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Appearing in the Studio 58 performance of The Kitchen are (left to right): Cassidy Hergott, Janavi Chawla, Kahlila Ball, and Hikari Terasawa Photo: Emily Cooper

Langara College’s student theatre reflects immigrant struggles on stage

Studio 58 refurbishes a 1957 play, striving to maintain the essence of the original script while adapting it for modern-day Vancouver

By Ashley Li , in City , on April 26, 2023

Reimagined for a modern audience, Langara College’s Studio 58 theatre program breathes new life into the classic 1957 play, The Kitchen, shedding light on the ongoing struggles of immigrants in Vancouver.

This fresh take on the play serves as a poignant reminder that, even today, the challenges faced by newcomers in a hostile environment can be overwhelming, leaving them with little hope for a brighter future.

“In the ’50s, this play was about a group of immigrants coming together and being forced to work in low-paying jobs that are in bad working environments,” said the play’s director Amiel Gladstone. “This classic old play’s theme is still relevant today, especially in Vancouver. We’re all immigrants here basically.”

The Studio 58 version of The Kitchen is set in Vancouver. Centring on immigrant workers who must navigate arduous working conditions, many in Vancouver’s diverse community could find a familiar experience in this play. The multiple languages that director Gladstone has included for this play, including Cantonese, Spanish, and Serbian, reflects the linguistic diversity of Vancouver and the need for translation in everyday life.

“Making adaptations to an old play is always a huge challenge,” said Amanda Testini, the choreographer of The Kitchen. She specifically talked about the process of how they picked a song based on the cultural background of the actress.

“There was a song that was a Greek folk song in the original version. We updated it. The actress who would sing that song is of Mexican descent, so we picked a song that was in Spanish,” said Testini.

Gladstone also made some changes on genders.

“I tried to balance the genders in this play as much as I could,” said Gladstone. “It was a hugely male-dominated cast back then, and I tried to balance it out as much as I could. We don’t need all men on stage.” 

Being performed in the newly renovated Studio 58 theatre, a unique kitchen set makes The Kitchen come to life. Sophie Tang, the set and lighting designer, said she struggled when designing the set for the play because it has to hold all 33 characters on stage at the same time.

Sophie Tang designed a Chinese-like stainless steel top with a counter for the play. Photo: Emily Cooper

“To give all 33 actors enough space to spread out, I designed a long counter in a loop shape. We call it a ‘mousetrap’.” said Tang. “This is because to get into the centre, you have to go all the way outside and loop into the inside. To come out, you have to loop backwards to get out.” 

According to Tang, this “mousetrap” is a powerful metaphor for The Kitchen.

“The shape shows the kitchen is a hopeless place, and the immigrant workers are all trapped there.”

Gladstone said that the play shows how hard it is to have dreams in places that are oppressive and negative, where there is no room for hope or a way out.

To highlight the theme, Tang made the decision to create a clean, minimalist set design that contrasts with the gritty and oppressive atmosphere of the play’s kitchen. 

“The kitchen is crowded and the cooks are sweaty and have no hope, but the set is very clean. It has very clear black and white tiles. So it forms a contrast in the way that the environment doesn’t really impact how they feel on the inside,” said Tang.

Although there have been a lot of innovations in the Studio 58 version, Gladstone has taken care to preserve the dialogue of the author, Arnold Wesker, ensuring that the essence of the play remains intact.

“So often we say that, if you have a dream and hope, it’ll be fine and your dream will come true. But, for most people, that’s not the reality of their situation. Work is hard, life is hard. And I think Arnold Wesker was trying to show that, when you have people working in these working conditions, it’s really hard for them to dream up a new life,” said Gladstone.