Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Lebogang Disele

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.


WHO ARE WE NOW, AND WHERE ARE WE GOING – Lebogang Disele | February 24, 2021

Pandemic Round 1:

NextFest goes online. I submit my performance in the form of a video excerpt.

Pandemic Round 2:

Antidote to Violence as Care, a collaborative project led by Brandon Wint, shifts from a live performance to something along the lines of a visual album.

Pandemic Round 3:

I join rehearsals for Azimuth Theatre’s production of All that Binds Us via Zoom from Botswana.

Pandemic Round 4:

I am invited to participate as a story collector in SkirtsAFire’s digital offering for the 2021 festival, Covid Collections. I interview my storytellers through zoom while they record themselves on their devices as we navigate new Covid-19 restrictions.

Pandemic Round 5:

I am still in Botswana. I am awarded a grant by the Signature Area of Research at the Intersections of Gender (RIG) to restage and record my dissertation project. Yay! But the country is under curfew. Bleh! There is no time to have a live audience, however limited, we don’t trust the internet enough to try to stream live so we decide to skip a live performance and just record the show.


In the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have resorted to recording and/or streaming performances to allow us to keep creating, and keep artists employed in the midst of social distancing, movement restrictions, bans on public gatherings and other protocols.

I am grateful that I was able to be a part of All That Binds Us. I am grateful that we were able to record Antidote. I am grateful that “performing” in these productions from Botswana allowed me to spread the financial love to my colleagues here. I am grateful for the RIG grant. I am grateful. I am… But I worry. I can’t shake that little voice in my head telling me that this does not bode well for theatre and the performing arts.

I know that life as we know it has changed, and necessarily so. But how much further can we adjust to the so-called new normal before we reach a point of no return? Before we find that we have lost the thing that makes us, us?

Philip Auslander warns against creating a binary between the live (theatre and other performing arts) and the mediatized (film and television). I agree that this may be a false binary, but without the live aspect what makes theatre, theatre?

Theatre has had a strained relationship with recorded media since the advent of film and television. It seems that for much of my post-secondary life I have been confronting the question of what sets theatre apart from film and television, and, it seems now, from social media. What makes theatre “theatre”? Does it matter?

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet”  ~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

What does a post-Covid life look like for theatre production? We seem to be leaning towards a greater integration of digital platforms into our lived experience. But what does this mean for those of us whose jobs are premised on sharing space with other people? Should we just call it a day and transition to film, television, and social media? Or does our work remain “theatre” because we call it theatre?

Is it enough that the actors share space with each other and the production crew? Does live-streaming make it ok? I worry that in the quest to keep going by any means necessary, to adapt, to survive, we are diminishing the value of human connection. And it is that which I hold dear about theatre, that every night is a new performance because regardless of the form it takes – proscenium arch, immersive, interactive, intermedial, site-responsive, and so on – it is co-created with the audience attending that particular performance at that particular time.

I can’t help but think about the future of theatre and the performing arts. Perhaps I am assuming that liveness is or should be premised on physical presence, of both the performer and the viewer. Am I old-fashioned? Behind the times? I have been resistant towards the mediatization of theatre beyond documentation because theatre and performance are ephemeral, and I feel that mediatization somehow interferes with this ephemerality (Ok, that and the fact that relying on technology gives me anxiety).

To put it bluntly, the general response of live performance to the oppression and economic superiority of mediatized forms has been to become as much like them as possible.  ~ Auslander 7

While it could be argued that live streaming can maintain that element of ephemerality, what makes that different from live television? #RandomThoughts of a #MadBlackGirl


Lebogang Disele is a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. She is an interdisciplinary performer whose work focuses on issues of marginalization, particularly with regards to gender.

 

 


References and Citations

Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a mediatized culture. Routledge, 1999.

Who Are We Now? Essays From a New World – Sue Goberdhan

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.


FACING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK
A Letter To (and From) Sue Goberdhan, for you | February 11, 2021

Well Homeslice, we made it. 28. Holy shit. Almost don’t have the audacity to believe it, but we’re here. When you really stop and think about it, it’s kind of a miracle, isn’t it? Our dumb ass has fallen into laughably shallow holes, walked into windows with the precision of a Windex crow, and contracted a virus that feels like it’s murdered half the world and somehow, we’re still out here kicking ass.

People are always saying that we should live like we’re going to die tomorrow and it isn’t bad advice.

Covid didn’t feel like it would take us, it just felt like it was the most tired a human person could ever have been and absolutely nothing worse. Sleep felt like sanctuary. The thought crossed our mind that sleep could have been a distraction from the idea that maybe our organs were shutting down slowly, that maybe falling asleep was the last act of love this body would ever grant us in an effort to ease the anxiety that comes with evaporating back into the ether from which we came. We didn’t think about it. Not much. Just enough to make sure that if we made it to the other side of this thing, we’d have already taken stock of what it is that makes it worthwhile to have suffered and built ourselves back up in spite of the thing that could have taken us. People are always saying that we should live like we’re going to die tomorrow and it isn’t bad advice. It’s just advice you can’t fully take advantage of during a global sonofabitching pandemic. The next best thing to do feels like it is as simple as making some goddamn decisions about the lens through which you decide to look at the world and everything we have yet to see.

Look within. Think about it. Why are we still here? How much do we believe in luck? Fate? The Universe? God? How do we measure how much we believe in forces that exist in such bigger ways than we do? Is it a sliding scale between blind conviction and unrelenting skepticism? Can we quantify the ratio of belief to doubt with numbers? Is it even quantifiable or is it just a feeling that builds itself into a shackle that fits around the radius of our worldview?

Hmm.

Big questions. No answers.

The thing is, never knowing the answers actually can help us navigate our paths in this jiggy jungle if we stare our questions right between the eyes and decide that answers are for scientists, lest we forget that science makes us miserable; it feels like a cold way to approach the world, relying entirely on facts and not at all on instinct. Imagine seeing a bare-walled room and accepting it as such instead of recognizing it’s potential to evolve into a canvas. The answers we look for eliminate the imagination. If we somehow found a way to answer these impossible questions, that newfound certainty would have the potential to mutate into the hope that perhaps we got the answer wrong (if the answer pales in comparison to the dreams we once had for it.) This is why we make art.

We see the world for what it is: endless, beautiful possibility. We are given inanimate objects and non-geographical locations and somehow still manage to uncover all the overlooked cracks and crevices in which we find opportunities for making something extraordinary. In case it wasn’t obvious, we have clearly been through a lot in the last year. That being said, we did some big learning, too. In no particular order, here are some thoughts that will last us a lifetime:

Though it may not seem like it, we are never EVER too old to brush up on our active listening skills.

It is a real shame to have taken closeness for granted because nothing can replace it.

It has been 377 days since we last ran into a friend unexpectedly at a coffee shop and hugged them tight with that kind of unexpected happiness you can’t replicate unless it’s a surprise. In the “before-times,” we took our kismet run-ins for granted. The idea of that kind of privilege again brings a tear to the eye. It is a real shame to have taken closeness for granted because nothing can replace it. Although, having had our closeness taken away will undoubtedly serve as a cautionary tale; one that begs us to embrace togetherness like it’s a celebration for the rest of our lives. After the year we’ve had, endless frivolity feels like the only acceptable remuneration.

Our collective power as a community is astounding. When you stop and look at the strength of the artists in this province, it becomes clear that there’s little we couldn’t do if we did it together. It’s time to start believing in each other again.

Legally, we aren’t allowed to create theatre together in the same room, which is supposed to halt work altogether, yet somehow we do it anyways in spite of the distance between us. No one should dictate what theatre looks like other than the people who make it. Even if it needs to happen through a screen or in a barn or on a road or in an alley or in an ice cream shop or in a barber shop or at a bus station or with our eyes closed, it is theatre if the makers say so. We should always remember to look at it as a plasticine practice that evolves and shapeshifts as we do to adapt to the world we live in. WE make theatre what it is.

We have spent so much time worrying that we wouldn’t ever be able to chisel out enough space for us in this community. Homegirl, retire the chisel. Bring a bulldozer.

Being kind when the world is cruel is not an easy or simple thing to do. If a break is needed, TAKE IT. Life is too short not to live authentically. Be genuine.

Pre-Rona, we would push and push and push and make work no matter how little time it left for living life outside of work. Balance was an urban legend and we never took the time or initiative to chase it. Not only should we pursue balance in life and work, we should chase it, hold onto it, and never let it go. Be persistent.

Painting is the real Chicken Soup for the Soul.

We rarely recognize it, but our lives, opinions, and choices do not go unnoticed. Our impact is palpable and necessary to the changes we want to see in the community. People look up to us, whether we know it or not. Make good choices. Be kind.

We are entirely capable of tackling our dreams with the ferocity of a linebacker…

This pandemic has taught us that there isn’t a lot we have direct control over. Instead of weighing ourselves down with the melancholy that comes with recognizing just how tiny we are in comparison to the earth we live on and the troubles that surround us, we should instead focus on the fact that what we can control is our own audacity. We are entirely capable of tackling our dreams with the ferocity of a linebacker (I dunno if this is what a linebacker does tbh, I don’t sports… but you get the idea.) Those big dreams we keep putting on the backburner are just waiting for you to believe that you actually deserve them. YOU DESERVE THEM. Humility be damned! We are worthy of the dreams we put off for fear of them being too big. There is no such thing as too big when the world is so small that the entire globe catches the same virus.

We took this shock to the system as a wake up call; we let this global pause force us to reevaluate which parts of our lives we place value on. It’s important to me that you know that we are worth the time it takes to learn how to enjoy this life outside of making art. It’s also important to me that you know that we make art because it is essential to the way we look at this world. Storytelling is a part of our DNA. We bring our pain and our fears and our joy and our laughter and our tears to everything we have ever done, and somehow we keep making it more beautiful, undeterred by the heaviest pieces of our baggage. Problems become lighter when we ask for help and lift with our knees.

When we look in the mirror we should work harder to love what we see, because the person looking back at us is a reflection of the world she’s built: she supports, she sustains, she builds, she nurtures, she parties, she grows weak, she mourns, she rebuilds strength, she adapts… She blooms.

Happy birthday, Homie.

See you next year. Same time, same place?

Make this one count.

I believe in you,

Sue



Sue Goberdhan is an Edmonton performer, arts administrator, advocate, playwright, and educator. Sue has dedicated her career to advocating for the revitalization of the foundation of Edmonton’s theatre community to include and celebrate the stories and voices of people from marginalized communities.

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Simone A. Medina Polo

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.


it is not just to have a mestizo trans woman in power – Simone A. Medina Polo | January 27, 2021

At the beginning of October 2020, I took on the role of Festival Producer for the Nextfest Arts Company. Though it is most certainly exciting and a significant personal achievement, it is not without a context that intersects at the central question for this essay. In light of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter for anyone who is not a Black person, many organizations across this colonial state scrambled to assure themselves that this political moment did not destabilize their status quo – quite successfully so, I will add. For instance, MacEwan University made a textbook Black Lives Matter statement across social media without addressing the backlash from students and alumni who beg to differ out their corroborated lived experiences through the academic system (MacEwan University, 2020; CBC, 2021) – it is my observation that there have been proactive efforts by various individuals and collectives for more than four years, and all of these instances have been dismissed by administrators upholding the Ivory Tower and its crony processes (Paxsi, 2020; CBC, 2021).

