“Jessie’s Song,” a powerful work about the lives of Lanark County youth, played to an overflow audience of adults and teenagers at YAK Youth Services in Perth last Friday night, inspiring an extended audience discussion after the show. The touring show, which has also played in Smiths Falls and Carleton Place, closes Thursday night (April 28) at 7 pm at the Almonte Old Town Hall, 14 Bridge Street.
All performances of this play, which deals with the aftereffects of suicide on a community, begin at 7 pm, and are free and open to members of the public (though donations will be gratefully accepted.) Produced by Burning Passions Theatre, “Jessie’s Song” is always followed by a talkback session, allowing audience members to discuss issues raised by the play with cast members Ruby Davidson, Kaija Evangelho, Tara Kreissler, and Garrett Pipher, along with social support worker Gillian Scott and technical assistant Vincent Bracegirdle.
Cast members agree that at its heart, “Jessie’s Song” is really about learning to pay attention to and act on the significant challenges that afflict young people in a rural setting, many of which can lead to depression and despair. From self-harm and sexual assault to poverty and concern about being judged or not accepted for who they are, all are major concerns for which young people often feel there are not enough resources to help them cope.
“If you have a kid, you really need to check in on them and see how they’re doing,” says Kreissler. Pipher agrees, finding that all too often, the standard “how was your day at school?” question, often met with a simple reply, “fine”, is the extent of much parental-teenager interaction.
Davidson, who plays the mother of Jessie, says, “A lot of parents want to pretend their kid isn’t struggling as much as they are. Some parents may have gone through stuff when they were teenagers, and they know what’s going on, but they are scared to face it because they’re worried they may not have been a good enough parent.”
Evangelho concurs, and says, “A lot of parents think their child is number one, that they’re the best, but do they really know their child at the same level that their kid’s friends know them? It’s so important to have an honest, strong connection with your kids. But sometimes, youth helping youth makes a big difference, because there’s this generational gap. Sometimes you don’t want to tell an adult things you would tell your friend.”
Gillian Scott, who facilitates the show’s talkback sessions, believes that “theatre is very different than talking about an issue, and when you give youth a platform like this, it’s so expressive and creative. There is some healing that can be done for the actors as well as the audience, in terms of not feeling all alone when you are sharing this very authentic space.”
Members of the troupe say that all too often, the problems they face are unfairly tagged as “youth issues” when in fact they may well be parent issues, school issues, and societal issues.
“We tend to dump all of our problems on young people, because it’s so easy to avoid our responsibility when we see it as a so-called youth problem,” says Laurel Smith, who directed and dramaturged the show. “That’s why ‘Jessie’s Song’ is a show for everyone. It’s not to judge anybody, but rather to open the door to the kind of truthful dialogue we really need to improve our communities. We’re all in this together, and we can all help with the solutions. ”
The show is supported by the Ontario Arts Council, the Perth & District Community Foundation, YAK Youth Services, Kiwanis Club of Perth-on-Tay, Lioness Club of Perth, First Baptist Church, Unifor, Basilian Human Development Fund, and the Crabtree Foundation.
For more information, visit www.burningpassionstheatre.com or call (613) 264-8088.