Beyond Representation: Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice

This symposium intends to move the discussion beyond representation, beyond identity politics, and beyond tolerance to explore and propose ways in which diverse cultures can actively, productively, and creatively come together in theatrical practices that issue in exciting and challenging new theatrical forms.

STIPULATED

FOR

THE

RECORD

DIVERSITY IS GOOD.

 Now, take two big steps forward.

Every aesthetic has implications.

Every role holds responsibility.

Every position has a blindspot.

Let’s work from that premise, outwards, but let’s work. 

 

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, 

Keynote Speaker

BEYOND REPRESENTATION: CULTURAL DIVERSITY AS THEATRICAL PRACTICE

What might it mean for theatre professionals to think of culture as a practice rather than an identity, what people do rather than who they are? What creative opportunities might be presented if directors, dramaturges, designers, and actors took advantage of the diverse cultural forms and processes that are embodied and inhabited by Canada’s diverse theatrical communities in the exploration of new, inter-or cross-cultural forms? What would it mean to consider the studio and the stage as sites at which culturally diverse practices and forms are brought together for mutual enrichment, negotiation, and exchange? In what ways might these forms create new aesthetic possibilities that move beyond Euro-American traditions that have historically marginalized ethnic minorities?

For many years there have been discussions of the representation of minoritized cultures on Canada’s stages, of casting, and of cultural stereotypes. Much of this discussion has issued from practices based on identity politics, on the one hand, or cultural tokenism, on the other, when many in “the mainstream” attempt to practice “inclusion.”

This symposium intends to move the discussion beyond representation, beyond identity politics, and beyond “tolerance” to explore and propose ways in which diverse cultures can actively, productively, and creatively come together in exciting and challenging new theatrical practices and forms.

SUNDAY EVENING

MONDAY MORNING

Opening Reception

Keynote address by Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

In the Ada Slaight Hall @ 6pm on Sunday April 9th.

Opening Reception Sponsors: Modern Drama and Canadian Theatre Review

Keynote Speaker Sponsor: Canadian Consortium for Politics and Performance in the Americas (Funded by SSHRC)

Directing Across Difference

In the Aki Studio @ 10am on Monday April 10th.

This panel will be concerned with “practicing difference,” exploring techniques for how directors working with actors, dramaturges and designers can take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the presence of people of different cultures, abilities, backgrounds, training, and traditions in the rehearsal hall and studio, and in performance.

Panelists: Jill Carter, Ravi Jain, Jiv Parasram (Chair), Karin Randoja, Guillermo Verdecchia

MONDAY AFTERNOON

MONDAY AFTERNOON

Beyond Accents

In the Aki Studio @ 1:30PM on Monday April 10th.

This panel focuses on the various languages of the theatre, on translation, on acting with accents, on signing, and on supertitles in order to explore techniques by which linguistic differences (interpreted broadly) can be used as tools for the creation of new theatrical forms.

PANELISTS: Cynthia Ashperger, Marjorie Chan (Chair), Julia Lenardon, Shelley Liebembuk, Catherine MacKinnon

 

 

The Critical Difference

In the Aki Studio at 3:50PM on Monday April 10th.

How can theatre critics find inspiration from theatrical practices that emerge from diverse cultures (interpreted broadly)? How can they learn to watch culturally specific and intercultural shows with new eyes, welcoming difference beyond clichés about tolerance, tokenism, representation, and universalism? Have the professional practices of the Euro-American theatre tradition limited our understandings of what “good theatre” is or can be? What is the critical practice of difference?

PANELISTS: Carly Maga, J. Kelly Nestruck, Glenn Sumi, Harvey Young (Chair)

TUESDAY MORNING

TUESDAY AFTERNOON

Intercultural and Activist Theatrical Practice 

In the Aki Studio @ 10am on Tuesday April 11th.

What are the ethics of staging the stories of immigrants or refugees, especially when the creative team does not share the same experiences? Can a multilingual theatre rescript how cultural difference is understood? What are the creative potentials of thinking about cross-cultural translation as a performance practice? How can street-level activism generate new culturally pluralistic theatrical forms?

