Several venues in Vancouver and Abbotsford were taken over in 2012 by rival gangs of cool alley cats (Kutz) and junkyard dogs (Dawgs), at war in the Fair Verona Junkyard – thanks to a ground-breaking community-engaged collaborative musical theatre project that was three years in the making.
The Russian Hall in Vancouver, Matsqui Centennial Auditorium in Abbotsford, and the Vancouver International Children’s Festival at Performance Works on Granville Island were hosts to a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by way of West Side Story, as Kutz & Dawgs used hip hop, World music, and dance theatre to tell a cautionary tale with an anti-gang, anti-violence and anti-gun message. In this thought-provoking commissioned work, the young performers portrayed rivalling Kutz (alley cats) and Dawgs (junkyard dogs) in an exploration of the destructive force of gang violence.
The issue of gangs in the Lower Mainland and throughout British Columbia is complex, and defies stereotypes. Three of the biggest gangsters in the province were brothers, young men from an upper middle-class, educated family. Two were dead and the third in prison at the time of this production. Thrown into this mix was a drug trade that is territorial, sophisticated, and comes with brutal and lethal consequences.
The play was billed as suitable for ages nine and older and included a warning of “simulated violence”.
The original script was developed by a cast of culturally and socially diverse youth performers in collaboration with and under the direction of MISCELLANEOUS Productions’ team of professional artists, educators and counsellors.
Directed and co-written by MISCELLANEOUS Productions’ artistic director Elaine Carol, Kutz & Dawgs featured original music by Paul Bray, Ndidi Cascade and Cris Derkson, hip hop choreography by Dianna David, and fight choreography by David Bloom.
The design team included: costume designer Megan Leson; set & props designer Yvan Morissette, and lighting designers Adrian Muir and Ryan McCallion.
The production team included: dresser Mina Brule; make-up artist Krysten Merrick; hair stylist Jessica Stotts; assistant set designer Marchel Eang; Scenic Painter Skai Fowler; technical director Elia Kirby; assistant technical director Ryan Murcar; live sound technician Katja Schlueter; and stage managers Melanie Thompson (Children’s Festival) and Emily Griffiths (tour).
Original cast youth performers / co-writers (in order of appearance) included; Jorge Escobar; Godfrey Cheng; Silvia Leung; Jorge Alcala; Laura Contreras; Cecilia Cui; Gustavo Diaz de Leon; Marchel Eang; Astrid Herrera; Tim Mok; Chloë Macdonald-Chow; Clarita Ritchie; Rowan Sylvester; and Agnes Szenàki. Tour and full-length video cast performers included professionals Alan Pronger, Roy Dilbert Jr. Murry Peters, Tessa Trach, and Lena Dabrusin replacing original cast members who were beginning their first year in university.
Like all of MISCELLANEOUS Productions’ projects, Kutz & Dawgs sought to teach youth participants, audiences, and others in the broader community to use creative power and artistic expression to counter destructive social forces (gangs, racism, hatred, violence, poverty, addiction), change attitudes and celebrate diversity.
For more than 20 years, MISCELLANEOUS Productions has been on the frontlines, working with and for socially and culturally diverse youth, empowering them to discover their own strengths, talents and artistic potential through a cutting-edge performing arts program that assists them to acquire the skills and the self-confidence that they need to be leaders in their communities. This is the only program of its calibre in Canada.