For her latest work, Erica in Technoland, local playwright Hope McIntyre had a lot of help from some new friends.
The play, which debuts at the University of Winnipeg's Asper Centre for Theatre and Film on June 13 at 7 p.m., was developed in collaboration with participants of the Girls' World after-school program at West Broadway Youth Outreach as part of Winnipeg Arts Council's Youth With Art program, which connects professional artists with community groups to create a public art project that reflects the issues and passions of its participants.
Every Friday night for the past several months, the girls -- who range in age from 10 to 18 -- would meet to improvise scenes, brainstorm ideas and talk about what they were interested in and passionate about. McIntyre says that while those early group discussions focused on boys and clothes, the girls got more personal in the individual writing exercises. "A theme of acceptance came out," McIntyre says. "All, on some level, were dealing with being accepted and feeling left out and not fitting in."
Technology was another recurring theme. "Cyber-bullying was an issue. It's not just what people say in school."
McIntyre then took all that information and synthesized it into a full-length play that "includes bits and pieces from all of their lives." A nod to Alice in Wonderland, Erica in Technoland uses magical realism to deal with bullying, peer pressure and discrimination.
Teacke Onak, 13, is playing the titular role of Erica, a mean girl who's targeting a new girl at school -- that is, until, she takes a journey to Technoland, where she learns what it feels like to be an outcast and has an epiphany about the way she's been treating others. "Sometimes people don't really know how they're treating other people," she says. "They might have stuff going on at home or they might be unhappy with a situation in their life and they take it out on other people."
Onak, who was born in Sudan and came to Canada with her family when she was a toddler, says she's attended programming at WBYO several nights a week since she was in Grade 3 or 4. She's a regular at everything from Girls' World to Homework Club. "What I like most about it, when you go there, you're accepted for who you are," she says. "They want us to succeed as young people."
Onak has enjoyed working on this new challenge with McIntyre. "It's been really fun and different," she says. "It's been a lot of work, too. I have the most lines in the play."
Indeed, the girls have put many hours into the production, going through a real audition process, developing their characters, committing to rehearsals, drawing and creating the sets and designing costumes.
"I think we as artists forget what it's like to be playful," McIntyre says. "It's been really energizing to watch them. They are an amazing group of girls."
Admission is free; reserve seats at winnipegarts.ca.