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Calgary theatre artists bring their pandemic passion project to life

Now in phase two of their project, the duo is hosting an open workshop

Over six months during the pandemic, Valerie Planche and Toyin Lamas held monthly Zoom gatherings with 10 women and non-binary people. // Submitted

What started as a gathering to listen and learn from each other has morphed into a play based on the true lives and stories of Calgarians.

Theatre artists Valerie Planche and Toyin Lamas felt inspired to speak to women and non-binary community members during the pandemic. The idea stemmed from the women wanting to explore the theme of “fear or freedom” within that community.

Their end goal was to transform their discussions into a play in which they share the stories of the group with audiences.

Now in phase two of their project, Planche and Lamas are hosting an open workshop for the play on May 20 at Evergreen Theatre.

Conversations and ideas

Planche and Lamas got the idea from conversations with each other about their lives, their fears, and their freedoms.

“We had never met,” Planche says, adding the two had only spoken over the phone when discussing a panel for an event.

“But we started having weekly conversations, and we were so excited by them. Both of us are very different individuals, but we had so many similar feelings—and then when we didn’t, we had these great conversations.”

Planche and Lamas thought it would be both interesting and inspiring to open their conversation up to other women and non-binary people.

“We decided to see if this would be a theatre piece,” Planche says. “We didn’t know what it was, but we thought we’d just see what we could do.”

Their idea formed into a solid plan, and they applied for grants to fund their project. Both Calgary Arts Development and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts supplied funding for a two-phase project.

Time to network

Over six months during the pandemic, Planche and Lamas held monthly Zoom gatherings with 10 women and non-binary people.

The participants came from both Planche’s and Lamas’ networks and were comprised of diverse ages, abilities, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

Through the gatherings, the group explored the theme of “fear or freedom,” as it reflected the lives they were living during the lockdown.

From their conversations, a play dubbed The Writers Circle was developed. It was written by one of the participating women, Patricia Duquette.

“We hired Pat and she just started writing the stories by herself from all the things we put together,” Lamas says.

The Writers Circle follows the story of an award-winning Canadian novelist who is facilitating a workshop at a Calgary community centre where she guides the participants in character-led writing.

During their last assignment, debates arise as the group members reconsider the authenticity of their proposed protagonists.

Throughout the play, the audience gets to explore the characters’ diverse life experiences.

“These are true-life stories,” Lamas says, as the characters are inspired by the group participants.

“It’s real people and real situations.”

Workshopping

Now in phase two of their project, Planche and Lamas are workshopping the script.

Saturday’s workshop at Evergreen Theatre is open to the public and starts with a reading of The Writers Circle, followed by a discussion of the script.

After workshopping, they hope to have a full piece of theatre for five women. The women who will play the parts will all be of diverse ages, abilities, and ethnicities.

“I personally hope that women can come in and see themselves and see how our differences can be our greatest strengths,” Planche says.

Lamas adds that she hopes women feel inspired by the story.

“I’m hoping that it can help them be honest with themselves and help them overcome the things they’re afraid of, as well as help them celebrate the areas of their lives that make them feel free,” she says.

Ideally, phase three of the project will be a full theatrical production that will hit the stage in the 2025 theatre season.

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