Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf. Photos by Jeremy Cabrera

Geordie Theatre’s Virginia Wolf is a vehicle to start mental health conversations

Virtual performances are being staged from May 7–16.

Geordie Theatre’s 40th season is drawing to a close with virtual performances of Virginia Wolf, a play that opens a conversation about mental health among young people.

Running from May 7–16, this will be the world premiere of the play written by Cole Lewis, who adapted it from the Governor-General award-winning children’s story of the same name by Kyo Maclear. The piece is recommended for ages 6 and up and will be presented online, with the video production designed and recorded by Para – Dime Productions.  

In this highly sensorial piece, Virginia (played by Jennifer Roberts) wakes up one morning in a “wolfish” mood, and nothing seems able to cheer her up. Her sister Vanessa (played by Alexandra Laferrière) tries to come to her aid to no avail, until the two use their creativity and imagination to envision a fantastical, perfect place of Virginia’s dreams called Bloomsberry. In so doing, Virginia undergoes a pivotal change, and Vanessa learns crucial lessons about supporting a loved one through difficult times.

Geordie’s Artistic Director Mike Payette says that he sees the play as a vehicle to start necessary conversations about dealing with unwanted emotions as a young person. “It speaks to mental health, but really it’s about two people who are trying to understand what the other person’s going through,” he says. “And then the means in which they have that dialogue is through imagination, creativity and art. As a vehicle to talk about (mental health), this conversation is hugely compelling.”

The play was originally scheduled for Geordie’s 2019–2020 season, but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Payette says the conversations this play is meant to encourage were already much needed before the pandemic even began. “Now, it’s exponential because of the urgency of needing to connect young people to the conversation with the adults in their lives. It’s just that much more integral at this particular moment.”

Virginia Wolf
Jennifer Roberts and Alexandra Laferrière in Virginia Wolf

Along with offering these virtual performances, Geordie has also teamed up with DESTA Black Youth Network to offer a series of workshops to a selected cohort of Black youth, using theatre as a tool for exploring questions surrounding mental health. Payette said that following the police killings that spurred the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, it was important to him that they find a way to connect the play’s themes to broader societal issues. The workshops are led by Lisa Ndejuru, a psychotherapist and theatre practitioner.

“The overarching question of these workshops is what is our Bloomsberry, what does our Bloomsberry look like?” says Payette. “Bloomsberry is the place in which Virginia the character feels most safe, and feels comfort. And so we wanted to create a space for Black youth that echoed that sentiment of safety and having a home where we can re-engage the community and also offer hope, in spite of the darkness that so many people are going through, particularly Black youth.”

Virtual attendees at the five performance times will encounter a play rich in audiovisual stimuli, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in the creative imagination of the characters as they explore their Bloomsberry and what it means to be a supportive presence for someone experiencing mental health difficulties.

“One of the things that we see within the story is the character of Vanessa, the older sister, trying to navigate and negotiate how to support, and how to actually be an ally for her sister,” Payette explains. “And that’s a really difficult thing for anybody, not just for young people. What does it mean to actually be a supporter, and a significant supporter without putting ourselves at the forefront?”

Payette finished by saying he is appreciative of the hard work of all the people who have collaborated on this play. “I have to say that the artists and production team creating during COVID were absolutely brilliant. I’m really excited for the community at large to see the merits of their work, because it truly has been inspiring, to say the least.” ■

To buy tickets for performances of Virginia Wolf, at $15 per household, (with ASL interpretation available) May 6–9, please visit the Geordie Theatre website.

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