Vancouver Moving Theatre (VMT) is an award-winning professional multi-arts company co-founded in the Downtown Eastside (1983) by Terry Hunter (Executive Director) and Savannah Walling (Artistic Director), co-founding members of the Mime Caravan (1973-74) and the avant-garde movement collective Terminal City Dance (1975-83) which went on to became the Vancouver Dance Centre. Situated on unceded Coast Salish territories, the Downtown Eastside is made up overlapping historic districts and is home to one of Canada’s largest Indigenous “unofficial urban reserves”, the second largest historical Chinatown in North America, and to a succession of immigrant residential communities. PRODUCTION HISTORY For over fifteen years, VMT toured with drum dances and masked dance-dramas The Festival Characters, Drum Mother’s Gifts, Samarambi: Pounding of the Heart, Ab audire and Blood Music. Seasoned professionals on the festival and school touring circuits, VMT presented over 4,000 performances to over half a million spectators (North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe), Drum Dance Workshops and Integrated Performer Training. VMT has co-produced with partners: Young People’s Theatre (Luigi’s Kitchen, Hot Music/Cool Tales: The Art and Science of Sound); innovative interdisciplinary mainstage adaptations of classic literature, Bah Humbug! (2010-2020), Bharata Natyam-based Tales from the Ramayana; and award-winning and nominated The Good Person of Setzuan, Sucker Falls: A Musical about Demons of the Forest and the Soul, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. After 2000, VMT shifted focus to professionally produced, pioneering arts-based community development projects tailored with, for and about the Downtown Eastside community, and co-presented with local, regional and national partners. Highlights include the Strathcona Artist at Home Festival (1999-2004); multi-disciplinary annual flagship Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival (2004-present), a twelve day festival that features hundreds of artists and residents at over one hundred events at over forty-five venues throughout the Downtown Eastside; In the Heart of a City: The Downtown Eastside Community Play (2003), co-produced with Carnegie Community Centre, over eighty community actors performed to sold-house houses and standing ovations; the giant shadow screen production We Are All In This Together:The Shadows Project – Addiction and Recovery (2005-07); clown-based A Downtown Eastside Romeo and Juliet (2008); puppet and promenade-style The Minotaur Dreams (2011); tributes to the East End’s Black, Indigenous, Japanese, and Ukrainian communities: Spirit Rising Festival (2011), East End Blues and All That Jazz (2008-2018); Storyweaving (2012); Bread & Salt (2013); Against the Current (2015); The Big House community gatherings and cultural feasts (2010-2015); Realms of Refuge evolving gallery (2016); and the national tour of Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way (2018), in collaboration with Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners across the country. VMT’s wide-ranging activities include partnering with multiple arts and non-arts organizations including Train of Thought national tour, TRACKS: 7th Canadian Community Play Symposium (Vancouver and Enderby), Downtown Eastside Artfare Institutes leadership training in community-engaged arts; Artists in the Atrium Indigenous Art Market & Showcase; Black Strathcona interactive media project; public art installations Survivors Totem Pole (Sacred Circle Society), canoe landings with protocol (Pulling Together Canoes Society). As an associate partner, VMT has partnered on innovative productions: the chamber opera MISSING (City Opera Vancouver and Pacific Opera Victoria), teen suicide prevention play Beneath the Surface (Imagi’Nation Collective), and Inheritance: A Pick the Path Experience (Alley Theatre and Touchstone Theatre). Over its thirty-seven year history, VMT has partnered with hundreds of arts and non-arts organizations: from the Canada Project and Nordisteaterlabattorium/Odin Teatret (Denmark) to the LA Poverty Department (Los Angeles); from Jumblies Theatre + Arts and Native Earth Performing Arts (Toronto) to Théâtre Cercle Molière (Winnipeg); from Runaway Moon Theatre to the En’owkin Centre, Penticton First Nation (BC); from SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs and Full Circle First Nations Performance to Alley Theatre, Firehall Arts Centre, NeWorld Theatre, Ruby Slippers, and Touchstone Theatre; from Mandala Arts & Culture to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden and Powell Street Festival; from the Carnegie Community Centre and the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians to the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and Centre of Integration of African Immigrants; and from City Opera Vancouver to the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation (Metro Vancouver).
VMT co-productions and its directors and partners have received multiple Jessie Richardson Awards, including Outstanding Production (The Good Person of Setzuan and Crime and Punishment), Significant Achievement; Significant Achievement in Spectacle Design; Outstanding Innovative and Immersive Storytelling (Inheritance) and a nomination for Outstanding outreach and community engagement demonstrating the importance of culture, tradition, community, family and identities (Weaving Reconciliation: Our Way).
Savannah Walling was the inaugural recipient (1988) of the Halla Kaiulani Keali’inohomoku Memorial Research Choreographer-in-Residence (Cross-Cultural Dance Resources, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA).
VMT's co-production Bread & Salt was shortlisted for the 2014 Governor General’s History Awards for Excellence in Community Programming.
Vancouver Moving Theatre received the 2008 City of Vancouver Cultural Harmony Award in recognition for their significant contribution to arts, community bridge building and cultural harmony, and co-awarded the 2016 TELLUS Innovation Award (Beneath the Surface). VMT’s Terry Hunter and Savannah Walling are recipients of the 2008 British Columbia Community Achievement Award, the 2009 Vancouver Mayor’s Award – Community-Engaged Art, and the 2013 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
From the Heart of a City: Community-engaged Theatre and Music Productions from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: 2002-2013