“Our Lives: Voices of Westview Centre4Women” opened this November with two evening performances portraying the struggles, barriers, and victories of the women who access the Centre4Women community hub and resource centre in St. Catharines, Ont. The play was written and directed by Sonya Vanderveen Feddema, a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church, in collaboration with the cast and center staff Jane LaVacca and Erika Klassen.
The production, which came from a desire to see the women come out from under stereotypes, was funded by a grant from the Niagara Prosperity Initiative.
“My purpose in starting this was to be cathartic for the women,” said LaVacca, the center’s program director. “The women get frustrated because people think our barriers are laziness or addictions, but sometimes life deals you crap. I wanted them to act out how they felt.”
After applying for funding to create such a performance, LaVacca began collecting material for the eventual script by way of a survey of the women. In the midst of this, she met Vanderveen Feddema, already a friend of Klassen, and learned that she was a writer. “Sonya said to call her if I needed her help,” said LaVacca. “I just had faith that it would come together.”
By spring, the center had the resources to fund the production, so they got started. “I received the [anonymous] questionnaires; poetry that the women wrote; learned about the two songs that the women wanted to sing; and received letters that had been written . . . and I incorporated it all into the drama,” Vanderveen Feddema said. “It’s been an incredible privilege to listen in on their lives.”
While the play tells the stories of women who visit the center, it also details the services offered there. Jackie Conway plays an ambassador in the performance, approaching each actor portraying a difficult situation and laying out how the center could help.
“It’s basically my own experience,” Conway said. “I’ve been coming here six years, and the more you come, the more you get involved.” She wrote the introductory lines to the play, including: “You can tell all there is to know to that next lonely woman with no place to go.”
Westview Centre4Women began nine years ago as a weekly morning drop-in program and has grown to offer its members meals, friendship, training, and many other services.