The Refugee Hotel tells the compelling story of a Chilean family’s experience as refugees to Canada in the early 1970s. Their story will probably sound familiar. Teesri Duniya Theatre Company is dedicated to producing socially and politically relevant plays, and the mandate is truly realized with this production, during which audience members will be unable to avoid drawing parallels to the current Syrian refugee crisis. Written by Carmen Aguirre and directed by Paulina Abarca-Cantin, The Refugee Hotel is the true story of a wave of refugees who are resettled at a small hotel in Montreal, a story which is ever relevant to today’s political climate.
Carmen Aguirre is telling her own childhood story in this play, of when several families were granted refugee status in Canada after the 1973 bloody coup d’état in their home country of Chile. The perspective is of a young woman looking back on her past. The Refugee Hotel tells stories of confronting the past and deals with topics of guilt, exile, and torture, but also of human resilience and strength.
“We are happy to be producing this play not only because of the current political climate, but because of the vibrant Latin-Canadian community present in Montreal, a large percentage of which was formed between 1973 and 1975 due to resettling” said Teesri Duniya Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Rahul Varma. “It is an opportunity for our sizable Latino theatre community to tell a story which is directly relevant to them.”
The Refugee Hotel is a dark comedy, and features the families who are resettled in the hotel learning to adapt to Canadian culture and their new lives while also dealing with trauma from the ongoing war in the country they left behind. “We strive to practise multi-ethnic casting and to celebrate different cultures and backgrounds working together and learning from one another,” said Rahul, “and this play provides an excellent opportunity for that because of the Chilean, Anglophone and Francophone characters all within one story.”
The Chilean coup d’état, which occurred on September 11, 1973, is often considered to be the first 9/11. It was a bloody event, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Chileans. “This production serves as an important reminder that there have been many such events like 9/11 in history which have stories that need be told and remembered,” said Rahul. “A massive disruption of people occurred at this time as a result of war. And we see it played out again in history, including now, with the Syrian refugee crisis. At this time, 1 in 122 people are either refugees or seeking refugee status.”
The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is a topic of conversation which can be polarizing, and is certainly top of mind for many Canadians. The Refugee Hotel reminds us of the human beings who are affected by a country at war. Each story of refugees who are forced to leave their homes and lives is unique, but all share a common thread of humanity, and of human beings struggling to adapt, move forward and move on.
“As artists, we need to choose work which has relevance,” said Rahul. “We can choose to be engagers with the community, to choose works which spread ideas, debate ideas and explore topics which are culturally relevant to the time. If our plays are not relevant, they don’t have any meaning.” Undoubtedly, now, but also universally, The Refugee Hotel will have significant relevance and meaning for audience members.
The Refugee Hotel reflects not only the vibrant Latino community in Montreal theatre but also the current political climate. The story of a family struggling to cope after trauma and resettling in a new home is captivating. The play runs until November 13 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, with talk-backs after each performance. Click here for more information.
photo credits: James Douglas