In some instances, administrators in the arts (all of them women, interestingly enough) stepped down from their roles in order to make space for something different…

By and large, the situation in the arts and culture is not much different. In October 2020, the Art Gallery of Alberta experienced a moment of public embarrassment upon realizing that the curated exhibition of contemporary works for its biennial gala has not included a single Black artist in the 24 years of its production (Cummings, 2020). The AGA is not alone in this as the Canadian Human Rights Museum was also subject to a notable controversy surrounding extensive accounts of systematic racism and anti-2SLGBTQ+ attitudes by the administration (Pauls, 2020). In some instances, administrators in the arts (all of them women, interestingly enough) stepped down from their roles in order to make space for something different – for instance, in Edmonton, the former Artistic Producers for Azimuth Theatre decided to step down to make room for Sue Goberdhan and Morgan Yamada to step in. It is in this context that my mentor Maggie Barton Braid announced her departure from the Festival Producer role at Nextfest to make room for someone in these disenfranchised communities to step into a leadership role. And well, here I am.

My role at Nextfest is symptomatic of some fundamental issues that extend well-beyond this one organization and the arts – who is in a position of leadership and power is just a symptom of a more systematic root of causes; and treating the symptom alone will not resolve any of the deeply ingrained restlessness that characterizes the present time under capitalism, its (neo)colonial exploits and the co-optation of the lived oppressions that are profited upon every step of the way.

From a decolonial perspective, non-profits cannot be decolonized much like academia cannot be decolonized, or the colonial State apparatus, or the police and armed forces, or the RCMP.

Non-profit is an industrial complex (Rodríguez, 2016). This is perhaps most apparent in the non-profit industrial complex that concerns the well-being of those struggling with dispossession from a home, but it is nevertheless the case in the arts as they enter in conjunction with government funding bodies and corporate sponsorships – some of these latter of which are more openly implicated in the facilitation of exploitation, whereas the former like to pretend that the arms-length strategy assures anyone that funding is not compromised by a political hegemony. From a decolonial perspective, non-profits cannot be decolonized much like academia cannot be decolonized, or the colonial State apparatus, or the police and armed forces, or the RCMP. When looked at with sincerity and honesty, my current leadership role entails a certain degree of covering my hands in blood.

This is why I stress that it is not just a mestizo trans woman in power that will resolve the fundamental tension which we experience in various partial moments; and in these partialities, we mistake the symptom for the root of it all. And frankly, with an entire world slipping away from us in this perverse everydayness, I do not wish to partake on the gesture of disavowal that would try to set aside the implications of myself as an actor in these systems.

I am sure that white folks can afford a certain naivety around these systematic circumstances, and those who seem to know better prefer to hide behind those semblances through disavowal – one enjoys through the institution where and when one acts as if there is nothing to be acknowledged (Ahmed, 2012, 1-3; Fanon, 2008, 120-129; Zupančič, 2017, 54). As someone attuned to psychoanalytic theory and practice, I think Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian theory of ideology comprehends this well:

“…fantasy is a means for an ideology to take its own failure into account in advance… The function of ideological fantasy is to mask this inconsistency, the fact that ‘Society doesn’t exist’, and thus to compensate us for the failed identification…” (Žižek, 2008, 142).

“…the principal illusion of the Enlightenment consists in the idea that we can preserve a simple distance from the external ‘machine’ of social customs, and thus keep the space of our inner reflection spotless, unblemished by the externality of customs.” (Žižek, 2008, 88).

The on-going disavowal of capitalism and its thorough assortment of intersectional exploits is quite common in the arts, as the capital industrialization of the arts tries to patch over any fundamental restlessness in order to smoothen the surfaces for capital flows and processes – we do this with extractivist dissections of Indigeneity and with neoliberal band-aids of representation of marginalized communities à la #GirlPower as if it were the material sustenance of daily bread (Klein and Simpson, 2013; Alvarado, 2018, 10-12; Menon, 2015, 1-24). And when these processes breakdown into a critical point, we see the aggressive fascist turnover – like the one we have seen since 2016 leading up to the Storming of the Capitol in early-2021; and we, in Canada, don’t get to distance ourselves from the U.S. as this colonial state is only lagging behind in the exact same process the U.S. is caught up in – as it doubles down on the claim that there is such a thing as civil, cohesive society that is in decadence and it must be protected from decadence (Zupančič, 2017, 25 and 31; Reich, 1970, 128; Fanon, 2008, 89-90). This is an active sacrifice of life which is not for the sake of anything other than the spirit of sacrifice itself as it gets at its perverse, accumulated surplus-enjoyment:

For Fascist ideology, the point is not the instrumental value of the sacrifice, it is the very form of sacrifice itself, ‘the spirit of sacrifice’, which is the cure against the liberal-decadent disease. It is also clear why Fascism was so terrified of psychoanalysis: psychoanalysis enables us to locate an obscene enjoyment at work in this formal act of sacrifice. (Žižek, 2008, 90).

I cannot afford that same naivety or disavowal over the very predicaments that have traumatized me and many others for centuries, and this on-going deferral of judgment defers a world that is able to sustain life into the cancellation of the future altogether (Fisher, 2012, 16; Žižek, 2008, 73). Institutionally, whether we are in the university or the non-profit, we are told that change takes time and that we should reserve our judgment as if to pretend that the issues are hand are ultimately undecidable and untimely – as if we had any time left for anyone to buy into this idle pretext. The question is not just combating the macropolitical and overt forms of fascism, but also to combat the micropolitical fascism that normalize themselves into our everyday way of being, not just materially but culturally too (Deleuze & Guattari, 2005, 214 and 215). The clock is ticking, the world is dissolving, but hey, at least brunch is back when COVID-19 clears up.

*drinks the hemlock* (Plato, 1993, 78 and 79)


Simone A Medina Polo headshot


Simone A. Medina Polo is a philosopher, interdisciplinary artist, and community organizer based out of Amiskwaciwâskahikan in Treaty 6 territory. Informed by her experience as an immigrant mestizo trans woman, her work in philosophy has centred around theories and practices of emancipation which translate over to her music as pseudo-antigone and in her role in many diverse communities.


 

References and Citations

Ahmed, Sara. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. London: Duke University Press. Retrieved January 7, 2020. 

Alvarado, Raisa Fernanda. (2018). “Girl of Color-Power: Resisting the Neoliberal Girl Power Agent.” Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1421. Retrieved January 7, 2020. 

Cummings, Madeleine. (October 7, 2020). “Art Gallery of Alberta confronts history of never including Black artists in Biennial exhibition” in CBC News. Retrieved January 7, 2020. 

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (2005). A Thousand Plateaus: Schizophrenia and Capitalism.
Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Fanon, Frantz. (2008). Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press.

Fisher, Mark. (Fall 2012). “What is Hauntology?” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1. pp 16-24. Retrieved January 7, 2020.

Klein, Naomi and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. (March 6, 2013). “Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s Leanne Simpson” in YES! Magazine. Retrieved January 7, 2020. 

MacEwan University [Facebook post; photo included]. (June 2, 2020). “At MacEwan University, we welcome everyone. We respect human rights, celebrate diversity and embrace equity and inclusion. We build human rights champions who influence our community both within and beyond the university’s walls. These last few days have been an unfortunate reminder of the reality racial discrimination plays in our lives. It is important that we support our community members and maintain a commitment to address racial discrimination in all its forms. We stand with those in peaceful protest as they shine a light on discrimination, hate and the need for change. There is no place for racism, discrimination or hate in our society or our communities. MacEwan promotes diversity and inclusion and works to ensure our campus is safe, and our staff and students are supported. We continue this important work every day.”  Retrieved January 7, 2021. 

MacEwan University students accuse administrators of failing to take action on racism” in CBC News. Retrieved January 16, 2020

Menon, Madhavi. (2015). Indifference to Difference: On Queer Universalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

Pauls, Karen. (August 5, 2020). “’Pervasive and systemic’ racism at Canadian Museum for Human Rights, report says” in CBC News. Retrieved January 7, 2020.

Paxsi. (@listentowarawara). (December 6, 2020). “Accountability in MacEwan Music.” [Instagram IGTV video posts in two parts]. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
Pt. 1: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CImipM5gF5Z/
Pt. 2: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CImmXMYg28D/

Plato. (1993). Phaedo. Trans. David Gallop. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reich, Wilhelm. (1970). The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Trans. Vincent R. Carfagno. U.S.: Simon and Schuster.

Rodríguez, Dylan. (Spring 2016). “The Political Logic of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” in The Scholar & Feminist Online, Issue 12.2. Retrieved January 7, 2020. 

Žižek, Slavoj. (2008). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.

Zupančič, Alenka. (2017). What Is Sex? Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Jacquelyn Cardinal

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.


FROM THE DESK OF AN APOCALYPSE DOULA – Jacquelyn Cardinal | December 15, 2020

One of the clearest varieties of memory I have of my childhood were the nights when Hunter, my younger brother, and I were treated to myth-sharing by our Dad. Rather than reading the usual storybook chosen from our shared collection, he would tell us epic stories from our people, the nêhiyawak, brought to life with shadows cast by his hands on our bedroom walls. These stories almost always starred animals, spirits, and grand challenges met with courage, love, and sacrifice.
 
In a wash of unexpected nostalgia, a favourite of these stories returned to Hunter and me in March of this year as we watched the news of the pandemic unfolding around the world from our shared apartment in downtown Edmonton. On a long walk in the river valley after a particularly difficult news day, we retold in parts the story that we now recognize as one known by many cultures on Turtle Island as a remaking of the world story.
 
The version our Dad shared with us begins after a great flood had covered the earth in a shallow sea, upon which a vast turtle floated. Atop the turtle, a group of animals huddled together, waiting for the waters to recede. Among these animals were a rabbit, an otter, a beaver, a loon, and a muskrat.
 
One day, the Creator came down to the animals and told them that if they wanted new land to live on, they must retrieve some of the earth deep below the water and place it on the turtle’s back. Only then, the Creator said, would new land grow.
 
The hopes were highest for the strongest swimmers like the otter, but as each animal tried and failed, that hope soon turned to despair.
 
After agreeing amongst themselves that they should try, each of the animals took turns to dive down below the water. The hopes were highest for the strongest swimmers like the otter, but as each animal tried and failed, that hope soon turned to despair. Eventually, only the muskrat remained untested, but the other animals told the muskrat not to bother with an attempt himself and that the strong swimmers would keep trying. 
 
During the night, while the other animals slept off the fatigue of a day spent trying to reach the bottom of the sea, the muskrat lay awake on his back, looking at the stars. In his heart, he began to realize what needed to be done. With a splash that woke the other animals from their sleep, the muskrat dived down beneath the water. The other animals called for the muskrat and watched the swirling sea, waiting for him to surface. But as short moments stretched into long ones, they fell into silence.
 