PANELISTS: Spy Dénommé-Welch (Chair), Yasmine Kandil, Diana Manole, Yana Meerzon and Harvey Young

Gender Fluidity and Theatrical Practice

In the Aki Studio @ 1:30PM on Tuesday April 11th. 

This facilitated community convening organized by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA) asks how performance award categories might better acknowledge artistic practices that move beyond the gender binaries of “Outstanding Performance-Female” and “Outstanding Performance-Male.” Using Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards as the conversation starter, an invited panel of speakers will help unpack the practice of gender fluidity and equality beyond issues of representation and identity politics. What new aesthetic and political possibilities are generated for directors, designers, and actors in rehearsal and performance? How might critics and juries take such opportunities and possibilities into account?

PANELISTS: Sze-Yang Ade-Lam, Alec Butler, Brendan Healy (Chair), Gein Wong

Symposium Co-chairs

Postmarginal - Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice

Natalie Alvarez – Co-Chair – Associate Professor, Brock University

Natalie Alvarez is Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University. Her performance studies scholarship on cultural difference and political performance has been published widely in international journals and essay collections and she is currently at work on three forthcoming books: Stages of Difference: Immersive Simulations and the Politics of Knowing (U of Michigan Press), funded by SSHRC; Theatre& War (Palgrave Macmillan); and the co-edited collection Sustainable Tools for Precarious Times: Performance Actions in the Americas (Palgrave Macmillan). She is the editor of Latina/o Canadian Theatre and Performance and Fronteras Vivientes: Eight Latina/o Canadian Plays (both with Playwrights Canada Press).

Postmarginal - Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice

Ric Knowles – Co-Chair – Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph

Ric Knowles has worked as a director and dramaturge in Canada for over 30 years, most recently working with Modern Times, Factory, Cahoots, the MT Space, the Red Snow Collective/Aluna Theatre, the Chocolate Woman Collective, and Artcle 11/NAC. Ric is Professor Emeritus of Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph and the award-winning author and editor of 18 books on theatre and performance, including Theatre and Interculturalism, “Ethnic,” Multcultural, and Intercultural Theatre, Performing Indigeneity, and Performing The Intercultural City.

Keynote Speaker

Postmarginal - Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard – Keynote Speaker

Donna-Michelle St. Bernard is an emcee, playwright, agitator who is constantly transgressing someone’s territory.  She is artistically inquisitive, politically messy, a Dora-award-winning playwright, two-time nominee for the Governor General’s Award for Drama, a mentor, editor, and administrator.  As coordinator of the AdHocAssembly and artistic director of New Harlem Productions in Toronto she stands behind her company’s motto: “speak truth. hold power”.

Panelists

Directing Across Diversity

Jill Carter (Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi) is a Toronto-based theatre practitioner and scholar. She has worked as a Performer, Director, Dramaturg, and Acting Instructor. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor with the Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies; Indigenous Studies; and the Transitional Year Programme at the University of Toronto.

Karin Randoja is a director, actor, teacher and singer/composer working mostly in devised performance. Award nominations include Dora Awards, The Capital Circle Critic’s Award and the Prix Rideau. Her work has been seen in Australia, Denmark, India, Italy, France, England, Japan, and Mozambique. She is also a teacher/director at Humber College.

Jivesh Parasram (Chair) is a multidisciplinary artist, facilitator, and cultural worker. He is the founding Artistic Producer at Pandemic Theatre (www.pandemictheatre.ca), Associate Artistic Producer at Theatre Passe Muraille, and a core member of The Wrecking Ball. He was part of the 2016 Cultural Leaders Lab with the TAC and Banff Centre.

Soheil Parsa, artistic director of Modern Time Stage Company, is an award-winning director, actor, writer, dramaturg, choreographer, and coach whose professional theatre career spans 32 years and two continents.

Guillermo Verdecchia is a multiple-award-winning writer, director, dramaturge, and translator. He is currently working on an adaptation of The Conference of the Birds with Soheil Parsa.

The Critical Difference

Carly Maga is a theatre critic for the Toronto Star, and has covered Toronto theatre since 2010. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University and a Master of Theatre and Performance Studies from York University. She also serves as a board member for the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.

