Chilliwack has been host to a range of initiatives targeting mental wellness this month, and the events culminate this Friday with a powerful theatre production.
Inspired by true events faced by a First Nations teen in East Vancouver, Beneath The Surface is a community-directed show that makes a statement.
The production touches on many poignant topics that affect youth, such as gender identity, bullying, substance abuse, depression and suicide. It also serves to educate viewers about Canadian history and reconciliation.
Chilliwack’s Charlaine Robinson was moved by seeing the imagi’NATION show in Vancouver last October, and she immediately thought about young people in our community.
“It was very effective, very powerful. I thought it would be good for youth in Chilliwack – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – to see.”
Robinson has worked with youth for more than 20 years, and she understands the drastic and often grim effects that mental illness or distress can cause if not addressed.
She spoke of the disproportionately high rate of suicide amongst Aboriginal youth in the Fraser Valley, and that more could be done to change that.
So, she put out the call to the Chilliwack community.
A range of local health authorities came on board to support the project, including the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice, Fraser Health, Aboriginal Fraser Health, as well as SD33, MCFD, the RCMP and the Chilliwack Local Action Team.
The theatre production is actually the culminating event of a week-long wellness workshop that’s taking place at Sardis Secondary, Chilliwack Secondary, Seabird Island, and Sto:lo Nation.
The workshops, also by imagi’NATION Collective, are designed to encompass the four elements of the medicine wheel: emotional, spiritual, mental and spiritual.
Participating youth are encouraged to share personal stories in a safe, non-judgemental space. It’s an opportunity for them to express and learn more about themselves, recognize their strengths and to heal, Robinson said.
While the students have early opportunities to see Beneath The Surface, the May 13 performance is intended for the public.
The story stems from the true story of the late Chasity Smith, a First Nations teen from B.C. who committed suicide in 2009. Her mother contacted Jenifer Brousseau (Director, imagi’NATION) to put out a call to action, through art.
Beneath the Surface is a play that seeks to educate youth and their families, and ultimately prevent further suicides.
“It’s about empowering [viewers] with other means of coping with adversities, and to bring those issues to light,” Robinson said. “It’s a difficult issue. Sometimes people have a difficult time talking about it. But the idea is to talk about it so that people can heal and move forward.”
Learn more about the production and the all Aboriginal cast on their website. Following the performance, there will be a question and answer period with the cast and directors.
It’s taken a community of people and healthcare agencies to bring this production, and all prior Mental Health Awareness Week initiatives to Chilliwack, and Robinson says that rally of support is reminiscent of the healing process itself.
“It takes a community to raise a child, and I think it takes a community to heal. This storyline brings that out in a really positive way,” she said.
Beneath The Surface will be performed at the UFV Theatre (45635 Yale Road) on May 13 at 7 p.m. Admission to the show is free and it is open to the general public. Register online at universe.com/beneaththesurface in advance to secure your seats.
Age recommendation: 12 and older, with parental discretion.