It wasn’t until the sun was halfway across the sky that they saw something bobbing on the water in the distance. When the turtle had gotten close enough to recognize the shape of the muskrat, still and soundless, the other animals jumped into the water to pull the little body onto the turtle’s shell. As they began to mourn the muskrat, arranging the body in the centre of the shell in alignment with the path of the sun, they noticed that one of the muskrat’s paws was shut tight. Gently, the otter opened it and found a small bit of dark mud inside.
 
The animals began to celebrate, their joy mixed with many tears, as they turned the muskrat’s paw to drop the mud on to the turtle’s shell. The land that grew from that small bit of mud, clasped in the paw of the humble muskrat, lies beneath our feet today.
 
“I always wondered how the animals got there in the first place,” I remember saying to Hunter, crunching through the snow and ice that still stuck to the ground. “Did Dad ever tell you that part?”
 
“No, I don’t think so,” Hunter responded. 
 
I couldn’t recall either.

Many Indigenous scholars have said for years that we, as Indigenous peoples, are leading lives in our post-apocalypse. When I had first heard this idea, it immediately resonated, explaining (at least in part) why the myth of the remaking of the world struck a chord so deep within me, even as a kid. The fact that the ways of life that would be recognizable to our ancestors are gone, likely never to return, creates a strange form of grief that is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t already know it in their blood and bones. 
 
…it’s always there—providing teachings about loss and loneliness that no one wants, but everyone needs.
 
I find this grief to be an omnipresent character in my storytelling. It’s rarely the main character, but it’s always there—providing teachings about loss and loneliness that no one wants, but everyone needs. My sense of duty to sit with this teacher, listen intently, and try to bring those teachings forward in my stories led me to jokingly coin a term that I honestly feel suits me better than playwright: Apocalypse Doula, one who sits in between the old world and the new.
 
As March turned to April, then slowly to May, something about the liminality of the pandemic (a port of call for Apocalypse Doulas such as myself) brought clearly to mind the story of the animals on the back of the turtle. “How did they do it?” I would wonder aloud to Hunter and anyone else who knew the story well, “How did the animals move from losing everything of the old world, that grief, and decide to try and create something new? Why is that part of the story untold?”
 
No one had answers. 
 
Actor in shadowy light facing the front of a stage. Purple and blue starry background.

Hunter Cardinal in Lake of Strangers. Photo by Ryan Parker.

 
So just as we had done when we created our play Lake of the Strangers, Hunter and I began to engage in a process that we call “myth architecture.” An extension of the teachings we’ve gained from our Elders, who have told us that storytellers tell stories for those who need them, myth architecture begins with a question that feels important but is without an answer and challenges us to craft a narrative that provides some sort of response. Often, this looks like “completing,” “expanding,” or “setting up” a pre-existing myth. With Lake of the Strangers, for example, we completed the myth of mista muskwa (The Big Bear) as we tried to answer the question: Why should we heal when there is so much darkness?
 
As we continued to imagine the image of the animals floating on the back of the vast turtle of legend, a concept emerged for the story that we began to work on in earnest this past summer: câpân. When complete, câpân will be the tale of how the animals got to the back of the turtle. Through the lens of a group of teenagers finding their way at the end of the last great ice age on Turtle Island, we will seek to answer the question, “What do we need to begin rebuilding the world once the old one has been swallowed up?”

Like most of us, I know I’m counting down the days until the end of 2020, despite understanding that once we emerge into a new year, we will still be in the process of being forever changed by a world that has ended and has not yet been reborn. 
 
Each and every one of our ancestors endured times such as these, and we will too.
 
Let’s not mince words: this is indeed a deeply sad and frightening time. We are separated from one another, have lost things that may never return in the same way, and we don’t know what the future holds. But, as Marcus Aurelius said during the time of plague during his reign in 165 CE, “All of this has happened before and will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end.” Each and every one of our ancestors endured times such as these, and we will too.
 
Inexperienced as I am, I do believe that any good Apocalypse Doula will say that while we have no choice but to exist in the in-between that is this shared journey through our apocalypse of sorts, we do have the opportunity to reach out for what is old and good so that it may take root and become solid beneath our feet once again. 
 
And it seems that English, though it fails me often, carries this teaching as well, for the origin of the word apocalypse is Greek, meaning “to uncover.” 
 
So may you uncover light, love, and hope until we can see each other once more on the other side.

Jacquelyn_Hunter_headshot


Jacquelyn is a sakāwithiniwak (Woodland Cree) playwright and producer hailing from Sucker Creek Cree First Nation who, in all aspects of her life, seeks to equip communities with the means to support themselves and each other while walking together on a shared path, a sentiment passed down to her through the generations.

 
 

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Jenna Shummoogum

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.


TURNING TOWARDS – Jenna Shummoogum | November 25, 2020

 
As I look around at what appears to be the second wave, the highest numbers of COVID cases in Alberta ever, new restrictions looming and medical doctors sounding the alarm, all I can see is grief.
 
I’m pretty familiar with the messiness of loss. My best friend died six years ago, and I was swallowed by grief. The truth is that it isn’t just sorrow, and it would be so much easier if it was. Grief is rage and resentment as well as deep sorrow and loss.
 
I think it’s time we acknowledge that.
 
We are afraid of getting sick, we are tired and frustrated of restriction against an enemy that we can’t see, we fear losing those close to us or our loved ones getting sick because of decisions we made. It’s easier to rage at the government or deny the seriousness of the virus or complain that society is taking away our rights. In the face of these hard truths, it is easier to turn away than to turn towards.
 
Theatre made you turn towards.
 
Did you know that your brain produces oxytocin when you hear a good story with emotional pull?
 
Theatre is the perfect way to tell stories. The dark room, the quiet, the ability to experience a story in several different ways with other people, led by some of the best people to do the job.
 
The very first theatre performance that rocked me to the core was Ghost River Theatre’s production of One, pushing forward this idea moving forward by letting go.
 
I can remember theatre pieces that I experienced years ago, I remember performances that inspired me, I think about theatre that changed me. The very first theatre performance that rocked me to the core was Ghost River Theatre’s production of One, pushing forward this idea of moving forward by letting go. I still think of Quiptake and Pandemic Theatre’s production of Daughter in the High Performance Rodeo, a theatre piece that was a glimpse into toxic masculinity. The stories that came out of Theatre Calgary’s production of Da Kink in My Hair haunt me at times.
 
I carry all these experiences and stories, and they have changed the way I see the world.
 
It hasn’t been perfect by any means. There is the fact that as a woman of colour it took me seven years to see myself reflected on a Calgary stage. The fact that whiteness is central in storytelling and that other kinds of stories were few and far between.
 
Theatre has some work to do.
 
When I was running the Calgary Theatre Critic’s Awards in Calgary, I saw up to 70 shows a year, for five years. I have been writing about and reviewing theatre for a decade. I hold this bizarre space in the Calgary theatre community, as both a member of and a visitor to the community.
 
The loss of theatre this year has hit me so very hard.
 
This time is when we need theatre and artists the most. We are losing connection to each other. In our grief, it is so easy to stay within our own narrative, with us at the centre of the story.
 
But in a time where it is so dangerous to gather, theatre cannot happen in the same way.
 
Since March, I’ve seen and experienced a variety of different ways that theatre has adapted. Podcasts, radio plays, theatre productions that are on demand or streamed at a certain time.
 
I haven’t been able to turn towards.
 
I’m still working through my loss. My heartbreak for my community, with no light at the end of the tunnel. The loss of not really being able to immerse myself in a story that changes how I see the world. And with things getting worse, not better, it’s hard to hold onto optimism.
 
But sometimes, as Bruce Cockburn once wrote, you’ve “got to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight.”
 
This is a great opportunity to start to address some of the problems.
 
Theatre has always survived and has always come back. Shakespeare survived various plagues and hunkered down and wrote some of his most brilliant work. This is a great opportunity to start to address some of the problems. Recently, the Canadian Theatre Critics’ Association hosted an anti-oppression workshop, facilitated by Edmonton-based artist Makram Ayache.
 
Storybook Theatre, Theatre Calgary, Vertigo Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, in Calgary along with the Citadel Theatre, Theatre Yes, Workshop West and Northern Light in Edmonton all are offering theatre performances of some sort, and it’s a way to plug in to connection with performance and community.
 
Theatre will come back, in its original in-person form, and it might have even more tricks up its sleeve when it does. But here’s hoping that it also comes back ready to take on the diversity, equity and accessibility challenges too.
 
I, for one, cannot wait for its return.


Jenna Shummoogum headshot


Jenna Shummoogum is a communications and marketing coordinator by day and a theatre and dance critic by night. She has been a theatre critic for a decade and has contributed work to LiveWire Calgary, getdown.ca, the Calgary Herald and Avenue Magazine online. She was a member and lead organizer of the Calgary Theatre Critics’ awards (The Critters) for 2 years and is a member of the Canadian Theatre Critics’ Association.

 
 

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Makram Ayache

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality.

In this essay, playwright Makram Ayache expands on a recent social media post to unpack the appointment of the new Alberta Artist in Residence, emphasizing our collective responsibility to centre and promote marginalized voices.


THE BEST MAN FOR THE JOB – Makram Ayache | November 9, 2020

When a friend of mine shared the news of the new Alberta Artist in Residence on social media, they were understandably leery of the decision. The current government hasn’t exactly been discreet about some faith-based motivations underlying their legislative decision making. 
 
Most recently, their leaked school curriculum revision recommendations proposed that we teach bible verses as poetry in our public schools in the first grade. We also need to look at the 21 of the 26 post-secondary institutions that faced provincial cuts; the only ones that escaped this outcome were five Christian or Catholic post secondary institutions (with the caveat that Concordia has technically become secular since 2016). I’d argue it’s thinly veiled religious reasoning that instructed the current government to push 2019’s Bill 8, which wiped out protections that allowed students to form Gay Straight Alliances in public schools (look at Harvest Baptist Academy’s reflection on this topic). 
 
Within this tempest, the Government of Alberta’s ultimate choice of Joal Kamps, a self-described “free-spirited singin’, songwritin’, storytellin’ sensation, passionate about connecting with audiences through music and laughter,” as Alberta Artist in Residence feels…well, complicated.
 
In a posting that specifically outlines that “applications from all artists are encouraged, including artists from the following communities: Indigenous artists, culturally diverse artists, Deaf artists and artists with disabilities, Francophone artists, 2SLGBTQIA+ artists, new generation artists, emerging artists, and youth” it feels particularly intentional that the best man for the job happened to be a white, middle class, Christian man.
 
…we are in a world and a time where we’re faced with tremendous opportunities to rectify and acknowledge the pains of the past that continue to be open wounds in our present.
 
To be perfectly clear, there isn’t anything wrong about being Christian, being white, being a man, or being middle class. But what’s striking about this decision is that we are in a world and a time where we’re faced with tremendous opportunities to rectify and acknowledge the pains of the past that continue to be open wounds in our present. Instead, public funding is supporting art that already has access, power, mobility, intergenerational wealth, and legitimacy. We already KNOW bible-inspired art has merit. 
 
