Waterloo Region poverty play shares ‘stigma-busting stories’ to connect with audiences

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A new theater project hopes to shed light on the realities of living below the poverty line in Waterloo Region.

The room is called Live below the line and 14 people — who live in poverty themselves — co-created it and will present it with Ontario’s Watercourse Theatre.

Jeffrey Beckner plays a number of characters, including a doctor, a game show host, and he’s in a scene about an adult who struggles with being a high school dropout.

“I’ve been involved in social justice projects or social justice issues for a long time and that’s a different way of dealing with things,” Beckner said.

“There are advantages and disadvantages in our community and they are in parallel realities, occupying the same space, but they rarely intersect and everything is driven by advantage, and disadvantage has to come to terms with it eventually,” he added.

“There are a lot of reasons why people have become poor and issues related to that, so I’m here as a different way to do that, to get it to a different audience.”

“Stigma-Breaking Stories”

Cate Frid, the play’s producer, says she enjoys doing co-creative work with different communities.

“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to give voice and help stage something that other people would like to say, other people’s stories. And that’s what it is” , she said.

Kohar Kilejean plays an insurance agent, a vice president, and a patient where a doctor prescribes drugs she doesn’t want. “In high school, we had a play, and I didn’t want to be in it because I [had to] recite poetry. It’s always been my dream to act and this is my chance to do it,” she said. (Craig Norris/CBC)

She said the group worked together to build trust for about a month before beginning the process of creating the piece.

Confidentiality was important, Frid said, so anyone who didn’t want to share their personal story didn’t need to, but some people did.

“A lot of people felt – or told me they felt – that after sharing their stories, they kind of felt like they had a weight lifted off their shoulder and they felt that when they shared it with the band, other people understood where they came from,” Frid said.

“These are certainly very stigmatizing stories, so people feel it’s very important to be heard by the community as a whole.”

One of the people to share her personal story in the play is Louise Murray.

Portrait of a middle aged woman with glasses.
Louise Murray plays herself in the play ‘Living Below the Line’ and tells her own story. She says acting in a play has been a dream for her. (Craig Norris/CBC)

“It’s a bit difficult because it’s a crazy story,” she said.

She said she had been thinking about telling her story this way for a while and really wanted to perform.

“I thought at my age I wanted to be in a play or something. It was something I wanted to do. It’s crazy. I don’t know why, but I wanted to do this. I want to to be an actress,” she said. said.

When asked to share a bit of his story, Murray laughed.

“You have to go see this play,” she chided.

Portrait of a middle aged man with a beard.
Timothy Wayne Ryder opens the play with a poem and is a musician in the play, as well as in other roles. “In life, I was a volunteer, I myself perceive the handicap. I have 100% personal acquaintances and friends and many, many, many stories,” he said when explaining why he wanted to be in the play. (Craig Norris/CBC)

The Game Resonates More Than the Stats: Director

Producer James Gordon is a singer-songwriter and a Guelph City Councillor. He says he thinks the piece will resonate with people.

“A song is always better than a speech. A scene in a play often resonates more than if they were reading a document with statistics,” he said.

Portrait of a woman and a man.
Cate Frid is the producer of Living Below the Line and James Gordon is the director. (Craig Norris/CBC)

“It personalizes it in a way that I think audiences will find there’s universal application to that personal quality as well. And more the fact that we see people… They’re brave. They’re inspiring.”

There are five performances in the Waterloo Region, the first Friday, June 17 at Wilfrid Laurier University’s School of Social Work, but Frid says she wouldn’t mind the show on the road.

“I think these stories are so powerful and so compelling that they really need to be heard by as many people as possible,” Frid said. “These stories, while very personal, I think they’re happening across the province and across the country.”

A man wearing a balaclava and chain mail robes stands in front of a group of people.
Timothy Wayne Ryder in his poet costume is how the play begins. (Craig Norris/CBC)

The calendar of public performances of Live below the line is:

  • Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Cambridge Ideas Exchange, Old Post Office.
  • Tuesday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at the Waterloo Public Library.
  • Thursday, June 23 at 2 p.m. at Waterloo Park, Hilltop Picnic Shelter.
  • Saturday, June 25 at 2:30 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

Reservations can be made through the Stream Theater website.

LISTEN | Craig Norris, host of CBC KW’s The Morning Edition, attended a rehearsal of the play Living Below The Line:

The Morning Edition – KW7:34New play tells ‘stigma-busting stories’ about living in poverty in Waterloo Region

A new play called “Living Below the Line” tells the stories of people in Waterloo Region who live in poverty and it is hoped that their experiences will resonate with those who view it.

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