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Playwright disappointed, empathetic as B.C. play pulled due to Gaza tension

Time not right to stage The Runner, says Victoria’s Belfry Theatre
Belfry Theatre is shown in Victoria on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. Local tensions connected to the ongoing Middle East war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has prompted a Victoria, B.C., theatre company to cancel the scheduled run of a play exploring potentially controversial themes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner

The playwright and actor in a play cancelled by Victoria’s Belfry Theatre over potential local tensions linked to the war between Israel and Hamas says he’s disappointed, but empathizes with the situation facing the venue.

Christopher Morris said in a statement Wednesday he’s saddened people in Victoria will not have the opportunity to gather in a theatre and share their grief and hope through his play, “The Runner.”

“As a playwright who values the role of theatre as a platform to explore ideas about the complexities of life, I was disappointed to learn that The Belfry removed ‘The Runner’ from its programming,” said Morris.

He said he understands the theatre faces a challenging situation by staging a production that explores difficult themes.

“I am saddened that people in Victoria, especially those with very divergent views and those traumatized by the atrocities in Israel and Gaza will be denied the opportunity to come together in a theatre to explore their common humanity, share their grief and perhaps discover a flicker of solace and hope,” Morris said.

The statement said Morris was not available for an interview.

The Belfry Theatre said in a statement that local tensions connected to the Middle East war in Gaza prompted the company to cancel the scheduled run of play, which is set in Israel.

The timing isn’t right to stage “The Runner” by Morris, a Canadian writer and actor, said the theatre.

Morris’s one-person play, which had been scheduled as part of a festival in March, explores the reactions to an Israeli rescue volunteer’s decision to save a Palestinian woman accused of violence against a soldier from Israel.

The theatre said it booked the play last year to present a contemporary work that could spur discussion, but after a period of difficult consideration the production has been cancelled.

“The Belfry Theatre presents contemporary work, with ideas that often generate dialogue,” said the statement. “That is why, a year ago, we decided to bring the much-acclaimed play, ‘The Runner’, to Victoria. However, we believe that presenting ‘The Runner’ at this particular time does not ensure the well-being of all segments of our community.”

The theatre received duelling petitions in recent weeks, alternately calling for the play’s cancellation and continued performance at The Belfry, which was spray-painted with graffiti that read “Free Palestine” last month.

“Given the current conflict in the Middle East, this is not the time for a play which may further tensions among our community,” said the statement. “We will therefore not be presenting ‘The Runner’ during the 2024 SPARK Festival. This has not been an easy decision, and we are grateful to our community for sharing various perspectives which added to our understanding.”

Belfry officials were not immediately available for further comment Wednesday.

Morris said since the play’s premiere in 2018, it has been staged in six cities, receiving awards and critical acclaim.

“I am humbled that theatre companies have produced this play, which is a nuanced and thoughtful conversation about the preciousness of human life,” he said. “I am deeply traumatized and saddened by humankind’s capacity to wage war. As a Canadian I want our politicians to do all they can to make the violence in Gaza and Israel stop.”

Morris said he remains hopeful theatre companies and playwrights will continue doing all they can to give audiences opportunities for dialogue.

“I believe ‘The Runner’ is an excellent opportunity for those things to happen,” he said.

Morris said “The Runner” is scheduled to play next month in Vancouver as part of the Push Festival.

The festival schedule has “The Runner” appearing Jan. 24 to 26 at the SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Performing Arts.

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