Could we do it? Can a theatre community of thousands support one...

Could we do it? Can a theatre community of thousands support one Syrian refuge family?



Through social media I’m fortunate to be connected with many artists across Toronto and the country. We share posts day after day expounding various theories, opinions, likes and dislikes, often burning hours of our time reading reviews, open letters, and other discussion around arts, culture, and politics. When I heard about a new initiative called LIFE LINE SYRIA, a citizen-led initiative to sponsor families from Syria to resettle in Canada, I was struck by this challenge:

Could a group of hundreds if not a thousand Toronto Theatre artists sponsor ONE family from Syria? Could we raise $25,000+? Could enough of us commit to share our time and resources to help?

For years I have wondered about the chaos that the people of Syria have endured, and how we in Canada and the rest of the world have failed them. I wondered how a country like ours, built upon generations of people fleeing conflict and persecution in search of ‘a better life’, had not done more. I wondered how our country that has thrived and can only survive on a steady stream newcomers had out fear (or even xenophobia) purposefully made it difficult for Syrians to come here.

Other countries in the region buckling under the pressure of so many displaced people and resettlement in many Northern European countries have put our efforts to shame. When Canada welcomed the “boat people” of Vietnam by the thousands a generation ago, were we inherently more compassionate? There was some resistance internally and those refuges did face racism, but that didn’t stop us from ultimately doing what was right.

Today, are we reluctant with Syrians because we might have different cultural and religious practices? Is it because they are seen as potential “security threats”? Are we so afraid and have we become so cynical that we cast judgement on an entire population? A population that is so desperate that creating social unrest and violence here in Canada is probably one of their lowest priorities.

In another time, under another regime, we might have looked to our government to deliver the services refugees need, but these are not those times. Many Syrians are looking for a chance to start over and we are 35 million Canadians who can help them.

How many fellow theatre artists, musicians, dancers, and performers must be among those displaced millions? From folk art to high art, from the fringes to concert halls, fellow artists, on the run with their friends, peers and families, unable to do what they were put on earth to do: make art.

I think about how worried I find myself these days trying to make a living as an artist, how I’m trying to feed my own family, raise money for upcoming projects, face months on the road touring, and ultimately how impossible it would be for me to help these people and how most of my friends would feel the same. We have our own struggle to deal with. Their problem is beyond our scope. That’s what I let myself think. Maybe that’s what you let yourself think as well. What if we are wrong?

Then I thought about how artists are filled with determination. How artists make something out of nothing. How artists are among the most curious and compassionate in our society. And then I thought… I bet we could do it.

Lifeline Syria suggests groups of five, a church group, for example, support a single family, to help share the burden. If that might be a challenge for only a handful of artists to take on I understand. We have hundreds who could share the burden, not just the financial one, but also the personal and emotional aspects. As a community we have a diverse pool of skills and talents to lend to this effort. Perhaps a much larger network of theatre artists under the leadership of a handful of “point people” could work together to raise the funds and divide the time needed to make it happen.

As we celebrated The Dora Awards last night surrounded by so much talent, I hope we can find a way to help ONE family come to this city and start a new chapter, sponsored by Toronto’s theatre artists.

For more information go to . I have reached out through the website to request more information on how a group of likeminded artists could help. There is an information session in Toronto on July 22nd and I encourage everyone to go the website and talk with friends, and I will post any information in the upcoming weeks that I come across that might inspire a group to take up the challenge.

Watch this space for updates in the upcoming weeks as the whole initiative is in the formative stages but hopefully we can help Lifeline Syria and the people who need our help.





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About the Author

Raoul Bhaneja is an award winning actor, musician, writer and producer based out of Toronto, Canada and a graduate of The National Theatre School. Most recently he was twice Dora nominated for his autobiographical theatre/concert hybrid Life, Death and The Blues and premieres Disgraced in Toronto by Ayad Akhtar as part of the Off Mirvish Season in 2016.