‘Leila’s Girlfriends’ will perform Friday, March 6 at 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Alexander Centre in celebration of International Women’s Day
By Jenny Vásquez
Growing up in Mexico City, Edith Chavez remembers frequenting a coffee shop where people would gather together to tell stories. Always a spectator, she had dreamed of one day joining them as a storyteller.
She practiced by telling stories to those close to her. “I like making people laugh [by talking] about my adventures,” she says. “I just tell stories to friends and family, and usually I make them laugh.”
It wasn’t until Chavez joined a storytelling workshop at the Immigrant Women’s Centre that her dream came true. Now she and a group of local women have teamed up with actor and playwright Izad Etemadi to present an International Women’s Day live performance, ‘Leila’s Girlfriends.’
At the event, they will be sharing true stories of their own experiences, alongside Etemadi’s acting.
“We are going to showcase strong and powerful women navigating their way,” explains Etemadi. Topics in the show include everything from the immigration system to relationships and house fires. A primary focus will be on getting through culture shock in Canada.
“Our focus is taking these stories and making them entertaining and theatrical.”
“All these women have such incredible stories and powerful voices and they need to be heard by people,” he says, hoping guests will be inspired by the women to share their own stories.
In preparation for the performance, Etemadi has held storytelling workshops with women at the Immigrant Women’s Centre, where they gather twice a month to develop and improve their skills. They have been meeting since November.
“Our focus is taking these stories and making them entertaining and theatrical,” says Etemadi. The women have been exploring and playing with different ways to tell their stories through their words and their bodies, he continues.
When Ankita Srivastav first heard about the storytelling workshop, she had just moved to Canada. “I thought it could help me make friends, keep myself busy. It sounded like a fun thing to be a part of,” she says.
She now realizes the workshop has helped her to go outside of her comfort zone and redefine herself. She hopes the performance will reach out to other women like her and inspire them to realize that they “have the power to do things for themselves.”
For Chavez, the workshop has definitely increased her confidence in storytelling. Now, she’s considering taking up acting classes as a hobby. But it doesn’t stop there. She will also be telling her story titled ‘How I Survived Mexico City’ at the next Steel City Stories’ event on March 7.
What can we expect to see in ‘Leila’s Girlfriends’? “We have stories from Mexico, India, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, and Canada,” says Etemadi. “You can expect to see heart-wrenching, hilarious, and haunting stories told by real human beings.”
The International Women’s Day inspired show will be performed one-time only at the Lincoln Alexander Centre (160 King St E) on March 6 at 7 p.m. Admission will be by donation, with a suggested donation of $10.
Jenny Vásquez is on the Board of Directors for the Hamilton Fringe Festival and chair of the Volunteer Engagement Committee. She recently completed her Social Service Worker diploma at George Brown in Toronto.