We call it Shakespeare, Shaw, Eugene O’Neil, Lorca, Picasso, van Gogh, Tolkien, and most definitely C.S. Lewis. Even J.K. Rowling’s mythology is entirely predicated on a Christian and European locus of knowledge. For the record, the highest budget theatre company in Canada is the Stratford Festival, coming in at a whopping $60 million annually ($3 million of which is from public funding).
 
Well, maybe Kamp’s work is more specifically related to a direct Christian-themed art. With song lyrics like “Hey God, I’m learning to pray, but it’s hard and I’m just not sure what to say,” his work is not only culturally Christian, but evidently, deeply and spiritually Christian. That’s all well; that’s not a problem! However, that’s also a multi-billion-dollar industry. Take a look at Hillsong and the megachurches, which amplify all sorts of Christian artists, peppered across the United States and Canada. There is nothing remotely parallel to this in the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or any other religious group in the world.
 
When we’re watching the world reckon with the legacy of white supremacy and American and Christian imperialism the world over, it feels like a deeply tactless, insensitive decision to prioritize his work before some of these other finalists, who’ve had so little voice because of the same Christian supremacy this person’s art contributes to. We’ve literally been watching Indigenous communities ravaged and brutalized across the country from Wet’suwet’en to the Mi’ kmaq Nation in Nova Scotia. We’ve been parading around the public lynching of Black bodies on our social media in desperate attempts at social change; if we yell into the void hard enough something will change. But the yelling was never the social change. It was the signal to reprioritize our money, our culture, and our policies. These are the seeds of the real change we’re advocating. So again, it feels particularly insensitive that this artist was selected by this government… especially when there was ample opportunity to share the mic with those shortlisted.
 
Joal: a quick google search can show you innumerable wealthy philanthropic individuals and organizations that would love to support your work. You have a chance to turn to them because the rest of us have had to band together in our eclectic make up of queer, brown, Black, disabled, deaf, Indigenous, and all the crossroads in between our experiences in order to fight just for scraps of funding. 
 
…this isn’t simply about who gets the funding and gets the role of Alberta Artist in Residence. This is about a shifting of consciousness…
 
We’ve resorted to the collective will of public funding to fight for our survival. The affirmative action initiatives of the 80s work. But we need to continue this commitment. Public funding has an ethical opportunity to lean into a posture of affirmative action. We should be deliberate in nurturing a generation of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (amongst other intersections of marginalization) as artists in order to come to a true and dignified meritocracy. And this isn’t simply about who gets the funding and gets the role of Alberta Artist in Residence. This is about a shifting of consciousness, a displacement of Eurocentric ideals as the only legitimate way of existing. This is about equitable reformations to the status quo (which is so damaging it would need a whole other essay to begin unpacking). We are all here, we have all shaped Canada. 
 
Surely my rhetoric above contributes to the sentiment that marginalized people are only getting anything because of affirmative action efforts. A professor once told me, “you’ll get all the grants, you’re gay and Arab.” But no one has ever told a white boy that the only reason he might get what he gets is because he’s white – because he’s inherited the cultural, economic, and political wealth of being white (and/or Christian). Instead, he gets to be the blank slate of meritocracy.
 
For the record, I didn’t get the grants I applied for in that year.
 
Again, I want to be extremely careful to iterate that this isn’t an attack on Christianity or white people, or on Joal Kamps, undoubtably a fine, talented, and hard-working artist. I’m also inspired by the role model of the exemplary person named Jesus Christ (who, it’s worth noting, was a brown skinned Arab Jew, born mere kilometres from where I was born in Lebanon).
 
My work, for all intents and purposes, is about as Alberta as it gets. I am made of this land. But I would never be described as inspired by the history and folklore of this land. I am often described as ‘immigrant experience,’ as if white Albertans never immigrated. To be brown and Black in this province is to be an outsider and an immigrant, no matter how long you’ve been here. To be Indigenous in this province means you’re invisible or you’re working for the Indigenous arts centres and initiatives only – the sad irony of that.
 
I hope Kamps feels some sensitivity for what is happening in our province, in our nation, and around the world, and I hope he would consider giving this opportunity to someone else.
 
It is crucial that we hold an ethic of equity and we need each of us to be in the active pursuit of anti-oppression.
 
But I see everything from a very specific lens. I don’t know if I’m right. I don’t know what white boys are supposed to do right now. I don’t want them to become the missing and the murdered or the ones facing police brutality while IBPOC people become the artists and politicians. That’s not the answer either. But even as I express this, it feels like a very distant possibility. It is crucial that we hold an ethic of equity and we need each of us to be in the active pursuit of anti-oppression. I sometimes feel like: how can I ask a generation of white people to give space at the cost of their ambitions and desires in their life? I know intergenerational privilege is real, but a person only gets to live their one life. How do we reconcile that? 
 
I hope my argument is clear that innocuous inequities, like selecting an Alberta Artist in Residence who comes from overly represented communities, understandably scaffold into real atrocities. I hope in light of the real atrocities committed against marginalized people, this ask of sharing economic, political, and cultural space feels well founded. 
 
The truth is somewhere between all of us.


Makram Ayache headshot


Makram Ayache is a community-engaged theatre artist and educator who splits his time between Edmonton and Toronto. His playwriting explores meaningful representations of queer Arab voices and his relationship to Lebanon. He often endeavours to bridge complex and interlocking political struggles to the very intimate and real experiences of the people impacted by them.

 
 

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Makambe K Simamba

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality. 


21 Questions for the White Man in Ponoka – Makambe K Simamba | October 21, 2020

Makambe dressed in a milk delivery uniform

The author in her milk outfit.

It was the summer, and I’d found myself at the County Fair of Ponoka of all places. I was there by circumstance, not choice. I’m a theatre artist, so between gigs, I do wacky jobs to help make ends meet. This wacky job involved driving to all major outdoor events in Alberta in a milk truck, giving away free milk while encouraging social media engagement…and oh yeah, did I mention that I had to dress as a 1950s milkman?
 
Safe to say, I was not living my best life, and grumpy Makambe had officially entered the chat. I hated this job, and on top of that, being the only Black person I could see for miles made me uneasy. I always feel uncomfortable in all-white spaces, especially if I don’t know the white folks I am sharing space with. But, I tried my best to smile as I handed out milk and talked about Instagram to a cluster of fair-goers the truck had attracted.
 
My mind flooded with all of the worst racist and sexist things he might have been thinking about me.
 
As my co-worker and I pushed through the day, I spotted a 60-something white man out of the corner of my eye, staring at me. I’m used to being stared at in small towns in Alberta, so I just ignored him and continued working. When to crowd dispersed, he was still staring. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. My mind flooded with all of the worst racist and sexist things he might have been thinking about me. As he approached, I braced myself.
 
“Where are you from?” he asked. And for the record, I hate this question.
 
“Calgary.”
 
“No, but where’s your family from?” he insisted, as if it was any of his business.
 
“Zambia,” I said. “My family is from Zambia.”
 
I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count, and every single time it makes me feel I have to explain the anomaly of my own existence.
 
“I once knew a girl, and she was even darker than you,” he said. 
 
How on earth am I supposed to react to that? Darker than ME? Oh no, sir! We better go check on her!
 
“She was darker than you,” he said, “and we were in love.”
 
I stopped in my tracks.
 
“I wanted to marry her,” he revealed. “And she wanted to marry me too. Neither of our families approved, but decided we were going to do it anyway.  The last time I saw her we stayed up all night, holding each other, crying.”
 
“What happened?” I asked, and what came out of his mouth just about broke my heart.
 
He went on to explain that they decided to call off their wedding. They were okay with being chastised for their interracial relationship—they were strong, they could handle it. But they didn’t want to bring children into the world who would suffer the same fate. They felt it wouldn’t be fair, so for the sake of their unborn children who would never exist, they chose to part.
 
I could not believe that this was the conversation we were having. 
 
“Aw, you should have gotten married anyway,” I offered. I still don’t know if that was the right thing to say, but as a person who had a white boyfriend at the time, I absolutely hated the idea that two people who loved each other that much couldn’t be together because of what other people thought about race.
 
The old white man and I looked at each other. The moment was brief but weighted. In my vulnerability, I offered him some free milk, which he understandably declined.
 
“Are you sure?” I asked, not knowing how else to express care in my moment of shock. He shook his head and walked away. 
 
That was the summer of 2015. In the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the globe, and this old white man’s story visited my consciousness for the first time in years. To my surprise, I prayed for him. After that prayer, my mind flooded with questions:
 

Here are 21 Questions for the White Man in Ponoka: 

  1. Do you tell this story to every Black person you meet, or was I the first? 
  2. Do the people around you know that this about you, or do you keep it a secret?
  3. Before you saw me at the fair, when was the last time you saw a Black person?
  4. Do you know that when I saw you approach I felt frightened?
  5. How long had you been standing there?
  6. How often do you think of her?
  7. Who did you come to the fair with?
  8. Do you have a white wife and white kids?
  9. If you do, are they somehow a disappointment to you?
  10. Do you compare every woman you’ve ever met to her?
  11. Do you listen to Black music?
  12. Do you know who John Ware is?
  13. If you could do it all again, would you still let her go? 
  14. Do you feel a type of way when you see mixed-race children?
  15. Do you also approach them, and put the weight of this pain on their shoulders?
  16. Have you ever attended a protest?
  17. Do you know who Breonna Taylor is? Or Regis Korchinski-Paquet? 
  18. Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement? 
  19. When you hear people say “Black Lives Matter,” what happens in your body?
  20. Did you feel hurt or healed after our conversation?
  21. I know that after we spoke, you thought about yourself. I know that you thought about her. But did you think about me? How I was feeling, and what you had left me with?

Here are 13 Questions for the Black Woman in This Story:

  1. I think that man from the fair carries you with him everywhere he goes. Do you also carry him everywhere you go? 
  2. If you could say one thing to him today, what would it be?
  3. Did you marry a Black man and have Black kids?
  4. Do you encourage your kids to do date whichever race they want, or do you give them the same advice that you received?
  5. Do you have the same fears as your parents?
  6. When is the last time you laughed so much that it hurt?
  7. Do you think it’s possible that you and I have met? Perhaps at an event, or maybe even smiled at each other as we checked the firmness of Roma tomatoes in the grocery store? I find that thought extremely comforting, and I don’t know why.
  8. What was it like growing up Black in small town Alberta in the 70s?
  9. The year 1911. Is your lineage that of the Black folks who came up from Oklahoma around 1911, and settled in places like Amber Valley?
  10. Do you know who John Ware is?
  11. Do people ask you that a lot?
  12. When you hear “Black Lives Matter,” what happens to your body?
  13. This man at the fair —when you were with him, and you experienced racism and told him about it, was he the kind of white person who truly listened, and tried to understand? Or did he dismiss you and tell you not to make too big a deal about it? I am asking because I have known and loved both of those types of white people and I’d like some advice.

