Article originally published in the Vancouver Sun.
In a world where performing arts can at times feel exclusionary, highbrow and out-of-touch, Gateway Theatre is breaking from tradition. By adopting a radical new vision in its programming and initiatives, this Richmond-based venue is challenging long-held assumptions about theatre, who it serves, and how it can enrich communities.
Long before the pandemic led us to question our methods en masse, Gateway was on a mission to rethink its understandings of theatre. The first assumption Gateway identified was an inherent focus on Western, English-speaking stories. According to the latest census, over half of Richmond residents identify as Chinese, and only a third of Richmondites call English their mother tongue.
Over the last six years, Gateway Theatre has embraced the task of reaching these audiences. From 2014 to 2016 the theatre was host to Gateway Theatre Pacific Festival, created by then artistic director Jovanni Sy, a showcase of world-class contemporary theatre from Asia and Canada that featured works and initiatives in Mandarin and Cantonese. This was not only an opportunity for the community to enjoy fantastic works, but also a means for them to feel part of Gateway.
A recent 2019 event, the Gateway Language Exchange Gameshow!, asked English and Mandarin-speaking individuals to collaborate in completing language-based challenges. Jasmine Chen, Gameshow co-creator and Gateway’s current artistic and community producer, thinks back fondly on the opportunity to invite community members onto Gateway’s mainstage. “Just the magic that was in the air and their excitement to be on stage as opposed to in the seats,” Chen said in a recent video interview, “that was such a big shift.” Gateway continues to break down language barriers in their regular programming, providing Chinese text surtitles for their productions of Jovanni Sy’s Nine Dragons (2017) and Marjorie Chan’s China Doll (2019).
Hosting the Gameshow is just one way Gateway Theatre has challenged the power dynamics between theatre and patron – by cultivating a variety of free, community-driven initiatives in addition to its traditional performances, Gateway has turned its venue into a creative hub for collaboration and community-building.
In 2019, Gateway Theatre was host to Spooktacular, a Halloween event that offered treats, games and other festivities to families looking for a way to celebrate the holiday. In a show-related experimental offering, Gateway hosted free hatha yoga classes in its lobby during the promotion of the satirical comedy Yoga Play(2019). Although COVID-19 has created challenges for the theatre, under the artistic leadership of Barbara Tomasic and Jasmine Chen, Gateway continues to prioritize free events that nourish and enrich its communities. Most recently, the theatre hosted a digital salon series focused on supporting emerging artists, providing specific information on opportunities for emerging Black, Indigenous, and woman-identifying theatre artists of colour, as well as queer theatre artists.
Nimble on their feet and ready to embrace a pandemic-savvy performance world, Gateway Theatre has been exploring alternative avenues for delivering their offerings. While most arts and culture organizations are diving head first into digital, Gateway is experimenting with a variety of mediums to reach new audiences, including their uniquely analog Hallows’ Eve Paper Theatre Kit, a ghoulishly decorated build-it-yourself stage in miniature. Beautifully illustrated by local artist Keely O’Brien, these kits will help families celebrate Halloween safely, bond over a shared love of crafting and theatre, and inspire creativity and imagination.
At the same time, the theatre continues to make high-quality performing arts classes accessible to youth, offering a variety of in-person and online classes as well as bursary and scholarship opportunities for families in need. Gateway Academy has also developed a new class titled Creating in New Spaces, which allows students to explore playwriting in alternative mediums from social distancing to social media. Although Academy students will be developing their skills in theatre and performance, Gateway Theatre emphasizes the social and emotional well-being of Academy youth. “I have been amazed to see how much she has developed her confidence and found her voice,” said the parent of one Gateway Academy acting student in a digital testimonial.
Theatre may be an ancient artform, but Gateway Theatre has proven its potential to embrace the future of performing arts. Explore their exciting current offerings, including Academy Classes and paper theatre kits.