'I felt I needed to address the fact that my body is sort of a metaphor for the neighbourhood, that what is happening to us both is kind of the same thing' - Debbie Patterson, playwright
Debbie Patterson has a reputation in Winnipeg for creating theatre work that pushes the limits and explores territory often overlooked by conventional theatre.
In her new work Sargent & Victor & Me, she looked for ways to involve people in the creation of the play who have no contact with the arts.
She interviewed business people and neighbourhood residents, a delivery boy from Jakobson's Grocery store, a waitress from the Weevil Cafe, a food bank client, gangsters, even incarcerated teens, all in an attempt to understand how neighbourhoods evolve and how we cope with what Patterson calls 'the unstoppable processes of destruction.'
She feels the result is disturbing, yet hopeful. "My brother lives on Victor, just three doors up from Sargent," she explained. "When he bought his house my Icelandic mother-in-law said 'oh that was the Icelandic area of town, and what a family friendly area it was!' But when I went to help my brother move in, that was not what I saw."
Patterson was curious to know how a neighbourhood could change that much, so quickly.
She says the story is about a woman named Jilly who has multiple sclerosis and she feels quite bitter and useless. She decides to volunteer at the First Lutheran Church food bank, located at Sargent and Victor.
Jilly experiences a transformation through the people she meets there.
The play started out as Sargent & Victor. But after interviewing people living in the area, Patterson created a piece of theatre using their words and showing the progression of the neighbourhood.
As the lone actor in the play, it is evident that Patterson's movements are affected by having multiple sclerosis herself. "I felt I needed to address the fact that my body is sort of a metaphor for the neighbourhood," she explained. "...that what is happening to us both is kind of the same thing."
Even though Patterson has a lot of experience writing plays, dramaturge Iris Turcotte lent a helping hand. "She kind of helped me craft a narrative out of all this raw material that I had," said Patterson.
"She was the one who insisted that I start writing about multiple sclerosis," explained Patterson. "I knew I wanted to do an M.S. play but I didn't know that this was it."
Local musicians John K. Samson and Christine Fellows provide the soundscape for the play. "Both of them volunteer at that foodbank so they already had a connection to this story," enthused Patterson. "They read the script and created sound based on the themes in the play including a potato theme and a Thunder Bay theme."
Sargent & Victor & Me epitomizes the kind of production that Theatre Projects Manitoba creates. At the heart of all their projects is connectivity, community and passion.
For Debbie Patterson, the people she met at Sargent and Victor made a lasting impression on her. "What stood out for me the most about the people who live there now is their resilience...You just live with a life that wasn't the life you foresaw for yourself but it is the life you have. It's your life."
Theatre Projects Manitoba presents Sargent & Victor & Me at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film on the University of Winnipeg campus from Feb. 27 to March 9.