Here are 7 Questions for the Land on Which They Stood

  1. Do you remember the night these two cried in each other’s arms, holding on so tightly and for so long, that the moon turned into the sun? 
  2. Did you soak up their water, and then store it under your surface, in a secret special place for the tears of the heartbroken?
  3. The year 1911. I recently learned that in 1911, the “Alberta Hospital for the Insane” opened in Ponoka. This Hospital was a major center where the Eugenics Board of Alberta enforced sexual sterilization. The “Alberta Hospital for the Insane” handled around 60% of the board’s cases. So in this special place soaked with tears of the heartbroken, who else’s heartbreak are you holding?
  4. Are people surprised when the learn that “Ponoka” is a word in Blackfoot? 
  5. When I say the names “Chantel Moore” or “Joyce Echaquan”, what happens to your body? 
  6. Can you forgive those of us who have taken this long to show up for you? 
  7. I believe that land knows all our stories. In Canadian theatre, there is a practice of doing a land acknowledgement before every live performance. When settlers say the names of your original caretakers, but do not tell the stories of those caretakers on that same stage, what happens to your body? 

Makambe head shot


Makambe K Simamba is a Dora Award-winning playwright and actor. She is the Urjo Kareda Artist in Residence at the Tarragon theatre for the 2020/21 season, and her intention as an artist is to be of service to her community through her ability to tell stories. She spends her time arting between Mohkínstsis (Calgary) and Tkarón:to (Toronto).

 
 

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World – Nalyn Tindall

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality. 


COVID-19 AT 17 – Nalyn Tindall | October 7, 2020

When schools across the country were put on hold last March, I had no idea that this is what life would become. I did not picture entering my high school classroom masked each morning, coating my hands in sanitizer after each doorway I step through, but this is life now.
 

Waiting for online Social Studies class to begin.

I fell into a degenerate slump after the lockdown first began; I would lay in bed each morning, sleeping though my virtual classes, video calling friends constantly, and distancing myself from the responsibilities of the world. I did the least I could while still scraping by. I felt slighted, and as if none of it really mattered, life was put on hold, so I didn’t need to try. After a couple of months, I realized that being “alone” wasn’t really that bad. I love school and all the opportunities it has presented me but noticed that not being constantly surrounded by my peers allowed for self-discovery. Unfortunately during this period, I drifted away from my friends and the things that mattered most. Eventually, life began to look relatively normal again; school ended and the longest summer ever began, and without the pressure of courses nobody wanted to do I was able to get back in touch with both myself and everything that makes me who I am.
 
Throughout the pandemic, I worked as a cashier at a local grocery store. This was my connection to reality and one of the responsibilities I had to maintain. Working there meant that although I spent many days doing very little, there were always a few days a week I would brave the storm. I spent each evening watching the chaos unfold and consumer habits change. It was bizarre, as each shift there would be new item limits, cleaning protocols, or rules we had to enforce. I realized how incredibly understanding and nice people can be but also saw how terrible and rude they can become.

Even though I had festivals, performances, and a multitude of rehearsals cancelled, it all felt irrelevant—life had been cancelled.
 
The last thing on my mind during school last spring was the arts. Even though I had festivals, performances, and a multitude of rehearsals cancelled, it all felt irrelevant—life had been cancelled. I only focused on the absolutely mandatory aspects of my life, and with no marks or money to earn in regards to the arts, they fell out of my life for a while.
 
The announcement that Artstrek 2020 was cancelled hit me harder than most things. I was quick to accept the fact that I would no longer have a choir concert or sing my musical theatre solo at the local music festival, but to know that this year Artstrek was gone, hurt. I had attended Artstrek since I was 13, and after my first year I knew that this would be something I would attend every year. I needed to see the people who I so deeply connected with and only got to see then. I craved to learn and feel understood, to expand my mind and meet new people, to return to the place that so many of my most cherished memories were created. COVID-19 had me in a trapped state and Artstrek had always been the most freeing place, but now I couldn’t go there either.
 

My cat Timothy helping me memorize my lines for Anne of Green Gables.

At the end of the school year, my school announced virtual auditions for the fall musical, Anne of Green Gables. It was like a door opening (even though I was extremely skeptical that the musical could occur)—this was an opportunity. Having been involved in my school’s theatre programs since grade seven and now entering my senior year, I was determined to take the lead. I was given an opportunity to put all my unlimited energy into something. I spent hours preparing and creating my audition tape, even though I knew the show might not take place. I was just glad I had a reason to indulge in the arts, even for a week or two at home.
 
After claiming the coveted role of Anne, I spent the summer memorizing my lines and songs—we were told we must be off book by the fall. I am still waiting to hear whether or not the show will happen, almost a month into school. The date has most definitely been pushed from November to May at the earliest but there’s still hope, an idea that someday, sooner or later, we’ll be on the stage.

There’s a strange atmosphere surrounding the students and staff, one that I hope dissipates soon. 

Now that I am back at school, things are different, I’m different, but everyone is. I’m involved in fewer arts programs than ever before due to the risk and regulations of COVID-19. Classes are long and draining, partially due to the fact I haven’t attended them for six months and partially due to their two and half hour length. There’s a strange atmosphere surrounding the students and staff, one that I hope dissipates soon.
 
As life continues to return to “normal”, I hope more and more opportunities arise, regardless of how “normal” those opportunities are. I hope that the arts can continue to serve as an escape, as well as a method to heal. I hope that stories of these times continue to be told through as many methods as possible. Above all, I hope that being somewhat deprived of the arts, whether it’s the opportunity to present or to take in live mediums, has made us realize how important and impactful they are to our society and personal lives.


Nalyn is a grade 12 student at Camrose Composite Highschool. She is involved in her schools music and theatre programs and has taken part in many arts groups in her community as well.

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Daryl Cloran

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World is an initiative from Theatre Alberta that brings you editorial perspectives from a variety of Albertan artists about the rapidly changing world we live and work in. We hope you’ll find them useful as you process your own evolving reality. 


THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE – Daryl Cloran | September 23, 2020

The numbers don’t lie.
 

Click image to read the report

At the Citadel Theatre we spent the summer collecting data on the composition of our artists, staff and board from over the past 10+ years. Executive Director Chantell Ghosh and I have worked closely with our incredible Associate Artists (Helen Belay, Tai Amy Grauman, and Mieko Ouchi) and the whole Citadel team to assemble and interpret this data, focusing on categories such as racial identity, gender, age and disability. Based on the data, we have committed to metrics and actions to make change. We have released the report and commitments publicly so we can be held accountable by our community. We are hosting an online forum on October 5th to present the report and receive feedback from the community. I encourage you to read the report and join us at the forum if you can.
 
Looking at all of this data about the Citadel has given me a crystal-clear picture of who the Citadel was in the past, who we are currently, and who we need to become. My first thought in seeing some of the numbers was, “Well, that can’t be right.” But, I quickly realized 
 
The numbers don’t lie. 
 
I am proud of the successes we have had in my three years of programming. Before I arrived at the Citadel, less than 10% of the actors employed annually at the Citadel were BIPOC. Last season, 39% of our actors were BIPOC. Of the 20 plays commissioned between 2002-2016, only one was written by a woman. 91% of the plays we’ve commissioned in the past three years have been written by women. And 38% of those playwrights have been BIPOC. So, we’re making some steps in the right direction. 

But I was very surprised to see how low our numbers were in recent seasons for other BIPOC creative team members, such as designers, stage managers and directors. And those are seasons that I programmed. I think if you would have asked me during those seasons, I would have said we were making really good progress, but looking at the numbers has made it really obvious to me where real change is needed, because 
 
The numbers don’t lie. 
 
As we were completing the report, we received a letter from the 35//50 Initiative calling for theatre companies across Alberta to commit to a set of organizational beliefs and policies, rooted in anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices. These commitments would result in 35%+ of staff and contractors who identify as Indigenous, Black, and people of colour, and 50%+ of staff and contractors who identify as women and non-binary, by the 2024/2025 theatre season. 
 
As Artistic Director, I am proud that the Citadel has committed to the 35//50 Initiative. Committing to this project is going to be hard work for an organization as big as the Citadel – we employ hundreds of staff and artists. We can make some immediate changes with the shows we program and the artists we employ, but change will be slower with staffing, as well as in areas where we work with unions and associations who provide their members to our organization (like IATSE or the American Federation of Musicians). It will take collaboration with those organizations to implement change together. We will do the work transparently, updating our data annually and sharing it with our community to keep us accountable, because 
 
The numbers don’t lie.
 
If an organization as large as the Citadel can commit to making this change, then other theatre companies can too. There’s no excuse. To my colleagues running theatres in Alberta (and beyond), I respectfully suggest that if you haven’t committed to the 35//50 Initiative yet, or haven’t taken a deep look at your organization and how it reflects the community you serve, do it now. It is what your community is calling for, and it is your responsibility as artistic leaders to proactively participate in this change. 
 
Now is the perfect time for transformation. I know that COVID has created an incredibly stressful situation for all of us. I know that theatres are desperately struggling to keep staff and artists employed and to stop the hemorrhaging of money happening as our ticket revenue disappears for the foreseeable future. But when are we ever going to get a moment like this again when we can “press the reset button”? We’re constantly caught in the cycle of season programming, which is such a machine that it is hard to implement any real change. But now, while our programming has stopped, it is exactly the right moment to take a real look at who we are, and proactively make plans to rebuild our theatres in a different way.
 
I strongly believe that the best way to begin to change is to take the time to embark on your own data collection process for your organization. Looking at real data is a very clear way to ground yourself in your current truth. No matter what you feel, or you intend, the data will show you what you are doing. And as any good director will tell you, the truth of a person is made up of their actions. The data will be humbling but 
 
The numbers don’t lie. 
 
And people are watching. So just be honest. It’s where you’re at. And now that everyone knows the truth, do better. Together.
 
Facebook reminded me the other day that I moved to Edmonton and started my job at the Citadel four years ago. If you would have told me what these four years would have in store for me, I never would have believed it (I’m currently trying to run this giant theatre from my basement on Zoom, which is bonkers). Without question, the best thing about moving to Edmonton has been the chance to become a part of this incredible community of theatre artists. The Edmonton theatre community is so generous, supportive and tireless. When I first arrived, I had so many conversations with artists who had heartbreaking stories about their past experiences with the Citadel, but no one’s goal was to “tear it down” – everyone wanted to rebuild their regional theatre into a place that truly supported and honoured the local community. Over the past months I have had the same experience, witnessing such community-focused generosity from local artists and theatre-makers advocating for change, and from the thoughtful approach of the 35//50 Initiative, providing a clear path for our community to walk together to implement real, lasting transformation. We are in this together, and we can change our community and practice to ensure that we are respectfully and proactively representing the diversity of Edmonton.
 
I commit to doing the work. And more than that, I commit to doing the work transparently, sharing our successes as well as our challenges and missteps. I am inspired by Edmonton’s theatre community and excited about the change we can make together. I look forward to the time when we can all return to our stages, and to how we will continuously and collaboratively reimagine our practice. I also look forward to the not-so-distant future when the Citadel, and theatres across Alberta, have surpassed our 35//50 goals, and we can all proudly say, 
 
The numbers don’t lie!


