Donna Spencer shares some thoughts on Re-Visioning An Enemy of the People in the Firehall’s new production of THE ENEMY.

Question:  Why did you choose to adapt Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People? 

There were many themes within Ibsen’s 1882 play  I felt were important and worthy of exploring in 2018 and in the review of many translations as well as Arthur Miller’s 1950 adaptation, I chose those that I felt would resonate in today’s world.  I did not choose to explore the male Dr. Stockman’s sexism, egotism and arrogance within the script as I felt that those truths have and are being recognized on a daily basis and exhibited by those in politics and in populist media.  Sexism, arrogance and egotism is out there in all aspects of society and frankly, I felt in writing the work that it is old and somewhat tired news that just keeps on and on so why focus on that.  What did intrigue me about the work was the discussion of individual voice, power, majority rights and water contamination.  And, I wanted to look at those elements through the lens of a female Dr. Stockman.

Question:    Why do you call the play The Enemy?

I felt it was important not to call the play An Enemy of the People because I did not want audiences to think they were coming to Ibsen’s play.   I wanted them to understand that I had drawn on Ibsen’s original work as a catalyst to create a new work that would stimulate discussion about the themes of the work.

Question:   Why a female Dr. Stockman?   Why not?

At the time the play was written, women did not have the vote and were considered to be chattels of their husbands and the doors were pretty much closed to women who might have wanted to become doctors. Today, thankfully, we have moved forward and women have moved into the fields of medicine and science.  In the case of the practice of family medicine in smaller communities, a large majority of those in practice are indeed female.  Further, I wanted to explore how a female doctor’s credibility would be put in question, when she did bring forward scientific findings.  And as, many female activists and political leaders have found,   when they speak passionately, or show emotion, they are often called to question.  In The Enemy, Dr. Stockman is reminded to stay calm, referred to as being crazy and high-strung as she argues for the truth of her scientific findings to be taken seriously.

In addition, we have wonderful strong female actors in Vancouver and they do not get the opportunity that often to play really meaty roles.  So I wanted to increase opportunities for female artists while making sure that we do not continue the assumption that all decision makers in small communities would be men.  Four members of the cast of nine are women and in future productions there are certainly other roles that could be played by men.

Question:   You drew on the original names of the characters in Ibsen’s play – did you ever consider changing them?

Yes, I did, indeed consider that and have changed the names slightly.  This work was stimulated by Mr. Ibsen’s original play, and I felt that it was important to honour the characters he created in some manner so we have Mayor Stockman not Mayor Stockmann;   Martin Kell instead of Morten Keil, etc. etc.

The Enemy plays November 10 – December 1. Visit our online box office or call us at 604-689-0926 for tickets today!



2018-2019 Season Announcement

The Firehall is thrilled to announce our coming season!

Save big by purchasing a  Pass! 

Bringing forward themes of multiculturalism and environmental issues, we open our stage to new and exciting productions such as Action at a Distance’s Never Still and THE ENEMY – a contemporary adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

Watch for the return of the critically acclaimed musical CIRCLE GAMEReimagining the music of Joni Mitchell and the always popular BC Buds Festival.

Not to be missed are Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre production of The Good Bride; from Montreal, The Tashme Project; Fringe Festival hit Arosh Irani’s Bombay Black; Ruby Slippers production of Marine Life, The Biting School’s Cain and Abel and Touchstone Theatre’s production of Kill Me Now.

Coming to our stage is also Solstice Greetings, an evening of seasonal stories and songs from many cultures and many experiences celebrating the return of the light. Closing the season, we have Gold Mountain – Turtle Island, a Firehall production telling the love story set in the early fifties between a young First Nation’s woman and a Chinese cafe worker set on the North Coast and in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Check below for all the dates!

Passes are already available through our website and through the phone at 604.689.0926


September 26-29th

Action at a Distance/Vanessa Goodman

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Inspired by the inherent conflicts and dichotomies of water, this graceful and highly physical new dance work explores social, environmental and biological themes.


October 3-6th

The Biting School/ Aryo & Arash Khakpour

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Two artistic brothers explore the themes and conflicts within this legendary story. Brotherly love or?


October 13-27th

Written by Brad Fraser

A Touchstone Theatre Production

Jake is a single dad and cares for his teen son, Joey, who has a severe disability. When Jake develops a serious medical condition he becomes the one to rely on the people around him. Touchstone Artistic Director, Roy Surette directs this frank, fearless and ferociously funny play.