J. Kelly Nestruck, a two-time winner of the Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Critical Writing, has been the theatre critic at The Globe and Mail since 2008. He has also previously held positions at the National Post and The Guardian and was a guest critic at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in 2013. He grew up between Montreal and Winnipeg, two great theatre cities,and holds a Master’s from the from the Centre for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto.

Ric Knowles has worked as a director and dramaturge in Canada for over 30 years, most recently working with Modern Times, Factory, Cahoots, the MT Space, the Red Snow Collective/Aluna Theatre, the Chocolate Woman Collective, and Artcle 11/NAC. Ric is Professor Emeritus of Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph and the award-winning author and editor of 18 books on theatre and performance, including Theatre and Interculturalism, “Ethnic,” Multcultural, and Intercultural Theatre, Performing Indigeneity, and Performing The Intercultural City.

Glenn Sumi is Associate Entertainment Editor at NOW Magazine, where he assigns, edits and contributes to the film and stage sections. For three years he was a weekly contributor to CTV NewsChannel’s arts coverage. He’s a member of the Toronto Theatre Critics Association and the Toronto Film Critics Association.

Harvey Young holds an honours degree from Yale University and a PhD from Cornell. His research on the performance and experience of race has been widely published in academic journals, profiled in The New YorkerThe Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education and cited in The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Former editor of Theatre Survey, the journal of the American Society for Theatre Research, Harvey has published seven books, including Embodying Black Experience, winner of “Book of the Year” awards from the National Communication Association and the American Society for Theatre Research and, most recently, Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater (coauthored with Mecca Zabriskie). 

Beyond Accents

Cynthia Ashperger has worked as a theatre director, writer, actor and producer for the last thirty years. She teaches Acting at Ryerson School of Performance where she is also the Director of Acting Program. The question of language and identity is the main theme of her satirical Tongue Play with an upcoming production at Parados Festival at Ryerson in June.

Samreen Aziz is a community artist whose recent acting credits include MURDER U for Cream Productions (2014), and Peter Cockett’s CAS9: Redesign a Human, a probing look into genetic manipulation and the ethical implications of preserving Deaf culture.

Marjorie Chan (Chair) is a multidisciplinary artist born and raised in Toronto, working as playwright, librettist, dramaturge and director. Her works for the stage have been performed in the United States, Scotland, Hong Kong, Russia and across Canada. Marjorie is the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre since 2013, where her focus has been on artist incubation and development, community arts access as well as advocacy for a broadening inclusivity in theatre for artists and audiences alike. www.cahoots.ca

Julia Lenardon is a professional Voice/Speech/Dialect coach for film/tv and theatre.

Theatre: Broadway: voice coach for MATILDA the MUSICAL at the Shubert Theatre;  Off Broadway: English Clarification coach for Gad Elmaleh at Carnegie Hall. Film/tv includes: Dialect coach for CARDINAL, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, BROOKLYN, ON THE ROAD.Teaching: The American Academy of Dramatic Art, The National Theatre School of Canada, The Banff-Citadel Professional Theatre Program.

Shelley Liebembuk is a theatre scholar and dramaturge. She is conducting research on multilingual dramaturgy in Canadian-Latinx performance as a 2017 postdoctoral fellow funded by the Canadian Consortium on Performance and Politics in the Americas.  She holds a PhD from the University of Toronto’s Graduate Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.

Intercultural and Activist Theatrical Practice

Spy Dénommé-Welch (Chair) is a writer, composer, and scholar of mixed Indigenous descent. He is an Assistant Professor at Brock University, and has an active research/creative portfolio. He co-created the Dora-nominated opera, Giiwedin, and is now completing his second opera with collaborator Catherine Magowan. His latest vocal-chamber work (composed with collaborator Magowan) entitled, Sojourn, will premiere at the Luminato Festival as part of Signal Theatre’s dance opera Bearing.

Yasmine Kandil is an Assistant Professor at Brock University’s Department of Dramatic Arts.  Her areas of research are in Theatre for Development with people who are marginalized, the ethics of Applied Theatre practice, and Testimonial Theatre in Post-revolution Egypt.

Diana Manole is a Romanian-Canadian writer, translator, theatre director, and scholar. She has published nine books (poems, short fiction, plays), as well as peer-reviewed articles/chapters on exilic, multicultural, and postcolonial theatre, the performance of national identity, directing, and transcultural adaptation. Her article, “Accented Actors: From Stage to Stages via a Convenience Store” (TRiC, 2015), pioneered the study of foreign/immigrant accents in theatre and performance.

