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Heart of our city: Prince Rupert's Treena Decker takes centre stage
When all the eyes in the audience and the stage lights are pointed upon her, Prince Rupert's Treena Decker hopes to captivate the minds of people and provoke new thoughts.
"I love being onstage. I love the opportunity of moving audiences, whether it's in anger, sadness, or happiness. Just being able to take an audience on a journey that they wouldn't otherwise experience," said Treena, who was born in Kamloops and raised in Prince George by her adoptive parents Garth and Erdine Decker.
Growing up, Prince Rupert captured Treena's heart during the numerous visits her family made to the city to stay with her grandparents, but also when she spent a year in Prince Rupert while in Grade 10.
It was then that Treena had her first experience in theatre, auditioning for the high school's production of Cabaret. Even though Treena didn't land a role in the performance, she was an understudy and helped with make-up backstage.
While she may have not made it on stage, the experience ignited Treena's passion for theatre. When she returned to Prince George the following year, Treena became involved with her school's drama department and was even part of a theatre group outside of school.
After graduating, Treena took an intermission from acting. She met a man with whom she moved to Whitehorse and had her first child, Elisha.
The new family came to Prince Rupert for a "one month" visit that ended up becoming a permanent stay. After moving back to the community, the couple welcomed their second child, Evan.
"Prince Rupert has always felt like home. The sense of community has always been an amazing part of what makes Prince Rupert special," she said, noting the city was just the kind of environment she wanted to raise her children in.
Then in the mid-'90s Treena picked up where she had left off, becoming involved with Harbour Theatre. A short time later Treena was not only acting but directing plays, such as the late-'90s production Homeward Bound, which was selected as the Skeena Zone Drama Festival winner and won the best supportive actress award for B.C.
Although she has directed many plays over the years, Treena said some of her favourites have been the ones that were thought-provoking, not only for the audience but cast members as well.
This was the case with the 2005 production of The Laramie Project, a play about Matthew Shepard's death, a university student killed in a hate crime because he was gay.
"One of the things [the cast] talked about was the difference being involved in the play made for them," Treena explained, referring to some of the language cast members commonly heard at school.
"They would come to rehearsal and talk about how it's changed the way they viewed that language, and that they would address it as it was being said. Here you had this young cast that were being social activists in a lot of ways because of their involvement in that show."
Treena is also proud to have directed the community musical in 2008, Jesus Christ Superstar.
"It was nice to sit in the audience for that, because usually when I direct things I'm also stage managing or doing other tech stuff ... I remember having goosebumps because of the cast coming together, and the magic of their performance and the set and the costuming all coming together," she said.
But her proudest achievements will always be her children; both her daughter and son, and the kids she's guided on stage over the years. For more than 10 years she has worked with budding actors for the annual Udderfest Kids Camp.
"I always say I have lots of kids, they're just not mine," Treena laughed.
"Most of our sessions are about trying to encourage ideas to be generated, and then finding ways to work them in," said Treena.
"The kids are the focus. They are the ones who decide what we're doing and how we're doing it. They're in the driver's seat."
Treena said theatre is great for self-esteem, and she has enjoyed watching growth and change in the young actors she's worked with. Helping to shape youth and provide them with positive experiences is another one of Treena's passions.
Treena was very involved with the Kaien Island Youth Council both in and outside of work, has run the Haunted House at the annual Hallowe'en Fest for a number of years and facilitated the girls community kitchen known as Rupert Chicks.
Treena has volunteered whenever she could over the years, whether it be at community special events such as Canada Day, with the cruise ship ambassador program, the Northern BC Winter Games board, or chairing the Aboriginal Homelessness Partnership Strategy Committee and the Violence in Relationships Committee.
Treena's two chair positions stem from her role as a Stopping the Violence counsellor with the North Coast Transition Society, an organization she has been with since 2012.
"I view my job as being a sounding board, and helping people navigate their way through. If I'm able to help carry a burden for a while and make someone's life a little easier as they move through the system and find their way to where they want to be, I'm happy to do that. There were people along the way that helped me in that way," she explained.
"I'm honoured by the women who trust me enough to share their experiences with me and I am humbled by their stories of survival."
Treena also has nothing but praise for her co-workers.
"Everyone that I work with has the same commitment to trying to make things easier for women and children in crisis. It's an incredible team of women that I feel honoured and blessed to go to work with everyday."
Treena attributes her urge to help out whenever she can to her parents, Garth and Erdine.
"Both of them inspired me to always be compassionate, to treat others with warmth and respect and to give when and where I am able," she said.
And Treena is overjoyed to have two sets of parents. While she has been in contact with both her father and mother for years, it wasn't until last month that she finally met her birth mother in person. Treena had met her father, who is a Haida man, in the mid-'90s and hopes to take in as much as she can about her Haida heritage during a trip she's making to the islands after the 16th annual Udderfest wraps up later this week.
But even as a child she felt connected to her Haida Nation roots. When she was young, Treena and her family visited a museum in Victoria that had a Haida display in it, with her adoptive parents telling her years later how fascinating it was to see her sit down in the area and take everything in.
"They told me they had never seen a child connect in that way. I would be quite happy and peaceful," Treena said.