by Lynn on March 13, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Recently the media has been full of horror stories of the plight of care-givers from the Philippines and the Live-in Caregiver Program that organizes their employment in Canada. A new play called FUTURE FOLK examines this troubling subject. Our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin was at the opening last night and is here to tell us about it.

Hello Lynn. Briefly tell us about the story of FUTURE FOLK.

It’s the creation of the Sulong Theatre Collective — three actresses who are in the play and their composer. We are given an overview of the Live-in Caregiver Program which arranges for Filipino women caregivers to leave their Families to come to Canada to Work for at least two years. At the end of which it is hoped they can become landed immigrants and bring their families here. The caregivers send money home to help pay for their family’s expenses. From the caregiver’s point of view there are vignettes about their treatment. Sometimes they are forced to work long hours without a day off, do jobs they were not originally expected to do, some endure sexual harassment. All this seemingly without recourse or a voice to protest because they fear they will be deported.

One thinks of the Ruby Dalla case last year in which the nanny employed by the family protested her long working hours, having to do inappropriate jobs and having to give up her passport.. Has this informed the story?

Not directly because this show has been two years in the making. But there are certainly echoes of that situation with the mention of the caregiver having to do jobs seemingly not part of their contract — shoveling snow, walking dogs/pets.

If anything I think the inspiration was the woman who applied for citizenship and was refused because she was sick with cancer. Efforts were being made to deport her. In the play she got her citizenship but eventually died here. The background information of the Sulong Theatre Collective cites perceptions that the Filipino caregiver is viewed with contempt and not empathy. The troubling aspects of the treatment of some caregiver’s certainly informs the play.

How does the production bring these stories to life?

The three actresses of the collective: Karen Ancheta, Aura Carcueva and Catherine Hernandez, use traditional dance, song, eloquent dialogue and mime to tell these stories. With just a swath of material and wonderful imagination, that material becomes a baby, a sheet, laundry and clothing.

It’s a production of shattering images and ones that are touching. In one shattering scene a caregiver is sexually abused and tries to fight off her abuser -— the husband of the couple employing her. As for the most moving instances — most of the time the three actresses fashion the material and hold it in their arms. hese are the babies these women care for, with tenderness, compassion and total devotion.

All three actresses bring their characters to life with nuance, subtlety, variation and spareness. I love the simple efficiency in telling these troubling stories.

Troubling stories indeed. Does the production work?

Partially. Kudos to The Sulong Theatre Collective for bringing these stories to the stage so eloquently.

My concern is that all the stories concern mistreatment with no variation. Are there no happy experiences to balance the bad stories? I find that hard to believe.

I get the troubling feeling that the Collective assumes that Canadians perceive Filipino caregivers with contempt and not respect. Are they assuming we and the lousy employers are one and the same? I think that’s a blinkered perception and does damage to this show.

If there are no positive stories then why would anyone want Canadian citizenship here. I appreciate this important story and the efforts the Sulong Theatre Collective has taken to tell it. Now they need to revisit it and tell it with as much power but with a more balanced, fair assessment.

FUTURE FOLK plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Back Space until March 13.