Daryl Cloran headshot

Daryl (he/him) is the Artistic Director of the Citadel Theatre. He has lived in Edmonton for four years. He likes to run in the river valley, plays the drums, and is the proud husband to Holly Lewis and father of Liam and Jack.

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Inside Out Theatre

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

Our next essay comes to us courtesy Inside Out Theatre’s Point of View Ensemble with contributions from Meighan Wong, Jennifer Stewart, Mike Keir, and Damon Lawson, and support from Jeremy Park and Michelle Brandenburg.

Cast photo from Most Imaginary Worlds by Inside Out Theatre's Point of View Ensemble.

Point of View Ensemble members setting out to premiere their most recent work Most Imaginary Worlds. Photo by Mike Tan.


SCATTERED BUT STILL THERE – The Point of View Ensemble | September 2, 2020

In Mid-march, the members of Inside Out Theatre’s [IOT] Point of View performance ensemble were already a few months into crafting their next collective theatre piece. The now in-hiatus show, The Rude Mechanicals, was an exploration of the larger lives of Shakespeare’s iconic characters of Midsummer Night’s Dream, exploring parallels between the way the main characters poke fun at their performance, and way mainstream society may view performers in a disability theatre company such as ours. Many members were also preparing for Inside Out Theatre’s first participation in Emerge [Theatre Alberta’s annual general audition event for emerging artists].
 
Like the collective creations we make, we decided approach this essay as a group, with those who had the moment and the interest to contribute some reflections. With her feelings to the point, Meighan Wong wrote “I wish we were going back to normal! I miss you guys! I hope you can get things back to normal!” Ensemble member Jennifer Stewart touched on the particular experience of COVID restrictions for members of the disability community:
POV Directors Jeremy Park & Michelle Brandenburg outfit ensemble member Jennifer Stewart in her "Charlotte Bubble" Bubble in rehearsal for Most Imaginary Worlds

POV Directors Jeremy Park & Michelle Brandenburg outfit ensemble member Jennifer Stewart in her “Charlotte Bubble” Bubble in rehearsal for Most Imaginary Worlds. Photo by Mike Tan.

I was in Palm Springs in March and came back to Calgary when things completely changed in terms of the pandemic. Pretty much everything that had been my routine completely changed. Many things that I love are on hold or now I have to do in a different way. I have underlying health conditions as well, so I spend a lot of time at home to stay healthy and safe. One of the things that has tremendously helped is being able to still be creative and to still work on projects with the theatre company that I am with. I often wonder what it would be like if there were not things like social media or Zoom to stay connected and creative…Would everyone just slowly disappear from loneliness? I am from the disability community and I know the pandemic has been very hard on our group of people. Not everyone has access to technology or even to a smart phone due a lot of times to poverty. During this time, while a lot of us stay connected through different ways, through the arts or friends and family, many people do not.
~Jennifer Stewart
Thankfully, a majority of our ensemble members and participants of our community drama programs, had access to the technology needed to continue through Zoom. We were able to stream two showcase readings from IOT’s playwriting group over Facebook (They’re still there if you’d like to check them out) [facebook.com/IOTYYC]. A prolific and insightful playwright, Mike Keir had his play about the golden age of radio, Lights Out, read at the first one:
 
The first time I heard we were going to do a project over Facebook I wasn’t too sure of it because I don’t use Facebook or Twitter, but we did some play readings and boy was I wrong because I’ve had a lot of positive response. I’m glad we are continuing. With all the activity shutting down and restrictions in place, it can get quite depressing. They may have cancelled the Stampede and cancelled the Olympics, but they couldn’t cancel Inside Out. 
~Mike Keir
 
Mike, as well as another long-time ensemble member, Damon Lawson, also reflected on the big question of who we are now, and what the future of theatre may hold: 
 
To understand theatre as it is now, we must first briefly acknowledge what theatre was before. In the past, theatre was simple performance, presenting stories and emotions though the actions upon a stage for the masses to consume. But, since the virus, the use of a stage has become more deadly than normal, doubly so for masses to gather. By all accounts, this should have killed the theatre. And yet, it persists by the usage of video and online interaction. The theatre has changed its stage to a screen, with the masses scattered but still there. It gives hope for the actors and the viewers that theatre, like society itself, will survive the pandemic. Not to say that there will not be scars, for there will be many and I suspect that will take a great deal of time before we may return our screens to their holdings so that we may take to the stage again. But, once the calamity has passed and scars have faded, the masses will gather, and the stages will come live once again. Until that day, we will take to the screens for our masses, perform to our heart’s passion and be patient for that grand day.
~Damon Lawson
 
Mermaid stargazing in Most Imaginary Worlds by Inside Out Theatre's Point of View Ensemble.

Gaelyn Thomson’s Mermaid stargazing in Most Imaginary Worlds. Photo by Mike Tan.

I know things look different now and that nobody knows what the future of theatre is, or the future of anything for that matter, but I’ll tell you that drama isn’t just performing in a big fancy theatre with a lot of filled seats. Drama is creating the project as well, and if you create, who really cares where or how you perform it as long as it gets to be seen?  As I said, I don’t know too much about Facebook but I do know if you put anything on there, it will be seen, which is good because at this time people need a bit of a distraction from what is going on and a play or story can provide that. I’ve watched a few plays online and it’s been very good, but I would say that I would thoroughly enjoy being able to go back to the theatre even if it’s just to watch a play. Dirty Laundry (the improvised soap opera) has been a big part of my life and it seems like it was ripped out from under me and all of us, but everybody’s going through loss right now. I’d just like to say you can lock me in my house and you can cancel things left and right but you won’t break the spirit of everyone trying to make the world work now.  I’d like to say that, when this whole thing started with the lockdown and everything, I was a bit depressed, but just knowing that things like drama [are] still going was enough to snap me out of it.  If I could say something to each and every drama company out there, let me close with this, let’s turn our cameras on and click the link and keep going.
~Mike Keir
 

Inside Out Theatre logo

The Point of View Ensemble is drawn from members of Inside Out Theatre, a Deaf and disability theatre company in sunny Calgary Alberta equally invested in artistic excellence, community development, and deepening our cultures’ accessibility.

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Tai Amy Grauman

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

 
The following essay was written by actor and playwright Tai Amy Grauman.

ONE YEAR AGO – Tai Amy Grauman | August 12, 2020

Exactly one year ago I was in Paris, getting on a train that was Edinburgh bound. Funny how time works isn’t it?
 
Around this time is also when I decided it was time to move home.
 
Tai Amy Grauman in a field with a horse and a dog.

The author at home in Ardrossan with Sham (the horse) and Molly (the dog).

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Tai. I’m not new to Alberta, but I was gone awhile and I returned about five months ago. I’m Metis Cree and Iroquois. My father is Metis Cree and Iroquois from Frog Lake and Saint Paul and my Mother is Metis Cree from Cutknife Saskatchewan. I grew up in Ardrossan—for those of you who’ve never been there it isn’t even a town… it’s a hamlet. I graduated with the same people I went to elementary school with and I am very blessed to still call those people my best friends. After high school, I moved to Vancouver to get my BFA in Acting from UBC and then I had the absolute privilege of working in Indigenous theatre across the country for three and a half years. I have mentors who have given me so much space and I’ll never be able to repay them. I am an actor, playwright, sometimes a director and a producer. All in all, I am a creator. I am from a long line of powerful and fierce Metis women and I am committing my career to telling their stories on stage.
 
I realized I desperately needed to build myself a home. I was lost.
 
I was in Europe one year ago when I decided it was time to move home. I loved my life but when I was in Paris visiting one of my best friends, I came to the realization that I had lost all grounding. My feet were no longer on the ground. Although I wanted to keep my career as it was (because I absolutely loved my life) I realized I desperately needed to build myself a home. I was lost.
 
Being lost can manifest in so many different ways… for me, it looked like giving my body to all the wrong men, buying too many shoes and obsessing over my appearance. I was on the verge of yet another eating disorder (which would have been my fourth) and in Paris I realized how lost I truly was. And even the beautiful rich Russian man I was making out with along “La Seine” in Paris couldn’t even fill the hole that was carved in my chest.
 
I was homesick for my land. Alberta.
 
I was homesick for Cree men, my childhood best friends, my hamlet of a hometown, my family, my horses but most of all my stories.

If you ask me, my family’s stories are some of the best stories in the whole wide world.
 
And for some reason, all I’ve been able to write for the past three years is love stories about Cree men and Alberta. Intuition is a funny thing isn’t it?
 
My plan was to move home April first, go to Banff for a residency for three weeks where I would translate my play into Michif (which would have been stunning). Then I would have had one month in Edmonton to find an apartment and then I would be going to Drayton Valley to build a show with the Metis community there, then Australia and Colombia with Article 11. Then I would be home for three weeks and then I would head out to Persephone in Saskatchewan to lead Ken Williams’ The Herd, which was doing a big tour to the National Arts Centre. It was the role of a lifetime.
 
Well… of course none of that is happening.
 
I don’t want to deny the amount of heartache this pandemic has caused me…. Cause it’s been a lot. But, one year ago I set the intention to come back to Alberta and build a home.
 
So although I’m not in Australia, I did go ride my horse with my mom today. My birthday was five days ago and instead of being in Paris, I spent it on the floor of my apartment drinking wine with my very oldest and bestest friend who has been with me since our mothers were pregnant. On Saturday I’m getting a puppy. Today I saw my high school best friend’s brand new engagement ring. I went to a BBQ on Canada day with all my best girlfriends from high school and they all hugged me and told me they loved me—they are all about to get married and our lives are vastly different but they still love me. I’m seeing my Michif language teacher tomorrow and we’re going to talk about our star stories. Today, I was reminded that a really hot day will usually bring a thunderstorm in the prairies. About a month ago, I went to the place where my father was born for the very first time. I’ve sat in fields all day and wondered what this land used to look like, before the French arrived and before the Metis people I come from even existed. I’ve imagined who the buffalo were and the wild ponies. I’ve been writing plays by the river and I feel like it’s a place I’ve been before. I walked through a canola field when the flowers were still yellow for the first time in years. I’ve had time to listen to Alberta and her stories.
 
And as the hole in my chest is slowly closing more and more every day, I am remembering who Alberta is and why I yearned for her so deeply. She has called me home and I am here to stay. And against all odds, this pandemic has given me back my home.

Tai Amy Grauman is Metis Cree and Haudenosaunee from Ardrossan, Alberta.  She is an actor and a playwright. 

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Natércia Napoleão

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

 
The following essay was written by theatre artist Natércia Napoleão

Coyuntura 2020

First panel discussion for Coyuntura 2020. Panelists include (left to right): Bárbara Santos, Bea Pizano, Nancy García Loza, Evelina Fernandez and Carmen Aguirre. Photo by Natércia Napoleão.


