Power of theatre highlights spike in drug and gang violence in northeast Calgary

A group of actors from Calgary’s South Asian community is using drama to highlight concerns about gangs and drugs in their community.

Group performs play on perils of gang life at SAIT this weekend

Local actors get together for final rehearsals in a basement in the community of Martindale ahead of their performance at SAIT’s Orpheus Theatre. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

A group of actors from Calgary's South Asian community is using the power of drama to highlight concerns about gangs and drugs in their community.

The group takes to the stage at SAIT this weekend for the 10th annual Natak Mela organized by the Progressive Cultural Association of Calgary and the Punjabi media outlet Sikh Virsa International. 

The event includes two plays: one marking the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where the British army turned its guns on more than 1,000 peaceful protesters in a walled park. The other looks at the more modern crisis of gun violence and gangs in northeast Calgary communities.

The performance follows four homicides in the northeast this spring along with several targeted shootings in residential areas.

In the latest incident, two men in their 20s were injured in a late night shooting on Monday in Saddle Ridge.

Actor Jaskaran Purba performs in a play around the dangers of drugs and gangs in response to real-life violence on the streets of northeast Calgary. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Last month hundreds of northeast residents turned out to a protest march to highlight their concerns and to appeal to police to do more to tackle gang-related crimes.

"There has been an increase in stabbings, shootings, including at local concerts, as well as deaths happening in northeast Calgary," said Jaskaran Purba, an actor in one of the plays.

Purba says the play, all performed in Punjabi, is the group's latest step in raising awareness of drug violence and gang activity and trying to educate South Asian parents and kids about the dangers.

"The Progressive Cultural Association is bringing these issues to light so that the audience becomes aware of these issues," said Purba.

Purba also wants the Calgary Police Service to listen to the community's concerns.

"We would like the police to increase its efforts," he said. "This year, because a lot of incidents have happened, people aren't feeling safe in their homes."

The play includes scenes of drug and alcohol use, Punjabi gangster rap music, and a fatal shooting, followed by the grief of the victim's family.

Organizer Kamalpreet Pandher says the group has been putting on theatrical performances in Punjabi for the last 10 years. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"The main purpose of this theatre show is to give a message and we want to talk about the problems of the community," said Kamalpreet Pandher with the Progressive Cultural Association of Calgary.

Pandher says the group has been putting on plays and performances for 10 years.

"Every year we perform. Many people from around the city come and there's around 350 to 400 people every year," said Pandher.

This year's performance runs from 2 p.m. untill 5 p.m. at SAIT's Orpheus Theatre on Saturday. 

Performances are in Punjabi. 


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is largely focused on sharing stories from under-reported communities and groups in Calgary and southern Alberta. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at