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 – 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 – 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.