2020: YEAR OF THE ICONOCLAST – Natércia Napoleão | July 8, 2020


In February of this year, I flew to Vancouver to attend Coyuntura 2020, an international theatre gathering where Latinx theatre artists from all over the world discussed a variety of topics and took workshops led by some of our most innovative leaders.  
 
On the first evening of the weekend gathering, I attended an opening panel discussion. At the end of the discussion there was an opportunity for an open mic question and answer period. Renowned Chilean playwright and moderator Carmen Aguirre invited anyone to come up and to not be shy. A few seconds went by and nobody budged. Then, to my own surprise, I started to feel my legs move and straighten, pushing my body towards the microphone. I had no questions planned for this acclaimed female panel of international Latinx theatre leaders, but I knew I’d find one within three seconds of arrival at the microphone. I took a breath, opened my mouth and nervously said in a low voice “Hi, my name is Natércia Napoleão and I’m an Alberta based Brazilian actress.” I then looked down at my shoes—I could not meet eyes with these powerful women—and added: “Is there hope?” 
 
The answer they gave was not the answer I was expecting. The crux of my question, according to them, was related to more than theatre or art; it was the question of someone who lives against the backdrop of a supercharged political time, when images of fascism can be seen in both my native and adopted cultures. It takes the form of Trump. And Bolsonaro. And immigrant families torn apart at the border. The need to break such images has become a defining drive in artists of colour. 
 
Break the system, break those images. Break them open, break them apart. 
 
Iconoclast. 
 
This word has been following me.  
 
Stemming from the Greek words eikon, meaning “image”, and klastes, meaning “breaker”, the iconoclast is the one who up breaks up old ideas. I see the women on that panel—las veteranas (the veterans)—as the iconoclasts of this movement. And when they included me, I began to see that I too could become part of the answer to my own question about hope. In my corner of the world that means breaking the bedrock of white supremacist theatrical models. 
 
I’m erasing the pyramid and drawing the circle. I’m jumping away from the familiar and falling into the unknown. I’m divorcing atrophy, courting action. I’m cutting ties with silence and weaving threads of meaningful dialogue. I’m walking away from being window dressing and stepping into the downstage light.  
 
It is time for us to break up with our old ideals of theatre.  
 
But in the midst of this break-up, we still feel trapped in the rigid systems we’ve created. The system itself—powered by authoritarian structure and capitalism—is functionally racist. The pyramid of authority keeps an elite few in the position of gatekeeper, whether they want to be or not. The communal voice (the circle) is filtered through the elite, instead of empowered themselves. Those who work for change spend all their time fighting to free their hands from the bureaucratic red tape in our institutions. So we keep bargaining, grasping tightly to our place in the theatre ecology. Justifying that choice because it’s our “right” to be there. And if things do change, where will we belong? 
 
I want to belong. But more than that, I want what is best. These are the questions that will break the image: What  is  best? What does our community need to thrive? How can we be of service to our art form so that it can breathe freely and fulfill its potential? How can we be in service to our diverse audiences? How can we welcome them into the theatre for the first time? How can we teach them that  they  belong? How can we teach our white audiences that diverse stories and bodies belong? What are each of us willing to lose in order to have these uncomfortable, yet necessary, changes?  
 
Our theatre community is in need of healing.  
 
When we have uncomfortable conversations about our racist practices, when we acknowledge how our choices have shaped our community, the deep wounds have a chance to heal. Conversations give us power. 
 
And breath. 
 
And life. 
 
And space.  
 
And tears. 
 
And opportunity. 
 
And collaboration. 
 
And laughter. 
 
And discovery. 
 
And authenticity. 
 
And invitation. 
 
And joy. 
 
And 
 
hope. 
 
At the end of that night in Vancouver, I was standing outdoors speaking to a dear colleague who was enjoying a cigarette. A young person of colour came up to me, interrupted our conversation, took my forearm gently in their hand and looked into my eyes. They said  “Yes. There is  hope,” and walked away.  
 
Hope only survives when there is action to keep it alive. So it’s my belief that we all need to be the iconoclasts of our theatre community. Take action, and look forward to the sweet rewards waiting for all of us on the other side of this moment. 
 
I’m looking forward to the work: to building new traditions and creative modalities; to seeing someone else tearing them apart when they become obsolete; to being afraid and doing it anyway; to taking risks. 
 
I’m looking forward to the relationships: to meeting new faces; to rediscovering someone I thought I had figured out; to listening; to forgiveness; to being a friend. 
 
I’m looking forward to experiencing plays I didn’t even know were possible. I’m looking forward to looking forward. 
 
These are some of the thoughts that have been following me around for a long time, but there’s something about 2020 that has brought them together for me.  
 
This is a new experience. I’m still figuring out how to be active: I’m writing letters, engaging in inspiring conversations, and working with theatre artists on ideas to create meaningful change. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, but it’s getting a little clearer every day.  
 
So I’m feeling hopeful.


Natércia Napoleão (she/her) is a first generation immigrant from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is a theatre artist and community advocate. All other professional titles are currently “To Be Determined”. Follow her on Instagram @natercia_napoleao.

Who Are We Now? Essays from a New World–Mac Brock

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

 
Our next essay was written by playwright Mac Brock.  Reader warning–this particular essay contains 100% of your daily recommended dose of swears.


TAKE A SHOT ON US – Mac Brock | June 23, 2020

If I may be so bold: shit is pretty fucked right now. (I would offer that we both take a shot every time something like that is mentioned throughout this, but we might both be dead by then. You do you, though!)

Companies across our community – and across the world – are being confronted with their status quo, every move and project and choice, and asked to start over. We’re watching our favourite performers through screens, we’re sending emoji instead of hollering from the seats… we’re still sipping a generous pour of red as we watch, but this time we have to buy the whole box ourselves.

We’re testing muscle groups that artists hold dear. How many times can we smile the words “the show must go on” through gritted teeth? We’re watching theatre producers become professional broadcasters in an overnight industrial revolution, and our emerging artists are watching and wondering: What will be left for us on the other side?


Earlier this month, my partner and I take in a night of NextFest and one thing (maybe the pitcher of shitty homemade sangria) leads to another and a debate over the title of “emerging artist.” I’ve never thought much of the term other than a foot in the door for a few grants, but he describes the title as a “high-risk investment” label, not yet ready for the real deal.

Playwright and actor Hayley Moorhouse on her set in Tracks from Amoris Projects. Designed by Elise Jason and Even Gilchrist.

Who decides the value of emergence? Who decides how tall you need to stand on tip toes and eggshells to hop on this Established ride?

Who dials the volume of our community’s voices?

When he says it, I’m taken back to the first theatre class I ever took at a University. At the time, I’m a 19-year-old Saskatchewanian with his first Regina Fringe under his belt and a love for creation and improvisation. I explain this to the professor, and he responds with a pretty slimy smirk (it’s a lot meaner in my memory), and draws a T-chart on the whiteboard.

“So on this side, you have theatre.”

He explains that theatre is professional: it happens in a “real” theatre, with an established text, and certain requirements of “professionalism.”

“On the other, drama.”

Drama is about experimentation, play, training. Devised work, improv, “alternative” styles, they fall under here.

“These things promote mediocrity, but they’re good for confidence.”

He points me out. “That’s where the things you’re talking about fall.”

The word “mediocrity” still leaves a bitter taste just writing it out. It felt like a cheap SNL sketch of an elite theatre instructor. I know that in terms of rough run-ins with a professor I’m among the lucky ones – but this was a day that I learned theatre could be broken with a change to the rules.


I got a nice break working on an arts event right out of high school. I looked up to the producer and was so excited just to have a seat at the table.

That excitement might be why I still remember that producer’s face when they thanked me for being a “polite” young artist. “Not like those other young touchy-feely fags that are always complaining now” and a few other descriptors that my hands don’t want to type out.

I smiled and said “happy to be here,” in fear that if I’d said anything else they might close the door on another LGBTQ2+ emerging artist somewhere down the line.

I know that in terms of rough run-ins with a producer I’m among the lucky ones – but this was a day that I learned theatre could be broken with a step too far of my own queerness.


This was a day I learned theatre could be broken with… a livestream?

Dear artistic leaders, dear Esteemed & Established, dear job-creators and team builders and wearers of all hats, this is a letter to you:

Thank you for your work. Thank you for managing through impossible storms. Our creative world is changing quickly. We’re learning skills we never knew we’d need and re-assessing facets of our work from the ground up. You need emerging artists.

Dancer and actor Moses Kouyaté on their set in Tracks from Amoris Projects. Designed by Elise Jason and Even Gilchrist.

I got into a few arguments in the early days of The Great Pause about whether distanced and digital work counts as theatre – and whether they’d effectively kill theatre as we know it. Another artist told me that working on anything now is just practice for the “real thing” later, with the same sneer I’d felt in school a few years earlier.

This was a day I learned theatre could be broken with… a livestream? A new playing ground?

Frankly, if our art, our industry, is fragile enough to collapse under the threat of a livestream, we should have smashed it to pieces a lot sooner.

You’re in the unimaginable position of having the best laid plans ripped out from under you. No one envies your shoes. But many of us are watching some of our leaders resist the change and rely on the same programming and platitudes, still looking for a way to finish the game when the board’s long been flipped off the table.

The status quo is effectively FUBAR, and you’re looking to a top-to-bottom refresh. My proposal:

You need emerging artists now.

We, the internet-savvy, the streaming experts, the social justice warriors, the burnt-out University students, the howlers into the night, are ready to respond to the moment. And we know how to get you there, too.

Our young artists are told time and time again, it’s about who we know. But I fear it’s been too long since we’ve asked who you know. We see your leadership teams that haven’t budged. We see your teams with no BIPOC voices, no under-30 voices. We see your queer perspectives led solely by cis men who push trans voices further and further to the edges. We see no voices that represent the audiences you claim you’re working to get into seats.

We’re here, doing the work for ourselves, and waiting for our institutions to catch up. Now it’s your turn to flip the game board and get to know us.

…now that you’re back to square one, our value is not in spite of our experience; it is found in the fact that we’re untested like the waters we’ve all been plunged in face-first.

We have the skills you need. Bring us on your staff to change the things that are done because it’s how they’ve always been. Open your rehearsal and creation space to those who’ve never been able to join a room like that before. Look for who’s next, stop waiting for them to stumble across your door. Don’t wait for someone to be ready: none of us are ready for where our industry is or where it’s going.

The word “emerging” has felt like a high-risk investment because we don’t know how to play the game yet. But now that you’re back to square one, our value is not in spite of our experience; it is found in the fact that we’re untested like the waters we’ve all been plunged in face-first.

We all have work to do. I’m speaking from the immense privilege of a white, cis, able-bodied man whose queerness has been used to check off diversity boxes without rocking the boat. But right now you have the opportunity to bet on young people that can open your doors to what comes next.

I’ve tried being polite to keep the door held open, but it’s looking like high time to take it off the hinges. So please forgive me if this comes off impatient:

I’m starting to think you need emerging artists more than we need you.

Now, more than ever. (Never mind, I think I need that shot.)


