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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

Vancouver, My Stage (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the City)

By Diana Squires

When I graduated with my BA in Drama, I had no idea what to tackle next. My body knew it wanted to act, I had recently discovered directing, and visions of running my own theatre company had started to turn in my head like a kaleidoscope of possibility.

The summer after graduation consisted of popsicles and depression as I half-heartedly considered how I might pay off 20-grand of school debt. My first job as a university graduate allowed me to grace such stages as business luncheons and fundraising events playing the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Queen of Hearts” (a role I originated, I’m pleased to add). In my spare time, I played a Happy Vagina in a benefit production of the Eve Ensler classic.

Then I met Kryshan. He lived by the beach. He swept me off my feet. He could also lift me over his head (he did yoga, a complete novelty to this 21-year-old who’d never lived in Vancouver). He earned six figures a year, which I assumed to be God’s way of guaranteeing that this newly minted starving artist would be well taken care of while following her bliss. Naturally.

Wearied by the drive from my suburban suite to Kryshan’s exotic world on Vancouver’s west side, I began to wonder, “What am I still doing in Langley? Which of my dreams is keeping me here?” If there’s one thing that can embolden you to face a vast world of unknowns, it’s love. Somehow, even as our relationship began to disintegrate—what do a Buddhist vegetarian and a Christian carnivore have in common anyway—I found myself in a beautiful, courtyard-facing flat in Gastown. Kryshan unloaded my shiny new Craigslist furniture from his truck and then left my life forever.

I woke up wondering why it took a man to get me here. Walking past colourful brick buildings day after day, I reveled in the rush of urban energy. Sitting in my rooftop garden, I took in the grandeur of mountains, ocean, and skyscrapers all bear-hugging each other as though they had everything in common. Buying produce in Chinatown, I encountered people who don’t speak a word of my language and yet thrive in the same city. Strolling through the Downtown Eastside to borrow movies from the Carnegie library, I grew familiar with a medley of catcalls, domestic disputes, and kind words bestowed by strangers.

This city welcomed me with its distinct array of food, culture, and natural beauty. Favourite haunts and soothing rituals found their place in my schedule. I discovered with delight that the only espresso worth drinking on this side of the Atlantic is sold a mere twenty paces from my doorstep. I practiced hip-hop at the Harbour Dance Centre and did squats on the beach. I took my artist on solitary photo walks through luminous gardens and seedy alleys alike, learning how to see nothing but the present moment. I wept through subtitled movies at the Cinematheque and laughed through cold-read scenes at the Actors’ Drop-in.

The roles I ended up playing on the Vancouver stage looked like nothing I could have imagined. The quirky receptionist who flirts through glass with passing corporate hotshots—that was 2006. The copywriting Bond Girl, equally comfortable at a computer keyboard or a blackjack table—2007. The eco-activist—2008. The feminist making headlines running her own theatre company—2009. The gospel singer with fake eyelashes and a lilting British accent—2010. The drunken, despairing damsel stumbling from a party towards the home of her ex-boyfriend—2011. The warrior-idealist choked to death in prison—2012. The folk musician—2013. The prophet rediscovering what it is to fall in love with God—that’s 2014. Fiction and non-fiction, these roles have shaped me.

When I compare my dreams at 21 with what my career looks like now, I see how my interests have changed over time. I never did fall in love with film, choosing to make theatre my primary medium. But gradually I moved away from that, too. This city treats theatre as a much younger sibling who has nothing interesting to contribute to the conversation. Within Vancouver’s theatrical subculture, small and tight-knit and fighting to survive, certain types of plays and certain sorts of people thrive…and others do not. Coming to terms with the contrast between my own artistic values and those I see around me, I have become convinced that my future either lies in Vancouver, or in the theatre. Not both, not at the same time.

After several years spent tiptoeing around the landmines of things I did not love—producing my own work, for example, was a refreshing escape from the dehumanizing world of auditions—I began to piece together a vocational mosaic from things I did love. Performing, writing, coaching, ideating, advocating, editing, pioneering, and promoting all take their turns in my current career as a creative professional. Year after year, I continue to eke out a living in new and surprising ways. Some of my projects are artistic, others corporate, still others a happy combination of both. I align myself with colleagues who challenge and inspire me—professors, playwrights, and entrepreneurs being just a few. And I do it all on the stage of Vancouver, where the curtains first parted on my story. I’m still living in the same Gastown apartment, bookshelves crammed with masterpieces by my favourite dramatists. From time to time I wonder if my steps will wind their way back onto a traditional stage. But until then, I have plenty of fascinating roles to play.

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