Laura Welch wasn’t surprised to see the #MeToo movement hit the Canadian theatre scene. A graduate of George Brown College, she had seen first hand some of the negative culture and inappropriate treatment that many (young) artists are exposed to early in their careers. However, soon after graduating, Welch had the opportunity to work with St. Catharines’ Essential Collective Theatre, which was a completely different experience than what she had been prepared for.

“I felt safe in the space that the Director (Colin Bruce Anthes) created,” Welch recalled. “I felt like I could be fearless and brave and take chances creatively. And when people feel brave, they create great work.”

Inspired by the experience, Welch founded Light Echo Theatre, one of Hamilton’s newest theatre companies to not only provide positive experiences and inspiration for creators like herself, but to also contribute to Hamilton’s growing professional theatre community.

Light Echo Theatre opens their inaugural season on November 1, 2019 with a production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Performed by a variety of characters, the show consists of stories from women worldwide about everything from discovering feminism and sexual encounters to trauma and sexual assault.

Despite its introduction over 20 years ago, The Vagina Monologues continues to court controversy. Originally, the performance was hailed as a feminist masterpiece and its content was perceived by many to be risque. In more recent years, the show has been criticized for lacking diverse perspectives, such as those of transgender women and women of colour.

In response to allegations of transphobia and exclusivity, playwright Eve Ensler responded in an interview that “The Vagina Monologues was never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina.”

Welch is aware of the recent criticism of the play’s text, and recognizes that these important conversations are part of the show’s dialogue. “The text frequently says ‘woman,’ which can be exclusionary.” Welch acknowledges. “I think Ensler went out of her way at the time the play was written to include all voices. But there’s a lot missing, and our version tries to incorporate some of this conversation.”

For Light Echo Theatre, this involves diverse casting. The company has assembled an impressive array of local performers who not only represent a variety of experiences, but also have some notable credits. This includes Melissa Murray-Mutch (Gritty City Theatre, Hudson Theatreworks, New Perspectives Theatre); Kaleigh Gorka (Carousel Players, Drayton Entertainment); Emily Lukasik (Shaw Festival, Tapestry Opera/Theatre Passe Muraille), Emanuela Hall (“Best in Venue” award winner at this year’s Hamilton Fringe Festival) and others.

Light Echo also looked to create dialogue in the beneficiaries of ticket sales. Like many productions of The Vagina Monologues, Light Echo Theatre’s performance will also serve as a fundraiser, with proceeds benefitting two local charities; Birthmark (birth professionals offering support to the GTHA) and SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton & Area)). These organizations were chosen specifically for their work with people with vaginas and vulnerable people, rather than those who may solely identify (or not identify) as a woman.

With tickets selling quickly for the November 1 production, Light Echo Theatre is already thinking about their next show, planned for the Spring of 2020. The company plans to continue choosing repertoire that will not only spark dialogue within its audience, but provide a positive culture for creators. “Working with these wonderful performers [on The Vagina Monologues] is inspiring to me,” she said. “And by working with such inspiring, creative people, I’m inspired daily- what could be better than that?”

Who: Light Echo Theatre
What: The Vagina Monologues
Where: Staircase Theatre Mainspace (27 Dundurn Street North)
When: November 1 at 8:00pm
Tickets: $25, available online or at the door (subject to availability)
More Information: Facebook Event Page

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