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Two West Alexander residents hope to show the challenges of leaving things behind to start a new life in Canada.
Artists Hazel Venzon and her husband, David Oro, form UNIT Productions and will be presenting their collaborative work titled The Places We Go, a graphic novel accompanied by live performance, from July 20 to 30 at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. The illustrations will be projected onto a screen with voiceover by Venzon.
The Places We Go is an adventure story about eight-year-old Grace, who lives in Manila in the Philippines and tries to find work to raise enough money to buy her mother a plane ticket back home. Grace’s mother lives in Winnipeg, and they’ve been separated for three years.
Venzon wrote the story in 2013 for the Yukon Literacy Coalition while she was living in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was asked to find a Filipino folktale, but she couldn’t find one that would be significant for the community, so she decided to create one herself.
"It’s a really common story that we hear a lot of the time, and I felt that it’s something that should be animated and that should come to life so people could create a dialogue around it in the guise of a piece of theatre or something of entertainment," Venzon added.
The production is a piece of non-traditional theatre. The story is told through a graphic novel illustrated by Oro, a freelance graphic designer who immigrated to Canada from Manila when he was 17. Oro has taken his inspiration mostly from his memories of the place he once called home.
"It’s pretty nostalgic. It’s a good feeling to remember bits and pieces of my childhood neighbourhood. It’s been 20 years since I’ve moved here and I’ve never been back...It’s almost like a movie that I can remember and now I’m showing this to everybody," Oro said.
Venzon, who is a first-generation Canadian, has spent the last seven years investigating Canadian identity and migration and was inspired by the several stories she heard while engaging in conversations with new Canadians. Her recent visit to Manila was in 2013 when she was performing with a play called Nanay: A Testimonial Play. She spent four weeks gathering local stories as content for the story and said she didn’t believe her visit and previous productions would lead to making The Places We Go — it was an organic progression in her career.
Venzon has experienced the impacts of immigration and separation in her own family. Recently, one of her cousins, Fatima Dalisay, reunited with her family after 10 years of being separated and Venzon dedicated the show to her.
"I’ve heard a lot of really horrible situations where moms and children specifically are separated for over 10 years and then this creates this incredible social culture of (Filipino) women here in Canada taking care of other people while they can’t take care of their own.
"The counter to that is, people who are in Manila who don’t grow up with that structure that has that basic maternal love."
Venzon and Oro have worked together on this project for a year. The first time she told the story for the YLC, Venzon illustrated it with a PowerPoint presentation because she wanted the audience to understand the setting Grace was living in.
"It’s really, really third world, it’s very very busy and super loud, and it’s not spacious and big. It’s not as freeing as it is here and the struggles that she goes through were a lot more complicated."
Venzon added she hopes the story reflects how many immigrants have lived apart from their loved ones for the majority of their formative years.
"There’s a comment to how challenging it is to actually find work in the Philippines, and that’s why a lot of people come here to work for a better life. The downfall to that is that there are huge sacrifices," she said.
The Places We Go will happen at the Playhouse Studio (180 Market Ave.) during the WFTF. For show schedule and tickets, go to www.winnipegfringe.com
Community journalist — The Times
Ligia Braidotti is the community journalist for The Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org