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The Engagement Lab

Pinocchio – Alberta Musical Theatre Company
Photo Credits
Engagement Lab

Inspired by a conversation between rocket scientist CJ Giovingo, and social justice warrior Autumn Brown (from the podcast How to Survive the End of the World), Engagement Lab is an immersive and intimate experimental “lab” to ask theatre-makers in Alberta how we can create a more equitable arts ecology and transform the relationship between historically marginalized artists and Alberta’s predominantly white theatre institutions (PWIs). The dream: offer a brave, caring, and deeply compassionate facilitated space in which participants have the opportunity to practice tools and fully engage with resources for anti-oppressive/anti-bias theatre practice offered in the program. We will reflect upon and explore the specific fears and hesitations our communities have regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion, and in turn grow and foster agency for real change and boundary-building capacity. This is an opportunity to work in community to try, fail, learn, keep accountable, and try again.

In a commitment to fostering shared learning and unwavering transparency, we are thrilled to present the Engagement Lab Final Report!

Born from a vision to bridge the gaps in conversations surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within the theatre community, The Engagement Lab was a transformative program that spanned from December 2021 to March 2023. With an innovative approach, we analyzed current EDI efforts and co-designed strategies in pace with the community’s needs, fostering collaboration and shared leadership among 20 artists from historically marginalized communities and 18 artistic leaders operating within colonial structures. This was a space where curiosity thrived, and the goal was to spark positive change. We express our heartfelt gratitude to all participants, sponsors, and the community for the opportunity to embark on this journey towards a more equitable theatre arts ecology. Join us as we unveil the findings and insights!

The Engagement Lab Cast!

Over the last year and a bit, The Engagement Lab dove into a soft scientific process looking at the question “What happens when we bring our communities together to explore conversations around community capacity, equity, sustainability and intentional change?”

Along the way we began to document our process through a podcast, including conversations with instructors, mentors and the administrative team around the challenges, the process and the successes of our endeavour.

The Engagement Lab Cast is possible with the initial support from three local foundations to transition our ALL IN Program to the 35//50 initiative and The Engagement Lab, the foundations were The Edmonton Community Foundation, Calgary Foundation, and the Rozsa Foundation.

We’re thrilled to announce that The Engagement Lab is supported by both Alberta’s Ministry of Culture: Community Initiatives Program and the Canada Council for the Arts. Theatre Alberta is grateful to our operating funders, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Edmonton Arts Council, and Calgary Arts Development.

EPISODES

For our inaugural episode, Co-Hosts Andrés Moreno and Jesse Del Fierro sit down to discuss the impetus of the lab, their fears, and dreams of the journey we are embarking on! Welcome to the conversation!

In Episode 2, Jesse and Andrés introduce us to JD Derbyshire and Adrienne Wong as we discuss some of the discoveries we made at our December 2021 in-person Banff retreat. We reflect on the structure of the Engagement Lab as it has been so far, and consider the ways we can adjust as we move forward in this year long Journey.

We introduce our next Engagement Lab guests Eaman/Amy Thompson and Evren Salja. As two art-engaged counselors, they bring to us an opportunity to reflect on the ways our different identities intersect and how these parts of ourselves influence the way we interact with and within community.

It’s the midway point! Our hosts Jesse Del Fierro and Andrés Moreno sit down to chat about the process and to give us a peek into the changes happening in the lab. They talk about all the lessons, the hurdles, and the truth behind “building a movement.”

Session 5 Panelists Shima Robinson, Heidi Taylor and Cole Alvis sit down to chat about joy, failure, being the novice and above all keeping the relationships alive.

Our Guest Makram Ayache, discusses their experience as a queer Muslim artist and the challenges they face in the art world. They touch on issues of representation and authenticity in art and the pressure to perform identities, the relationship between art and activism, and the tension between immediate action and long-term, transformative change. Come join us for a great conversation about the role of art in shaping ethics and engaging in conversations about social justice.

Adrienne Wong and JD Derbyshire, collaborators and mentors, discuss their role in the Theatre Alberta Lab. They reflect on their experience working with Jesse and Andrés and processing the design of the Engagement Lab. They describe themselves as “spotters on the trampoline,” providing support and guidance while allowing the participants to create and explore. They acknowledge the challenges of their roles and the importance of boundaries. They also reflect on the shifts and changes that occurred throughout the lab and how it affected the participants’ experience.

In the final episode, the hosts of the Engagement Lab reflect on their journey, expressing gratitude for everyone involved. They discuss the importance of embracing failure and finding beauty in both successes and failures. They emphasize the ongoing nature of their work and they commit to continuing the work together as a community.

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