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New Studio 58 play portrays plight of refugee communities

The Refugee Hotel was inspired by events from life of director Carmen Aguirre

Elizabeth Barrett plays Flaca, a former prisoner of the Pinochet regime, in Carmen Aguirre's The Refugee Hotel Photo by Emily Cooper
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Reported by Sasha Lakic

Langara alumnus Carmen Aguirre is bringing The Refugee Hotel to Studio 58 to tell from first-hand experience what it means to be a refugee.

The dark comedy takes place in a run-down hotel in Vancouver’s West End, and follows a group of Chilean refugees, who escaped Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, as they restart their new lives in Canada.

Carmen Aguirre is the playwright and director of The Refugee Hotel
Submitted Photo

Aguirre, who stayed at one such refugee hotel on Denman Street with her family in 1974, said two events from her life inspired her to write the play.

“One [inspiration] is my uncle, who was one of the first Chilean refugees to arrive in Vancouver, and he drank himself to death in 1995,” said Aguirre. “And then in 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London, England, and was charged with crimes against humanity.”

A history lesson for students and staff

Kathryn Shaw, artistic director of Studio 58, approached Aguirre to direct The Refugee Hotel at Langara after she read the play again and noticed similarities in current domestic politics.

“I have had the play in my sights for many years,” said Shaw in an emailed statement. “And it came to mind again when the Syrian refugee crisis and Canada’s acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees was front and centre in the news.”

Elizabeth Barrett, who plays the lead role of mother and former government prisoner, Flaca, said the play has been very eye-opening for the cast, none of whom is from Latin America.

“I think it’s a wonderful history lesson and an important story to tell,” said Barrett of the play’s themes. “The more education we have, the more we can avoid situations like this in the future.”

The play, The Refugee Hotel runs from March 23 to April 9.

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