Vancouver theatre follows Victoria and cancels Israel-set play, after promising to show it

Vancouver theatre follows Victoria and cancels Israel-set play, after promising to show it
Playwright Christopher Morris performs during a production of his play,

A one-man play about an Israeli volunteer that was set to be shown in Vancouver – after being cancelled in Victoria – has been pulled from its Vancouver tour dates as well.

The play, called The Runner, was originally set to run at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre in March as part of the local SPARK Festival.

However, the play – which is about an Israeli volunteer named Jacob who saves a Palestinian woman and faces criticism for it – was the subject of a rally calling for it to be cancelled back in December.

Two petitions were also launched, with one calling for the play to be removed from the Belfry, and the other calling for it to continue.

On Jan. 2, the theatre announced it would not be staging the play.

READ MORE: Mixed reactions after Victoria’s Belfry Theatre cancels controversial play

That same day, the PuSh Festival in Vancouver said it was still planning on showing the play, with organizers saying they hoped it would “inspire us to have complex and nuanced conversations; to challenge ourselves and each other not only to think differently, but to feel differently.”

However, on Thursday, the PuSh Festival said it was not going to show the play, in a joint statement with Christopher Morris, the man who wrote the play, and Basel Zaraa, another playwright whose production, Dear Laila – the story of Palestinians fleeing their country – is also playing at the festival.

“We have heard those who call to cancel The Runner, feeling it is a work that perpetuates the oppression of Palestinian people,” reads part of the statement.

“We have heard the call to present it by those who feel the work provides an empathetic, and fundamentally humanist perspective.”

Ultimately though, PuSh festival organizers say they are planning to honour the perspective of Zaraa and not show The Runner, since Zaraa’s play is based on lived experience, while Morris’ is based on research, but no religious or cultural ties to the region.

“This difficult decision comes after weeks of making significant effort to honour our commitment to Human Cargo and Christopher Morris, whose artistry we deeply respect,” said organizers.

“We will fulfill all financial commitments with them. At the same time, we believe it is a necessary choice to prioritize the work of an artist whose perspective is grossly underrepresented in Canadian theatre and performance culture,” said organizers.

Morris says he’s sad to see his play being removed, but fully supports Zaraa’s show, Dear Laila, and is glad that it will be viewed.

“It’s unsettling when Canadian theatres cannot be a space for the public to engage in a dynamic exchange of ideas,” part of his statement reads.

“I believe theatre must be a place where contrasting perspectives are programmed and celebrated. Now more than ever, we need to listen to each other, engage in different viewpoints, and find our shared humanity.”

The full joint statement can be read on the PuSh Festival website.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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