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Chetwynd-born playwright reflects on resource economies, climate change in new production

Chetwynd-born playwright Pedro Chamale released a new play this week in Vancouver.
Pedro Chamale - headshot
Born and raised in Chetwynd, playwright Pedro Chamale is hoping to spark a conversation about the impacts to real people depending on resource industries in the wake of climate change. (Supplied)

Chetwynd-born resident and playwright Pedro Chamale debuted a new play in Vancouver this week based on his experiences growing up in Northeast B.C.

Titled Peace Country, the play is a reflection of what’s like to live in a resource industry dependent region, in a time when countries are being urged to go green and move away from industries like oil and gas to address climate change issues.

Resource towns are often vilified when the topic of climate change comes up, and Chamale knows northerners rely on industry to eke out their living. 

“The play is about our need to transition away from harmful industries that have historically been harmful to the planet, but knowing that there are real people who are in need of those industries, and need jobs, need to pay for their mortgages, need to pay for their kids, feed themselves,” he said. “We need governments to actually provide ways out, if they’re planning to commit to transitioning in a just way.”

Chamale is the first generation son of a Guatemalan refugee, and worked in industry himself to pay for his post-secondary degree in the arts. His father worked in the coal mines in Tumbler Ridge. Many people aren’t financially able to leave hard industry jobs behind, he said.

“Industry was the only way I was able to pay for school," he said. "My family comes from quite a working class, lower class bracket, and to pay for my degree I had to work at the saw mill, I tarred roads, I worked in a coal mine for a little bit. Every summer I would work maintenance for School District 59."

Chamale says the plot of his play focuses on a fictional MLA tasked with bringing restrictive climate change policy to the north, and explaining to their constituents why greener alternatives are needed to save the planet. The characters are based on people and his memories of living in Chetwynd from the mid-90s to the early 2000s.

Chamale says he’s seen friends and their families move town to town in the boom-and-bust of resource economies. He says he hopes to spark a conversation about the disconnect between people’s need to make a living in resource economies and addressing climate change. 

“There’s no programs to ensure people can still feed their families while retraining into new industries,” he said.

The play had its opening week at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. Chamale says the reception has been positive, noting northerners living in the Lower Mainland have responded the most to it.

“We had a few folks from Williams Lake, Terrace, and clearly they live here in the Lower Mainland now, but it was great to have them in the room, because I think they really saw themselves reflected on the stage,” he said.

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.

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