Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
What makes a home?
This question lies at the heart of The Solitudes, an ambitious new production by Aluna Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre, that is running at Harbourfront Centre Theatre until January 18. The Solitudes was inspired by the resilient and spirited women in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The show’s premiere follows a two-year developmental process with a creative team led by Aluna’s artistic director Beatriz Pizano, alongside ensemble members Lara Arabian, Brefny Caribou, Liliana Suarez, Janis Mayers, Rosalba Martinni, Michelle Polak, Sofia Rodriguez, and Rhoma Spencer. In The Solitudes, these eight women trace the story of the bloodlines that brought them to Canada.
Lara Arabian explains that the piece originated from the idea of “who we are as women right now, on this land”- and their vision of the world they ultimately want to create: “What are the archetypes of womanhood we are still wrestling with, and how do we take charge of that conversation?” The co-creators were especially interested in the dialogue between the individual and the collective: “Each woman’s story is unique, and the piece seeks to weave our stories so that we can ‘speak’ to each other – both about our individual experiences and our exchanges with the others.” Arabian describes this deeply personal show as a “stunning multi-lingual, multimedia piece” where audience members are invited to go on a journey with these women and reflect on their own connection to the land at this moment in time.
In addition to telling stories that stem from the women’s personal experiences, The Solitudes aims to open broader discussions about privilege and belonging in this country and city. And it seeks to do this in a nuanced way, in contrast to “cancel culture” and the way many people form (and pass) judgement through social media with little reflection. Asked how the show will meet this aim, Arabian recalls that one of the first questions that arose during the show’s development was, “how do we come to the table to speak to those we don’t necessarily agree with? How do you meet the other?” The eight performers are “incredibly different” but shared the desire to create a space where there is a seat for everyone. This desire led to further questions: ”The topics we discuss are difficult, so how do we stay in dialogue?” When is it important to stay at the table? And when do you draw the line to walk away?”
Deliberately and reflectively, the show explores the effects of migration, loss of culture, disconnection from one’s heritage, trauma, and war – particularly on women. And Arabian deems “working with the other women and uncovering other ways of walking through the world” to be a genuine “highlight”. “Their perspectives, on stage and off, have fundamentally altered how I see parts of the world,” she admits. ”I do believe we get altered/changed by every role, but the depth to which it happened with this piece was unexpected and a real gift. She credits a “special alchemy” with the people in the room, and marvels at what can happen “when you create from a personal place for two years!”
And what about that original question of what makes a home? If anyone understands – both professionally and personally – the distinction between having and making a home, it is the Armenian-born Arabian, whom viewers of CBC/Netflix’s hit show Kim’s Convenience know as Mrs Ada, the strong matriarch of an immigrant family. “Such a big question! And one I am always wrestling with in terms of language, land, bloodlines. In my case, home is where I feel connection. And that can come in many forms: connections with loved ones, neighbours, my son’s school community, my theatre community, etc.” But home takes on a different meaning when someone immigrates: “I think there’s a sense of creating a home, which is not always the case when you are born and raised in the same place.”
The ensemble’s intimate connection to both the material and the developmental process has resulted in a compelling production that is resonating widely – especially with women audiences. This reaction has come as a delightful surprise: “We knew the piece would provoke strong reactions, but what I wasn’t expecting was how affected audiences were going to be.”
Since the show’s opening, several audience members have announced plans to return immediately to see the show a second time. They simply needed to experience it again.
Another audience member told Arabian that she would bring a friend to see the show because that friend has forgotten what a powerful woman she is, and the show will remind her of the power within her.
“That was an incredibly gratifying moment.”
News You Can Use
What: The Solitudes, an Aluna Theatre production in Association with Nightwood Theatre | Lead Creator / Director: Beatriz Pizano
Co-Creators / Performers: Lara Arabian, Brefny Caribou, Liliana Suarez, Janis Mayers, Rosalba Martinni, Michelle Polak, Sofia Rodriguez, and Rhoma Spencer
When: On stage until January 18, 2020 | Duration: 80 minutes
Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: alunatheatre.ca
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019