November 10-Dec 1st

Adapted by Donna Spencer

A Firehall Arts Centre Production

In this contemporary interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, a female Dr. Stockman discovers contamination in the community’s water source and is branded an enemy and accused of destroying the local economy. Economic benefits vs. Community health and well-being. Who is the enemy?


Dec 5-15th

By Anosh Irani

A Firehall Arts Centre presentation

Directed and Produced by Rohit Chokhani

The lives of an Indian exotic dancer and her embittered mother are altered when a blind stranger visits them. Poetic, mythic, funny and brave this searing play is set in the bitter reality of India and wowed audiences at the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival winning a Pick of the Fringe Award.


Dec 20-22nd

A Firehall Arts Centre production

An evening of seasonal stories and songs from many cultures and many experiences celebrating the return of the light.

CIRCLE GAME: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell

January 12-Feb 9th

Co-directed and co-created by Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman

This powerful interpretation of Joni Mitchell music returns to the Firehall stage. “The freshness and artistry of Circle Game completely won me over” Jerry Wasserman, Vancouver Sun.


February 27-March 9th

Written by Rosemary Rowe

An Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre production

Directed by Donna Spencer

Starring: Marisa Emma Smith

Every day from 3pm to midnight, 15 year old Maranatha puts on her wedding dress and hopes that today her 28 year old groom will come to claim her. Winner of Edmonton Sterling Award for “Outstanding New Play”, The Good Bride, is a provocative, funny and strangely unnerving nuanced exploration of faith in the context of religious fundamentalism.


March 15-23rd

Written by Rosa Laborde

A Ruby Slippers Theatre production in association with The Firehall Arts Centre

Directed by Ruby Slippers’ Artistic Director Diane Brown, this play tells the story of an environmental activist who falls in love with her opposite while her co-dependent brother spirals into chaotic self-destruction. Incorporating magic realism, live music and crackling wit, Marine Life is a dark romantic comedy that cleverly links our lack of skills around human intimacy with our inability to care for our plane

THE TASHME PROJECT: The Living Archive

April 3-13th

A verbatim theatre project created by Julie Tamiko Manning and Matt Miwa

Created from interviews with thirty Nisei or second generation Japanese Canadians this play traces the history of the Nisei through childhood, internment and post-WWII resettlement east of the Rockies. Memories of adventure and play are presented in sharp relief to the common internment narratives of hardship and injustice.

BC Buds – Firehall’s Spring Arts Fair

April 24-27th

Back by popular demand BC Buds will showcase new play readings, choreographies and more from emerging and established theatre and dance artists.


May 1-4th

A Firehall workshop production

A musical love story set in the early fifties between a young First Nation’s woman and a Chinese cafe worker set on the North Coast and in Vancouver’s Chinatown.


Get a pass here!




January 2018 Ovation Awards

The Firehall had a good evening on the 28th of January at the 14th Annual Ovation Awards, where we won Outstanding Production – Professional, and Outstanding Music Direction.  As well, we had nominations for Outstanding New Work, Outstanding Set Design, and Outstanding Lighting Design.  Thank you to our wonderful team and fans for making this possible!

Outstanding Production – Professional
Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell, A Firehall Arts Centre Production

Outstanding Music Direction
Andrew Cohen, Circle Game – A Firehall Arts Centre Production

Outstanding New Work
Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell. Created by Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman Inspired by the songs of Joni Mitchell A Firehall Arts Centre Production.

Outstanding Set Design
Carolyn Rapanos, Circle Game – Firehall Arts Centre

Outstanding Lighting Design
Ian Schimpf, Circle Game – Firehall Arts Centre



BrokenLeg Review of SHIT

SHIT is DTES grit : large & ugly & poetic

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes
& the human voice & people gathered together.
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : It is said that anger stems from fear and fear ultimately leads to hate. If that is the case, then the three principal women prison inmates of Oz playwright Patricia Cornelius’s play SHIT are soul-deep in fear. Because they hate. And hate big. But not only.

