New Theatre Company to Debut with Thought-Provoking Play for Multicultural Audiences
“We call it Symmetree, because the company endeavours to share stories that are “reflections” (“symmetry”) of society on stage, in ways which advocate for and promote social “growth” (“tree”).” That’s Luay Eljamal, founder and co-producer of Symmetree Theatre, our city’s newest theatre group explaining the unique name. Eljamal, is all set for the company’s debut on November 1 with Freeing Heaven’s Secrets, a play he wrote and directed.
Eljamal moved to Fort McMurray from Dubai with his parents in 2004. He credits the “success (of) integrating in the region to two influential teachers growing up: Valerie Gondek, my music teacher at Thickwood Heights School, and Terri Mort, my drama teacher at Westwood Community High School. These two leaders in their fields helped me tremendously, by introducing me to the arts community in the region and encouraging me to engage with them in as many capacities as possible.”
From there, he became enamoured with theatre, and from high school productions to Keyano Theatre has quite an acting roster. But, starting his own company was always on his mind.
“I’ve been dreaming to start my own theatre company for nine years now, and the vision for Symmetree Theatre in particular has been bubbling on the back burner since 2016.”
“I noticed a lot of the time, theatre operates by showing us the hardships that marginalized groups have had to endure in order to survive in our society. While I knew this to be important, I also felt it was important to show people what the world would look like should these people be seen in stories that are not about those hardships in particular. Stories where, despite their differences, we show them fighting to overcome issues that affect us all as humans. This is where Symmetree’s mandate stemmed from: Symmetree Theatre creates stories about marginalized members of society, where the main conflict does not stem from the fact that they are marginalized,” explains Eljamal.
Freeing Heaven’s Secrets embraces these ideals. It is an immersive theatrical production following Scheherazade, a young blind girl on her deathbed, who promises her father she will visit him in his dreams and let him know what her heaven is like. On her journey to the other side, Scheherazade passes her blindness onto the audience, and gifts herself with sight, inviting the audience to experience her heaven through the element of sound alone. In essence, you experience her heaven the way she would have experienced our earth.
“The concept was initially started as a PAT (Provincial Achievement Test) essay I wrote in school, which received a failing grade. It was then rejected by members of the drama department at my university for being too far-fetched, however, after putting on a workshopped performance in 2014, it went on to receive an A+ as a final grade,” recalls Eljamal.
“The story’s concept was also shortlisted for a Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprise in London, England, in 2016, and this year, was awarded with Canada Council for the Arts funding to see the project to fruition in Fort McMurray.”
Eljamal shares the play’s concept grew with him. He recently lost both his parents, and uncle, and that forced him to write a new ending for the production. Plus, he wanted it to cater to our region’s multicultural population.
“According to Statistics Canada, Fort McMurray has a higher percentage of visible minorities than the Canadian average (26%). However most theatre productions in the city represent North American cultures only. Additionally, 20% of our population has a primary language other than English. Most of the theatre put on in our region does not cater towards these populations.”
“Freeing Heaven’s Secrets is a very bare-bones performance, which makes it accessible to audiences from all cultural backgrounds. The play tells its story, for the most part, through the elimination of language, and visual elements on stage; a recipe that works perfectly for diverse audiences from around the world.”
“The performance encourages its audience to think about what it is that individualizes us, through the metaphor of “heaven”, without making reference to any one particular religion or culture. It is sure to illicit a multitude of understandings and interpretations from its audience, due to its abstract nature, and we are eager to interact with and learn from the perspectives that Fort McMcMurray’s diverse multicultural audiences can bring to our production,” Eljamal adds.
Freeing Heaven’s Secrets opens on November 1 at 7 p.m., and runs through November 2 at the same time. It stars Arpita Islam as Scheherazade, Jon Qpid as her Father, Shweta Suthar as her Mother, and Coburn Fadden as The Boy. The crew features: Luay Eljamal - Director & Playwright; Leah Nand – Producer and Melissa Collette - Stage Manager.
All performances will be take place at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available for $20 on Eventbrite at symmetreetheatre.eventbrite.ca.