Peace Country gives city dwellers insight into climate change realities faced by northern BC’s small towns

Play by SFU alumnus reflected memories of childhood innocence and bleak community futures

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Five young-adult friends sit around a small outdoor table with beers and playing cards in hand
Cast of Peace Country photographed by Sewari Campillo Photography (left to right): Sofía Rodríguez, Montserrat Videla, Sara Vickruck, Kaitlyn Yott, Garvin Chan

By: Jocelyn Stevens, SFU student

As a former northern BC small-town habitant, I was intrigued by the concept of Peace Country and pleasantly surprised at the emotional impact and relatability of the play. Written and directed by SFU alumnus Pedro Chamale, Peace Country expresses the clash of narratives he encountered from being born and raised in Chetwynd, BC. The play was a Rice and Beans Theatre production and was presented by the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts from April 27–30. I was thoroughly amazed at how well the play portrayed northern BC and the challenges that come with living there. 

Chamale was inspired by reflections on his youth and his family’s experiences in the Peace Region as Latinx people. Pushing for sociopolitical change, the play follows five friends and their growth in the Peace Region. Peace Country brings up the challenges that come with trying to make it in a small town, from being belittled by urban Canadian cities to trying to make ends meet, all in the midst of a changing climate.

I was glad to see a meaningful land acknowledgement and welcome done by Quelemia Sparrow before beginning the play. Along with this, the performers and stories represented a wide range of marginalized communities — such as queer and BIPOC folks. The play centres on the lives of  two sisters (Sofía Rodríguez and Montserrat Videla) and their friends (Sara Vickruck, Garvin Chan, and Kaitlyn Yott). In spite of their differences, the five friends become close and endure hardships together such as loss, racism, and homophobia. The play flashes back between the past and present where they find themselves having to navigate the return of one of their friends, now a newly elected MP of a green party.

The play touched on some of the hard realities many people face. Some examples of these include: local coffee shops unable to stay open with big-name brands taking customers, sudden increases and decreases in population due to the pipeline, and Indigenous communities still not being included in conversations around environmental change. 

During my interview with Chamale, I asked him what ultimately led him to create Peace Country. He realized that the catastrophic effects of climate change were already happening in northern BC at a much greater scale than in urban centres.

“I started researching climate change and the climate crisis that we’re in right now [ . . . ] and then realizing that a lot of my friends and family are dependent on those resource industries,” said Chamale. “We, the world, need everything to change so that we can stop this climate crisis or try to mitigate it if we’re not already too far.”

When asked about the conflict between climate emergency and jobs in northern BC, Chamale discussed the need for sustainable solutions that take care of people in the industries up north as well.

“It’s the larger corporations that have not cared for people because of capitalistic profits and the capitalism we live in.” He continued, “We are subject to that system and so how do we talk across these differences that are just radicalizing so many people?”

Peace Country captured what seemed like positive and innocent moments as children growing up with friends, going back and forth between past and present, which left me curious about what kind of scene was coming next. The transition between scenes starkly contrasted this positive energy with eerie and heavy breathing — as if to make the audience members uncomfortable. I saw the contrast between scenes and transitions as the simultaneity of everyday life and the climate crisis. 

I was emotionally struck by the personal stories of the characters, especially the solo monologue by Melissa (Sara Vickruck), where they spoke on the hardships of being the only openly queer person in a small town. They touched on the loneliness and lack of support available to LGBTQ2S+ people coming into their identities. This resonated with me and my friends because we left our small town due to the same struggles and ultimately found acceptance in urban cities.

Chamale hopes audience members will feel inspired to pursue political action such as writing to their members of parliament or attending rallies. 

“Ask for these just transitions, ask for actual courage in our politicians to make actual change.” He added, “Provide for the people who need to switch out of those industries, not just drop them like dead weight.”

This play was supported by Playwrights Theatre Centre and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. To find out more about Peace Country presented by Rice and Beans Theatre, check out their Instagram or website. To keep up on Pedro Chamale’s work, follow him on Instagram.