Show by theatre students raises environmental awareness
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Two theatre students, one unique site at False Creek, a message about climate change, and a lot of bottled water.
These elements come together in Twenty Feet Away¸ an original Vancouver Fringe Festival show by second-year Douglas theatre students Dayna Hoffmann and Sara Dunn. Twenty Feet Away is one of five shows created as part of Generation Hot: Waterborne, a mentorship program for young writer-directors run by Eric Rhys Miller and production company The Only Animal. Under Miller’s mentorship, Dunn and Hoffmann have spent the past five months writing the script, hiring actors, building the set, and putting the show together.
In Twenty Feet Away, two young college students and entrepreneurs make ends meet by taking water from False Creek and marketing it as water from exotic locations like Cambodia and the Nile. The pair’s friendship is challenged by the moral issues that spring out of this scheme.
This year’s Generation Hot theme is water. Beyond the requirement of tying their stories to this theme, the writer-directors had a lot of artistic freedom to pretty much come up with whatever stories they wanted. In a phone interview with the Other Press, Hoffmann said she drew inspiration for Twenty Feet Away primarily from a video she saw online about Canadian water smugglers. The story then grew out of her and Dunn wanting to create a show with two protagonists, and knowing they had to work around a specific location on Granville Island—in their case, around a large metal sculpture called “Pressure Group 6” by Barry Cogswell. Within these locational and thematic boundaries, the story of Twenty Feet Away came together.
Hoffmann and Dunn also worked economic constraints and an eco-friendly mindset into the premise of their show. The two protagonists of Twenty Feet Away are college students of limited means who live camped-out underneath the sculpture. To reflect this frugal and environmentally conscious mindset, Hoffmann and Dunn built their set primarily out of recycled materials and items they already had lying around. Hoffmann estimates they only spent about $40 on the whole production. “It really comes through in the whole ambiance of the piece,” she said.
Although the creators had a lot of license in writing and putting together their show, they also benefited from the guidance of their mentor Miller, as well as the support of everyone else involved in Generation Hot: Waterborne. Hoffmann said the most rewarding part of this program, to her, has been the opportunity to work with fellow actors, writers, directors, artists, and others from a variety of backgrounds, and to build something together with people who have so many different skillsets and experiences.
Hoffmann recommends that any Douglas students who have the opportunity should absolutely get involved with the program next year. She herself found out about Generation Hot from a fellow student who participated last year. “It’s such a life-changing experience,” said Hoffmann of her time working on Twenty Feet Away over the last five months. “Especially just getting to actually produce a real show where you make real money doing something that a lot of people didn’t think would be a viable career path, I think it’s really rewarding.”
However, this money won’t be going to the creators themselves; instead, the proceeds from the show will be donated to a charity supporting an environmental cause, although Hoffmann and Dunn haven’t yet decided which charity. By this act of kicking off their professional theatre careers with a substantial donation, the writer-directors hope to inspire audiences even further, compounding the message of environmental consciousness in Twenty Feet Away.
As for the importance of their message, Hoffmann believes that young people have a unique perspective and deep responsibility toward the issue of climate change. Those born after 1988 especially—those who are part of Generation Hot—have grown up hearing about this issue as almost the norm. “For me, I know that I’ve always heard of climate change my whole life,” said Hoffmann. “It’s been something that we tend to turn a blind eye toward because it’s just always been there, but it is a real issue that needs to be addressed, and I don’t think that people are [ever] doing enough about it.”
For anyone who wants to both contribute to the cause and to watch an original work by Douglas students, Twenty Feet Away will be running at the Fringe Festival on Granville Island until September 16. Tickets are available at www.vancouverfringe.com/waterborne.