With few if any of the occasional soft sidebars offered up by the t.v. magnet-show Orange Is the New Black, Firehall’s pre-show publicity puts what SHIT is about so bluntly I couldn’t improve on it if I tried :

“What about women with foul mouths and weathered faces? What about women who spit, fight, swear, hurt and steal? What do they have to say?…Watch in uncomfortable awe as angry, unrelenting, terrifying, damaged women discuss fist fights, foster care, babies, their moms, crying, and what it’s like to believe in absolutely nothing.”
Samantha (Yoshié Bancroft), Billie (Kayla Deorksen) and Bobbie (Sharon Crandall) are tough uncompromising foster care & group home grads who’ve landed in prison together after committing a vicious assault. As the play title suggests, they give not much of a shit for anyone or anything, except each other perhaps.

How it’s all put together : Meet 20-somethings Billie, Bobbie and Sam. Not only are they from the gender repressive patriarchy that for centuries has wanted to “keep women in their place”. They are also victims of their own parents’ neglect, serial foster care placements and group homes. They have suffered a general banishment into a seething under-underclass realm where personal survival drives them deeper into desperation and despair.

Together they are in prison now after swarming a girl passing by who  “was in the wrong place at the wrong time”, they claim. The parallels with the Reena Virk tragedy in B.C. are immense. In lock-up the women swap their personal verbal “herstories” as victims while kicking about Oz’s foster care system. Like pack dogs that circle and taunt their challengers, they do so in endless attack mode via a stream of abuse, vulgarity, violent outburts and sexual innuendo that screech both in the ear and the heart.

It is not, however, naturalism. It is reality-based but unreal. Imagined. Dramatized. Poeticized. Choral. Choreographed. Starting with Scene 1 that in just 8-10 minutes produced (I attempted to count them) some 79 repetitious shouts of the word “Fuck!” — usually as a verb but also as noun, adjective, adverb and the plain ordinary hoarse and hoary expletive which is how most of us use it.

What the show brings to the stage :  Director Donna Spencer quotes playwright Cornelius : “I never want to write a moment in a play where a woman succumbs to coquettishness or is sexualized in any way, or has to be grateful or apologetic, or is there to serve some male protagonist. For women, being grateful all the time is exhausting.”

No question the sexploitation they’ve suffered is huge. Samantha at 15 was hustling truckers just for kicks but now pines to have a baby : “If you have a baby, you just haveto love them!” she says to taunts from her buddies. For her part Bobbie hates her body and all its “bits”, none of which are “me”, she says. She imagines herself a man in woman’s flesh until her pals disrobe her, lit.-&-fig.

Each of these bitter scared souls cries out to be saved. They conjure an imagined totem — Caitlin they call her — a mother-figure who might, as Billie says, “pick me up and carry me off somewhere, someone who gives a shit, someone who says ‘You mean something to me…’.” Still, she says, she can’t cry. “I don’t feel pain,” she protests in a lie about as big as her phantasy St. Caitlin.

Production values that shine : To appreciate SHIT, I think, viewers have to suppress all urges to literal-ness with this script. Its cadences are what drive it. It must be heard, like a poetry jam or rap or choral duets and choruses sans music. One Oz reviewer pointed to 19th century romantic American poet Walt Whitman’s magnum opus called Song of Myself. Nudged in the direction of Stanza 52, I consulted it.

That reviewer didn’t mention it, but I found Verse 2 compelling. It seems to sum up Cornelius’s script and her characters perfectly: “I too am not a bit tamed — I too am untranslatable / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Billie the most of the three propels her “barbaric yawp” irrepressibly, relentlessly, even when she does push-ups on the jail floor or kisses Samantha and tells her she loves her.

Set designer Conor Moore has produced a series of three side-by-side jailhouse cages that work effectively especially with lighting designer Kyla Gardiner’s consequential shadow spots and overlights. This jail ain’t no SPCA shelter : the cats flurry about hissing relentlessly at the echoing footfalls of the guards, at each other, at what life has dished out for them.

Acting pin-spots : These three as blocked and choreographed and vocally directed by Donna Spencer are utterly in sync with Patricia Cornelius’s script. They are a chorus of solo spirit dancers looking, each one, for that evasive and elusive talisman of hope that will liberate them from their core misery and anger.

Of the three the bitterest and hardest and crudest and toughest was without doubt the character Billie. Kayla Deorksen’s portrayal was completely captivating and compelling. But hard to repress a tear at Yoshie Bancroft’s wanting, wanting, wanting — a duvet, a comfy bedroom, a baby. And Sharon Crandall’s abject pain at her gender, her body, her personal entrapment was wholly engaging.

