The art of transforming our human condition

We live in a world of comparisons. A world where one state of being is measured as better than another simply because of how much one has, or doesn’t have. Where we assume others want what we have because what we have is better than what they’ve got.

Two years ago, my eldest daughter, Alexis, was hired by The Vancouver Opera to facilitate weekly writing workshops at The Kettle Society – a non-profit in Vancouver that provides housing and support for individuals with lived-experience of mental illness, homelessness, and addiction.

For the past two years, she has worked and written alongside people for whom their uniquenesses are considered unwanted differences in a world full of comparisons, leaving them feeling like an ‘other’, an outsider, one of ‘those people.’

On Friday night, I attended the opening performance of Vancouver Opera’s “Requiem for a Lost Girl“. The inspiration behind Requiem is Onalea Gilbertson, a beautiful human being who has dedicated a large portion of her acting and musical career to creating art that bridges the gap between ‘us and them’, creating a world of possibility where the comparison of my state versus yours does not leave one of us feeling less than or ‘other’.

It is not an easy path.

On Friday night, as I sat in the darkened theatre and witnessed the courage and compassion of the 25 members of the Kettle Creek Society read and sing their contributions to Requiem, I felt immersed in the beauty and wonder of our human spirit. I felt hopeful.

Requiem began its journey when its creator, Onalea Gilbertson was just a teenager. In 2009 when Onalea walked into my office and announced, “I want to start a singing group, here.” (the ‘here’ being single adult’s homeless shelter) I couldn’t say no. She had such passion, enthusiasm and heart, and, as I believe we can connect to, heal and restore our sense of self through the arts, I quickly agreed to support her.

For the next year, I watched in awe as Onalea opened space for clients at the shelter to delve into their creative essence and explore their human condition within the context of, not just a homeless shelter, but living in a world of comparisons where your differences mark you as ‘less than’ in our world.

The resulting production of “Two Bit Operation”, the genesis for Requiem, was transformative.

Over the past two years I have lived in awe of my daughter as she navigated creating safe and courageous space for writing and self-expression at The Kettle Society.

On Friday night, I witnessed the outpouring of courage, talent, compassion, humour, honesty, vulnerability that was engendered through the workshops she held alongside the choir workshops held by VOS, and I was in awe. As someone with the Vancouver Opera, the sponsors and funders of the workshops said to me on Friday night, “This whole process has been transformative.”

Throughout the lobby of the theatre where Requiem was held, there was a display of the writings created over the course of the past two years. One person wrote, in answer to the question, “What did being part of Requiem mean to you?”, that they were glad they didn’t let their fear hold them back from participating. Another wrote that they had been searching for something all their lives to help them understand their life, and ‘this’ [being part of the choir and writing group] was that something.

We live in a world of comparisons. But, when I witness the human condition shining with such fervor and authenticity as I did on Friday night, I am reminded of the limitations of comparisons.

When I let go of comparing Requiem in Vancouver versus Calgary 8 years ago, what remains is the beauty, the courage, the heart of everyone who participated. From the professional performers to the non-professionals, from the stagehands to the organizers and all the audience participants, no one left the theatre untouched.

And that is the power of the arts.

Through the arts we can delve into difficult subjects, explore ‘us and them’ to discover there is no comparison to the human spirit expressing itself fearlessly, courageously and authentically.

Kudos to Colleen Maybin and the team at The Vancouver Opera for having the courage to take-on such a production. Kudos to Onalea Gilbertson for having the persistence and brilliance to continue to bring this work into the world in cities everywhere. And, kudos to my daughter for having the compassion and heart to step into this creative space so that others could find their voices and let themselves shine.



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