 

MAC BROCK (he/him) is a Regina-born Edmonton-based administrator, improviser, producer, and playwright (Vena Amoris Projects: Tracks, Boy Trouble). He usually has no idea where he’s going, but he’s pretty excited to get there.

Who Are We Now? Essays From A New World – Helen Knight

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

 
Our next essay was written by actor, writer, and nurse Helen Knight.


OVATIONS OF A COVID KIND – Helen Knight | June 10, 2020

I read once that clapping is like a high five you give yourself for someone else’s accomplishment. And although this cynicism gives me a chuckle, in these physically distant times, a self high-five is perhaps our safest bet. 
 
The idea of applause is a complicated one. I both miss it, and mistrust it. It is both a boisterous non-verbal expression of approval, and also just an instinctual response to having collectively experienced something together. In other words, we don’t always clap when we want to, but simply because we’re social beings in a group. I myself know that I have, maybe once or twice, applauded shows that have been – and please forgive my cold unfeeling heart here – less than brilliant (don’t worry, it wasn’t yours). And heaven help us before we get into the mess of the standing ovation. Does it even mean anything if my mom was the first to stand? Do we all have to stand now? Everyone else is standing, and I didn’t love the show, but now I’m an ass if I’m the only one seated. Or, I did love the show, but now I don’t want to stand now because I am an artist, damnit, not a lemming! 

Or perhaps it’s just my overactive neuroses making all the noise. 
 
I hadn’t been on a stage in months, but I had just gotten home from a long shift at the hospital.
 
A few weeks ago, just after 7pm, a good friend of mine sent me a video she’d taken on her phone. It was a pretty uneventful shot from her apartment downtown, slowly panning back and forth between the seemingly empty apartment doorways and balconies under a relatively grey sky. But the din echoing down the brick lined urban hallway was unmistakable: applause. Whoops, and cheers, and someone somewhere was even banging a pot. “And that,” she remarked matter of factly, “is for you”. I hadn’t been on a stage in months, but I had just gotten home from a long shift at the hospital. I felt exhausted, anxious. And though the “for You” was an overstatement, I found myself overwhelmed by the persistent, warm, percussive wave arching through the air, saying to me and my colleagues, ‘We see you. Thank you. We’ve got your back’.
 
I’ve been a nurse for 16 years, an actor for about 10, which means I’ve had more than a decade feeling conflicted about what career I’m pursuing and how. I’ve known what I’ve wanted to be doing since I was a kid, but bills gotta be paid, and a girl’s gotta find her own way. I finally cut ties to my nursing line a little more than a year ago, choosing to go “casual” so I could actually commit to becoming a full time theater artist instead. It was a thrilling and challenging year.
 
You ever held a limbo pose for more than 6 seconds? It’ll break your back…
 
Was. Because that was in The Before Times. We are now in the … not the After Times, but definitely in the Midst Times? Or, more plainly, just in the midst of the shit, really. I mean, sure my neighbour is making focaccia, and I have time to actually water my plants, but I also can’t hug my nephew. Across the board the 2020 season was cut short and the applause stopped: auditions were cancelled, contracts held, and the promise of a new performance year seems to be in indefinite limbo. You ever held a limbo pose for more than 6 seconds? It’ll break your back, or give you a hernia or, at the very least, you start grunting awkwardly and your face turns red. Point being, it’s ugly, uncomfortable, and nobody was built to maintain it for very long.
 
So what do we do in the meantime? Well, I for one became a nurse. Again. For the first time in a long time the tension between my careers has just disappeared. There is no tension if one half of the rope you’re holding on to suddenly releases. So I found myself swinging very directly and quickly in the only direction left for me to go. And I feel engulfed by it. I am lucky to have a Joe Job to return to, I know it. I also get to leave my home several times a week and, by necessity, spend most of my working hours very much within the intimate 2 meter bubble, touching strangers. And maybe even more crucially, this job gives me a sense of purpose, especially now, when so much is uncertain and chaotic.  
 
Aside from the obvious new COVID protocols, not much has foundationally changed in my day to day nursing activities. I will hold a hand, hold a basin, wash a back and wipe a tear, change a dressing, change a diaper, change a bag, lose a pen and use a stethoscope, sound an alarm, ignore the bells, phone a family, write an entry, titrate and bolus, listen, redirect, and try to relieve pain. I will not go more than 30 seconds without being interrupted and will easily clock 14 thousand steps in my eight hours on the floor. On a good day, I will be able to work like a machine without actually becoming one. 
 
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt less like an artist than I do right now. 
 
My world, like many people’s, has gotten very small. Very practical. My needs are simple: food, shelter, health, family. I am craving the tangible because there is so much that remains ephemeral. Maybe that’s why bread baking has become so popular. And home improvement. And gardening. And even doing non-arts work that we’ve traditionally resented. Extra free time notwithstanding, it is a comfort to have warm bread, and flowers, and new paint on your walls. And work to do. 
 
There is artistry simply in being; in getting through.
 
Some people are riding this wave, with their eyes still on the horizon, seeing possibilities and making meaning out of a confusing time. Some have their eyes on the ground, just watching one foot fall in front of the other, wondering how in the world they’ll ever learn to walk again. Many of us are somewhere in between. And, you know, all of it is okay. Wherever you are right now, whatever you’re doing – or not doing – it’s enough. You’re enough. There is artistry simply in being; in getting through. That is our collective experience. And for that may we all, without reservation or cynicism, fuckin’ self high-five. 

HELEN KNIGHT is a Calgary based actor, writer, battle-axe nurse, and amateur container garden enthusiast – though not necessarily in that order. In the After, she’s looking forward to espressos in bougie cafes, crowded festivals and theatres, and long drawn out hugs with friends.

Who Are We Now? Essays From a New World – Cheryl Foggo

COVID has undoubtedly marked our work indelibly, both in terms of practice and philosophy.  This new, short-term initiative from Theatre Alberta brings you editorial perspectives from within this change written by a variety of artists from our province.  We hope you’ll find them useful in your own processing of this new reality.  

 
We’re honoured to have our first essay from playwright Cheryl Foggo.


NORMAL ISN’T WORKING – Cheryl Foggo | June 3, 2020

John Ware Reimagined Program Cover From Brooks Performance

Before I wrote John Ware Reimagined as a play, it was a presentation/staged reading that toured around small communities with connections to the Ware family in southern Alberta. I witnessed how much cultural and racial diversity has increased in those communities since I was a kid, because People of Colour who were employed at places like the JBS meat packing plant near Brooks attended the presentations in large numbers. Those shows were among the most powerful experiences of my life as an artist. One effusive woman who I believe was originally from Vietnam was disappointed to learn we didn’t have a copy of the music from the piece available for her to purchase and take home. She begged us to make a recording immediately, before the summer ended. “I need that,” she said. We chuckled, she bristled. “You don’t understand!” she said. “I need it! I need to sit on my deck in the evening and listen to this music and remember this night.” Her name has disappeared from my memory, but her face has not. Recalling her is one of the more pleasant distractions available to me right now.

I can normally focus when I’m writing. I can lower myself into the ocean of my project and swim underwater for hours. I don’t need air; I don’t need food. I have wished, in the past, that I could apply that skill to the rest of my life. I’ve never been very good at living in the moment, except when I’m writing. During yoga, my thoughts dart around colourfully, like the fish in my ocean. I panic and try to chivvy myself back into just breathing and being, but that only makes the fish more distracting.
 
I can report, though, that the pandemic has finally brought me to a place of understanding what living in the moment means. For weeks upon weeks I’ve had nowhere else to be except in the moment and place where I am. That hasn’t turned out to be as satisfying as I always envisioned. I thought I would be in moments of my own design. Instead, I am compelled to stay in moments where I don’t want to be. 
 
Every day I wake up to a new horror that has cut down a person who looks like my relatives, or like the woman who needed to listen to the music from John Ware Reimagined on her deck in Brooks. 
 

Jesse Lipscombe (John Ware) and Janelle Cooper (Mildred Ware). Photo credit Clem Martini.

Black people are being murdered by police or citizen racists.  Folks who either are Chinese, or who are just assumed to be Chinese are being beaten up and spat upon. Indigenous men in northern Alberta are murdered while in the act of hunting for food to share with their community suffering through a plague. A Vietnamese woman who was employed in a meat packing plant is dead because our government refused to shut the plant down, even though the terrified workers had been saying for weeks that they weren’t safe. Racial violence isn’t new, we’re all just bearing witness to it more often. 
 
I see artists everywhere in the province uniting in support and survival initiatives. We know our labours give people life. We are aware of our huge contribution to the economy and quality of life in this place. I think artists also understand, better than almost any other sector, that we are in transition and the next few years will be difficult beyond anything most Albertans have endured within our lifetimes.
 

Janelle Cooper preparing for a performance as Mildred Ware. Photo courtesy of Janelle Cooper.

At the same time, artists are also probably the best problem solvers and the most hopeful of sectors. The world sometimes thinks of us as a sad and anxious lot, and sure, we get discouraged and disheartened. But in general? Artists have the problem of staying positive whipped. You wouldn’t stick with it for more than a year, you wouldn’t stay in Alberta if you lacked the ability to remain optimistic. What do we do when writing a play turns terrifying or funding gets pulled?  We vow we’ll never do this to ourselves again, that we’ll finish this one because the actors and director are waiting for the script, but that’s it. Then we get into the rehearsal hall and everything turns beautiful or it goes horribly awry. Regardless, what do we do next? We write another thing. We keep working. Despite the obstacles we face as artists in Alberta (see Matt Wolf’s twitter mockery of Rachel Notley’s suggestion that an artist be appointed to the economic recovery panel. See also the sucker-punch to artists who honoured the March application deadline to AFA) do we carry on because we’re fools? No, we carry on because of people we meet who really needed what we brought to town. Art transfuses and inoculates. Our offerings build the world up. 
 
Still, we have much to do to address racism in the arts here in Alberta. Racism manifests in multiple ways in the creative industries, sometimes overt, other times “invisible” in the way that systemic disadvantage is invisible unless you’re the people on the receiving end of it. I’ve been in situations working with multi-race casts where the lighting techs didn’t have the capacity and equipment to properly light dark-skinned actors. That’s not because the techs were malicious or hateful. That’s because of multiple layers of systemic racism. Maybe it never came up during their training. Maybe the theatre didn’t bother buying the right gels. Maybe throughout their career they’ve never been on a crew where they had to light dark skin. 
 
Having to confront direct or passive aggressive racism in situations where all we actually want is to focus on our craft is tiring. It’s tiring in a different way from the weariness inflicted by waking up every day to a new horror, but it’s all from the same root. The cumulative effect is crushing.    
 
I wonder if the meat packing plant workers I met on that warm fragrant night in Duchess, Alberta are dead because we didn’t value their lives. I dread more deaths to come because of hate. I don’t want the world to go back to normal. Normal wasn’t and isn’t working for many. 


Cheryl Foggo is a multiple award winning author, playwright and filmmaker, whose work focusses on the lives of Western Canadians of African descent. Her play, John Ware Reimagined, won the 2015 Gwen Pharis Ringwood Award.