Acclaimed Toronto playwright reads his works to Western students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

“Theatre is not a replacement for activism, but another means through which to provoke thought,” said Guillermo Verdecchia, a Toronto-based writer of drama, fiction and film, as he spoke to an audience of English students and faculty in University College Tuesday.

Verdecchia showed his ability to capture an audience and mimic multiple accents as he read from three of his plays.

In the first, Verdecchia’s Governor General’s award-winning one-man show, Fronteras Americanas, Verdecchia became Wideload, a character embodying multiple stereotypes of Latin Americans, Hispanics and Chicanos.

Verdecchia engaged the room, forcing people to confront covert and overt stereotypes through his accent, body language and suggestions.

Verdecchia also read from A Line in the Sand, co-written with Marcus Youssef, a dramatic commentary on the 1993 Canadian humanitarian trip to Somalia where two Canadian soldiers killed and tortured a 16-year-old Somali boy named Shidane Arone.

Verdecchia said he changed the setting to the first Gulf war to conflate the two events and suggest parallels.

He read from a scene in which a Canadian soldier named Mercer meets a Palestinian man, Sadiq. The dialogue displays each character’s inability to understand the other’s culture and customs.

“We have CNN. We see all sides about America,” Sadiq says.

“I like to look across the boundary of the stage and engage my audience in a dialogic experience,” Verdecchia said. “Sure, entertainment’s great, but I think of the audience of people who can do something.”

He doesn’t consider himself an “activist” because he doesn’t take part in the day-to-day grind on the front lines.

Verdecchia said his performing experiences have revealed interesting differences between audiences across Canada.

“Performing Fronteras Americanas in Toronto and a city like Victoria was completely different,” he said.

“I don’t know if Toronto audiences are just more used to that type of theatre or a little more comfortable with the ideas I was throwing out, but in some places, people just didn’t understand what I was doing. ‘It’s interesting, but it’s not a real play,’ people would say.

“As an actor, you die a thousand times when you’re on stage and the audience just doesn’t get it. You can choose to abuse or ignore the audience, but mostly you have to adjust and work with them,” he said.

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