CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 22. . . .February 8, 2013
Surviving in the Cracks: A True Story of a Play with a Purpose.
Vancouver, BC: Masuda Media (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com), 2011.
DVD, 49 min., $19.00 home use, $149.00 educational institutions & libraries.
Grades 10-12 / Ages 15-17.
Review by Frank Loreto.
In 1994, the British Columbia government established the Underaged Safe House programme in Vancouver as part of the Vancouver Action Plan for Sexually Exploited Youth. According to youth worker Mitchell Pleet, youth were given "an environment with minimum barriers, if any at all, for all those young people who are in need of shelter and a little TLC to help them get established and hopefully help them move forward in their lives." Seen through the eyes of support workers and former Safe House users, the programme is touted as a huge success and, in some cases, is what saved lives. However, after 10 years, the programme fell victim to budget cuts and was dismantled in 2004. No amount of protest, lobbying or convincing managed to get the programme re-established. The Vancouver Youth Visions Coalition (VYVC), founded in the spring of 2004, continues the fight.
Surviving in the Cracks chronicles the VYVC's attempt to keep the issue in the public eye and perhaps succeed in the fight to have the safe house re-opened. Davina Boone, who admits that the safe house "saved my life once," recounts her first meeting with Pleet: "Who the fuck are you, and can I have a smoke?" Now a mother of two and actively involved with the VYVC, Davina is seen as a safe house success story, and Pleet is clearly pleased with how her life has turned out.
The VYVC partnered with Jeff Masuda from the University of British Columbia Centre for Population and Health Promotion Research initially for health initiatives. However, the idea of presenting the lives of street kids in the form of a play took form: take the real-life experiences of street kids as the material and get the kids to act out their stories. The process of play making, not the final product, was to be the focus of the initiative.
Amanda Wager, a doctoral student in Drama in Education and volunteer director of the play, admits early in the process, "It's going to be what it's going to be" The source material is rich with sadness. Children who left abusive homes, alcoholic parents, drug addicted siblings, drug activity of their own, prostitution—the stories are heartbreaking. One girl, Amythest, finds out from her sister and mother's drug dealer that her mother had died. She knows her mother is buried somewhere in Surrey, but she cannot find anyone to take her there. In the writing of the play, Amythest is able, for the first time, to tell some of her stories.
The film counts down the days until show time. There are not a lot of successes as people arrive late, crack up during rehearsal and do not seem to be taking anything seriously. Fraggle Rock, with the VYCV, admits at 22 days left, if we "weren't so close to the end, I probably would have quit by now." Wager is frustrated by the actors' lack of focus: "They don't seem serious, but they keep coming to rehearsal." She then admits, "It's bringing a community of people together. If it generates talk and more talk, then maybe next week the safe house will be open." Then she laughs, "Maybe I'm thinking a little too positively. We're doing what we can".
With 10 days left, Cody, one of the central characters is proving difficult. He arrives late, improvises his lines, is rude and mean to the others. Wager feels he is trying to sabotage the play. At five days, when several cast members cannot come to practice, Wager gives up and cancels practice. Cody, who does come to practice, cannot believe Wagere is not there. He insists that she come back and run practice with those who have come out.
On the morning of the show, Cody admits that he only joined the play because his ex-girlfriend was involved. He says she dropped out of the play "because she went to jail." When asked why he kept showing up, he says, "Because it's cool." Cody has a court date in a week and fully expects to go to jail, "for a week probably". He has been in "four safe houses, five group homes and two foster homes. Not the way to go." While he showed no focus during practice, when told of the sold-out crowd for the show, Cody says, "I wish you hadn't told me that. Now I have to go to the bathroom."
The actual play is a success. Everyone pulls together and, at the end, hope to do another show, but a lack of funding thwarts that idea. The play includes a rally of 300 supporters of safe houses on 31 March 2004. Davina is shown at the megaphone as they march on Vancouver City Hall chanting, "Save our Safe House, Save our Kids". While the city asked the provincial government to reinstate funding, no response has come.
According to the film, up to 700 youth are homeless on Vancouver streets with this number increasing by 150 each year. Over half of these will fall prey to drug dealers and develop addictions. Nearly half of these are girls.
While putting on the play made no difference to the re-establishment of the safe house programme, everyone involved in the making of the play and the film has been positively affected.
Surviving in the Cracks is a disturbing, heart-warming and heart-breaking, beautiful film. At times, it is difficult to watch as the scenes in the play come from real-life experiences. No one should have to go through life this way—especially children. Viewers get to know these people, and, when they learn that Cody does not go to jail, it is good news. Cody in a classroom would be a challenge, but he is charming.
This film would go well in a Theatre class as well as Family Studies, Law, Politics, Civics, or Sociology. The language is harsh and could offend, but the power of the film is how it does not sugarcoat the reality of life on the street. Also it shows the determination of those who were most helped by safe houses led to their being willing to fight to provide similar protection for others. The water imagery carried through the film shows that there is optimism even though things do not turn out as hoped.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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