Everyone has a story to tell. Amir, a Syrian man and his young wife escape the terrifying destruction in the streets of Aleppo and are forced to leave behind his parents. He and his wife find themselves fleeing to Turkey en route to Canada. Here he meets an Argentinian who listens to his story including his dream of becoming a comedian. It was at that moment the Argentinian suggested to Amir that when he arrives in Toronto he should find a woman by the name of Tracey Erin Smith who he believed would be very interested in his stories and could help him.
It turns out that Smith runs SOULO Theatre – a gem of a space that offers workshops as well as performances. When she heard Amir’s story, she offered him a spot for free in her workshop.
On Sunday, March 19 at the RED Sandcastle Theatre, his story will be told on stage along side other true stories in The SOULO Show.
We had a chance to learn more with Tracey Erin Smith…
How did Amir first reach out to you and what was your first meeting like?
TES: I got a Facebook message from my former student Silvio in San Francisco introducing me to Amir. I think we had some idea of what each other looked like from our Facebook profiles. It was a freezing Toronto day and we met at College and Dufferin, when we couldn’t find a Starbucks we stumbled upon a middle eastern restaurant. Over falafel Amir told me of how he always wanted to be an actor and comedian but in Syria, where he is from, you are not allowed to talk about such things, it’s looked down upon.
What went through your mind before meeting him? and what were you surprised to learn?
TES: Before meeting Amir I had no idea what to expect. Having only been her a few months, I wondered if his English would be strong enough to do the SOULO course. And I have no idea about his personal experience running from Aleppo with his wife to Turkey where he met Silvio.
Over lunch Amir was super charming and funny, I instantly wanted him to be in class. He didn’t mention the hard time getting to Canada. I would only learn about those once we were in class.
What made you decide to create this one show?
TES: This show is the culmination of a 10-week course, where myself and the nine performers met for three hours once a week. I have sponsored people to take the class before but this is the first time I found two that I thought, OMG, they must come. And so I offered them each a spot. It’s has added so much to the group’s experience I want to thank them!
How is theatre helping Canadians (both new and established) ?
TES: When 9 strangers come together, some refugees, some immigrants and some fourth generation Canadians, the stories are varied and fascinating. We learn from and about each other as we witness what people around the world and at home have to deal with to create the life they’ve dreamt about. And sometimes what they have to do just to survive. The class bonds on an intimate level and quickly become friends with people they would never have got to know otherwise.
It’s fitting to have 9 stories told on stage by Canadians given this year being Canada’s 150 birthday. Was this one show created with that in mind?
TES: I have been teaching SOULO and helping people around the world put their life stories on stage for 15 years and I have always wanted to do a show that focusses on Canadian stories. And I am fascinated by the fact that Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in the world.
Storytelling…everyone has a story to tell. Do you have an unforgettable story that sticks in your mind?
TES: One of my participants tells the story of growing up, what she called, ‘dead dirt poor’. She entered the stage while singing the song: “Trailers for sale or rent. Rooms to let, fifty cents, no phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes.”
And the shared the story of living in a shack on the edge of the Don River here in Toronto in the 1940’s. She had seven siblings, all under eleven years old.
When her mother passed away from Tuberculosis and malnourishment, several of her brothers and sisters were taken from their home and placed with foster families. On many occasions she and her younger sister would walk miles up Yonge Street to visit their little sister, now living with another family.
One day, when they made the long walk, because they didn’t have the three and a half cents to ride the Yonge Street, street car.
She saw who she thought was her little sister playing in the road. But when she scooped the child up, she realized it was not their sister, but another little girl in a yellow sweater. They looked around and discovered, the family had moved away without telling them, taking their baby sister with them.
Amazingly, forty years later, as a result of placing an ad in the Toronto Star, they found her again.
When she finished telling this story on stage, she said; “I’d like to introduce my baby sister, who we found after forty years. She’s here”.
And up on stage came her sister, a woman who looked just like her. Many of us cried.
I believe and have seen that everyone has a powerful story to tell. Everyone.
Tracey Erin Smith runs SOULO Theatre which helps people tell their stories. She offers the Syrian, Amir, a $700 spot for free in her winter workshop in Leslieville.
SOULO Theatre not only sponsored Amir for this SOULO class series, but also Xavier — a gay young man, an immigrant from the island of St. Kitts who Tracey discovered while he was singing along to Lady Gaga at his job in a clothing store in Toronto. Amir and Xavier will talk about their lives and making their heroic moves, on their own, to Canada; 7 other Canadians will join them on stage with their own stories.
THE SOULO SHOW
Nine 10-minute brand new solo shows. *ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY* – Sunday, March 19, 2017, 5:00pm (With cast talk-back and after-party). Red Sandcastle Theatre – 922 Queen Street East, Toronto.
TICKETS: Advance: $15.00 on-line at www.eventbrite.ca
At the Door: $20.00 Cash (Seniors/Students/Arts Workers/Clergy/Exotic Dancer: $15.00)
*SOULO Show added: March 19, 2pm