly Theatre which, through RHYTAG, has been creating theatre about issues important to youth, by youth.
“I talked to youth at the Roundhouse as artist-in-residence and asked them if there was a youth theatre project, what would it look like?” she says. “They overwhelmingly said they wanted to write their own plays and to work with other theatre professionals.”
From that initial dialogue has come a series of annual productions written and performed by youth, including this year’s production of Webs We Weave.
“It’s all about the complexity of relationships,” says Methot of the latest work. “In Webs We Weave there are five main characters who are all friends and the play explores the relationships they have with each other. The stakes are raised because it all takes place at a birthday party when expectations are high, and a lot of the aspects of the tangled relationships that they have with each other comes out at the party. It all becomes a bit of a birthday party nightmare.”
Like all of the RHYTAG shows, the road to the actual performances begins some seven months before, with a call-out to the youth.
“I ask them to write a monologue on an issue that they would want to raise awareness to the public, and then we come together in a group meeting to listen to the monologues,” Methot explains. “Once I have the team assembled and I have all the monologues, I start to look for connections between the issues, and I come up with the container for the script.”
The next part of the process is what Methot refers to as a “tennis game”, with multiple script iterations that include long brainstorming sessions where the youth talk about the connections they see. Methot then takes all she has gathered during those sessions to arrive at a completed script.
“It is really an interesting and incredibly complex process, but it is wonderfully inspiring,” she says. “I have written plays on my own, but what is exciting about writing a collaborative piece is the different perspectives that surface. We end up with all of these different perspectives that make the story juicy. My job is to put the puzzle together so that it makes sense.”
Adding to the complexity, but helping to ensure the final product is of professional quality, is a dramaturgical team that provides feedback through each new version of the script, and youth focus groups who provide additional input.
“It is quite a machine,” confesses Methot. “Another part that is really integral to the process is working with a youth counsellor who provides support to the youth if they need it.”
Dealing with some very personal issues, that support can be an important element, one that helps ensure the youth involved feel safe.
“I’ve worked with youth who have shared some very intimate personal things, and I think it is my job to ensure we take care of them to do that,” she says.
And while Webs We Weave may be written by youth, Methot is quick to point out that the play touches on some very universal themes that adults will find compelling as well.
“There are issues of anger in the relationships and how to deal with those feelings of anger and hurt,” she says. “The play also looks at the complexity of communication and how we all want to be heard and understood, and how difficult that is. There are a lot of important stories in this play, but it is also entertaining and super funny too.”
A believer in the power of theatre, Methot’s passion for what she does is summed up in her love for a medium that has the potential to reveal an important truth.
“Theatre is such a great tool to create dialogue and for people to realize that we’re not living in this world in solitude,” she says. “It helps us realise that there are many people going through exactly the same thing, and it is important as humans to know, and feel, that we are not alone.”
Webs We Weave plays at the Roundhouse Community Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews) April 29-May 2. Admission is free. Visit http://someassembly.ca for tickets an information.