Themes of isolation, fractured relationships, and disconnected youth took the dimly lit stage as spotlights loomed over different, yet wholly similar tales of familial hardship.
The stories, inspired by the performers’ own personal experiences were part of Letters: Thriving Through Connection, held at the Big Secret Theatre from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4. On Friday and Saturday, an audience that estimated over 100 attended both showings as each
character’s arc flourished with urban performance art: hip-hop, spoken word, b-boy, krump, and contemporary dance, to name a few.
With Letters, Connie Jakab, the artistic director of the event and co-founder of Mpact Movement, wants to emphasize the importance of social and familial connection, not only among youth in contemporary society, but with people as a whole.
“What happens to a youth when they’re left alone?” she asks.
“What happens when their families give up on them?”
The show was inspired by Jakab’s work with Mpact and Wood’s Homes, a community-owned and operated children’s health-centre.
“We were leaving an at-risk program once, and, you know, none of those kids woke up one day and wanted to be at risk. Their parents never wanted that either,” Jakab says. Through Letters, she wants to address the apparent disconnect.
The usage of hip-hop and dance play a large role as Jakab says both are community-oriented cultures and are strongly identifiable with youth and minorities. And while Letters isn’t representative of the culture itself, one of the performers, an emcee named Ryan “Rubix” De Guzman, 25, says it’s more about the message.
“The culture itself was for those who didn’t fit in,” he says.
“A lot of these kids don’t have a creative outlet: they get bullied, there’s negative energy at home, and they don’t know where to direct that energy—and that leads to further bullying or suicide.
“What hip-hop does,” he says, “is that it welcomes these people and it shows them that if they [were interested and took part in it], they’re welcome.” On a surface level, misconceptions arise regarding the prevalence of hip-hop culture within mainstream media: money, women, and drugs. De Guzman clarifies misconceptions will always exist within all subcultures.
“[Through mainstream representations of hip-hop] you don’t see the culture, you don’t really see the grassroots of it—mcee’ing, breakdancing, DJ’ing.
“You don’t see how they all intertwine because [what’s shown] is all superficial things,” he says.
“So, when people see that on TV, or on the Internet, they think that’s what it is, but they don’t really understand that hip-hop is a culture that helps people thrive, it helps people grow.” “It’s given me a voice. It’s given me confidence,” he says. “It’s given me a way to take care of myself physically through dancing; it’s given me a community that supports me.
“It’s given me an identity.”