Who gonna like : All readers by now should probably know, intuitively, if they are one “who gonna like” this intense, in-your-face, profane, challenging, irreverent shout-out of pain & suffering & abuse.

Exiting Firehall we encountered a DTES resident shouting wildly at various demons and threats. The shouting was a man’s but could easily have been one of any gender who’s suffered life’s deprivation and loss and want in our otherwise comfy and smug 1st world. When Billie heard herself referred to as one of life’s Forsaken! by social workers, her reply was simple and straightforward : Fuck them!

If any or all of this strikes an Amen! chord with you, you will go see SHIT and learn some shit, no question. Dramatically. Poetically. Viscerally. I would go again in a heartbeat.

Particulars :  Produced by Firehall Arts Centre.  On until February 10th.  At the Firehall Arts Centre @ Gore and Cordova.  Tickets & schedule information via 604.689.0926 or www.firehallartscentre.ca.

Production crew : Director Donna Spencer (Artistic Producer of Firehall Theatre).  Set Designer Conor Moore.  Lighting Designer Kyla Gardiner.  Stage Manager Susan D. Currie.  Fight Co-Ordinator Sylvie La Riviera.
Performers : Yoshié Bancroft (Sam).  Sharon Crandall (Bobbie).  Kayla Deorksen (Billie).

Link to the review:





Rebel playwright Patricia Cornelius gets into deep SHIT

With this hard-edged work, she’s created the kind of angry, underclass female characters we never see on-stage

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  • In SHIT, Yoshié Bancroft, Kayla Deorksen, and Sharon Crandall (from left) play tough women facing misogyny and maltreatment.

Patricia Cornelius, the grande dame of rebel playwrights in Australia, is on the line from Adelaide, and we’re discussing the word shit.

It’s the name of her play that will make its Canadian debut here at the Firehall Arts Centre. And it’s also a word that’s been flying all over the airwaves. Thanks to President Donald Trump’s infamous “shithole” slur, even television’s most esteemed news anchors are having to say the “S word”.

Cornelius laughs at the thought of that, then recounts a story from the 2015 debut of her play SHIT at Melbourne’s Neon Festival of Independent Theatre.

“People would ring [the box office] and women in particular would say, ‘I would like tickets for S-H-I-T,’ ” she says, spelling it out and then laughing heartily. “I used to say, ‘If they can’t even say the word, how are they going to handle this play?’ ”

Actually, by all accounts it’s the F word, the C word, and several other delightfully colourful terms that show up more often in SHIT, the story of three marginalized, tough-living women who end up in prison together after a particularly brutal incident.

“I’ve grown up with the vernacular,” Cornelius says of swearing. “I find it a powerful tool—as long as I can seduce people with an almost-poetry using it.”

It’s also the language of the working class and underclass, whose members Cornelius is known for putting at centre stage. As the marketing materials for the Firehall’s rendition of the work say, “What about the women with the foul mouths and the weathered faces? What about the women who spit, fight, swear, hurt, and steal? What do they have to say?”

“It’s the voice that’s not heard enough in the theatre,” says Cornelius, a cofounder of Melbourne Workers Theatre. In mainstream work, she explains, the underclass is often sneered at or laughed at. “Well, these women aren’t to be laughed at! They’re too scary.”

The play, she explains, grew out of a workshop she did with other playwrights and actors to try to develop richer, more challenging roles for women—a topic that’s as top-of-mind Down Under as it is in the theatre scene here.

“Where are the plays where a woman can sort of take a space the way a man can?” the affable but unapologetic playwright asks. “We don’t get a chance to do that—to really take the audience by the scruff of the neck.” She delved into developing women who wouldn’t act the way society wants them to; women who were angry and disenfranchised—as she puts it, the kind of woman who makes you bury your head in a book when you see her ranting on a public bus. And then in SHIT, without any sentimentality, she unpacks the misogyny and maltreatment that has brought these people (played here by Yoshié Bancroft, Kayla Deorksen, and Sharon Crandall) to the state they’re in.

The women in SHIT are too scary to be laughed at, says Patricia Cornelius.

“Women aren’t meant to be so tough—so what the fuck did you do to them to make them so tough?” she says.

Cornelius likes middle-class theatregoers to ask themselves hard questions. But with typical honesty, Cornelius cops that tearing down sexism, classism, and institutions didn’t always come so easily for her.

“Much of my life I spent quite timid, and that absolutely has to do with class and gender,” the sexagenarian admits. “Even in theatre, it took so long to claim myself as a young playwright; I was a nervous Nelly and kind of apologetic about the plays.

“Aging is quite a good thing, and you think, ‘Ah, fuck it! I’m gonna say what I want to say.’”

Spoken like a true shit-disturber.

SHIT is at the Firehall Arts Centre from Saturday (January 27) to February 10.

Link to the article:




Autumn Update from the Firehall

Everything is connected – 35 years of theatre and dance that connects.

The Firehall has been bustling since kicking off our 2017-2018 season.  Feasting on Famine and Hyperlink have been and gone and Happy Place by Pamela Sinha just closed.  The cast and crew of Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth are into their second week of rehearsals and  True Voice Theatre Project just presented here as part of the Heart of the City festival.  We have lots of artists coming in and out for upcoming projects and our two Puppies-in-Residence, Wookie and Lou, roaming the halls.  Their humans General Manager, Susan, and Marketing and Administrative assistant, Cheyenne, also play a very important part here.  We are excited to be in our 35th season with an amazing line-up for our audiences. There is truly something for everyone.

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth, first produced at the Firehall in the ‘90’s, is the story of Janice Wirth (born Grace Wabung), who was raised by a white family in London, Ontario after being removed from her birth family’s home in Otter Lake, a First Nations reserve. Janice’s birth sister, Barb, surprises her at her home in Toronto with her boyfriend, Rodney, and his brother, Tonto.  They are there to convince Janice to come back to Otter Lake to pay her last respects to their birth mother, who has just passed on. After much convincing, Janice agrees to do so and in doing so is forced to confront her feelings of anger and resentment, as well as to seek forgiveness.

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth is a sequel to Drew Hayden Taylor’s earlier play, Someday and is set 5 months later.  In Someday, Janice/Grace comes to Otter Lake to find her birth mother, Anne, on Christmas eve, hoping to resolve some of the question she had about why she was adopted.  When she discovers that 35 years earlier she was taken from her family during the “scoop-up”, for no known reason, she runs away from this past in her confusion and pain.  “Scoop-up” is a term that has been used to describe the removal of Native children from their families during the 1950’s and 1960’s. These children were taken from their homes to be placed in adoptive homes in Canada, Europe and the U.S.A. Siblings were separated and grew up in totally different worlds from what they were born into.   Anne Wabung, Janice’s birth mother, never completely gave up hope of “someday” reuniting with her baby Grace and to her death hoped she would see her family reunited. However, this was not to be.

Drew Hayden Taylor is adamant that the two plays work independently of each other and indeed they do.  He has referred to the earlier play as the family’s and mother’s story whereas Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth is about the sisters, particularly Janice coming to terms with her experience.

In the New Year, the season will continue with The Pipeline Project, produced by ITSAZOO Productions and Savage Society in a work that asks audiences to confront the political conflicts surrounding Canada’s oil industry and the personal conflicts that arise when one considers the impact of truly ‘going green’ . The second act is a Talk Forward where audiences and guest speakers will respond to the play and talk about what we all can do to create a healthy future.  The Firehall’s production of Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius’ hard-hitting drama, SHIT, follows The Pipeline Project.  As described by Maxim Boon of Melbourne’s Limelight Magazine SHIT is “A brutal but ultimately touching portrait of femininity from the lowest dregs of the underclasses … a truly important work”.

As the leaves fall and seasons pass, the work at the Firehall continues.  But there is still time to take advantage of the great ticket prices available through season’s passes. We have seven great productions still to come!




We Surpassed our Fundraising Goal!

We are so excited to announce that we have surpassed our fundraising goal for our Matching 35th Anniversary Campaign!

Thanks to the numerous donations from our supporters and patrons, we have raised an extraordinary $36,384.

We here at the Firehall Arts Centre are so grateful to be part of such a supportive, giving community.  With your generous donations, you help to make possible our goals: to grow and nurture the success of the arts community in Vancouver, as well as provide tickets for social service organizations and subsidize performance and rehearsal space to community and professional organizations alike.

Every dollar makes a huge difference. For more information about donations and becoming a donor, click here.

On behalf of all of us here at the Firehall, thank you.