Yana Meerzon teaches for University of Ottawa, Department of Theatre. Her research interests and publications include Theatre of exile and migration; Cultural and interdisciplinary studies; and Russian drama and theatre. Her recent publications include Performing Exile – Performing Self: Drama, Theatre, Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); co-edited volumes History/Memory/Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov (Routledge, 2015), and “Theatre and Immigration” (special issue), Theatre Research in Canada, (Fall 2015)

Harvey Young holds an honours degree from Yale University and a PhD from Cornell. His research on the performance and experience of race has been widely published in academic journals, profiled in The New YorkerThe Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education and cited in The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Former editor of Theatre Survey, the journal of the American Society for Theatre Research, Harvey has published seven books, including Embodying Black Experience, winner of “Book of the Year” awards from the National Communication Association and the American Society for Theatre Research and, most recently, Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater (coauthored with Mecca Zabriskie). 

Gender Fluidity and Theatrical Practice

Sze-Yang Ade-Lam is a queer asian dancer, martial artist, storyteller & community developer.  Sze-Yang shares stories through movement for self love & empowerment, as an independent artist, and as part of ILL NANA/DiverseCity Dance Company. Sze-Yang is committed creating more accessible dance education and performance opportunities for communities underrepresented in the arts!

Alec Butler is a Non-binary activist, awarded the Toronto Community Foundations “Vital Person Award” in 2006 for their leadership in the community, they have presented over 300 workshops as a policy analysis and workshop facilitator with the Trans Access Project at the 519. An award-winning playwright and filmmaker, their play Black Friday was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Alec is the author of the plays Shakedown, Claposis, Medusa Rising, and two one-person shows, Hardcore Memories and Ruff Paradise, performing as a “dyke punk iconoclast” in the 1990’s and as a Two-Spirit trans man in 2005. Recently, their story of growing up Intersex was featured on the BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36092431

Brendan Healy is a Toronto-based director. His shows have garnered multiple Dora Mavor Moore Awards and he is a recipient of the Ken McDougall and the Pauline McGibbon awards for directing. Between 2009-2015, he was the Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Brendan is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada (where he is also a regular instructor) and he recently completed a Masters in International Arts Management, in a program jointly offered by the Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), l’École des hautes études commerciales (Montréal, Québec), and the SDA Bocconi School of Management (Milan, Italy).

Gein Wong is an interdisciplinary director and artist of First Nations and Asian descent who is Two-Spirited and Queer.   She sits on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Arts Council and is a member of the inaugural TAC Cultural Leaders Lab. She conceived and directed “Say Their Names, Remember”, a 500 person performance piece which will opened the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  She co-created “The Forgetful City”, a site specific interactive video installation that reopened the RC Harris Water Filtration Plant in Toronto – an art-deco castle closed to the public for a decade due to 9/11. In 2014, World Pride commissioned her to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by creating a large scale immersive performance experience to remember Stonewall. Gein is Artistic Director of Eventual Ashes and a co-owner of the world’s oldest LGBT bookstore, Glad Day Bookshop.

So what is postmarginal?

Modern Times co-founders Soheil Parsa and Peter Farbridge explain how the company’s work inspired the project ‘Postmarginal’.

 

Where did the idea for this project come from?

Soheil Parsa: I’ve always wanted to be considered as a theatre artist first and foremost, but there is no denying that Modern Times has been working in an intercultural way for years, and that this has become a part of the company’s identity. These days I am very curious to understand how our particular approach to interculturalism can contribute to the cultural diversification of Toronto’s stages. I would like to see the walls isolating diversity in the theatre to come down, really come down.

Peter Farbridge: With the project “Postmarginal”, we are proposing that working in an intercultural environment can be other things than simply a social exercise. I believe that Modern Times and other companies have successfully shown over the years that the integration of diversity constitutes a new way of exploring theatre, an unconscious expression of creation, on par with, let’s say, post-modernism.


How has your history in the company shaped these beliefs?

Parsa: The cultural differences between Peter and I are something that we successfully navigated very early on in our professional relationship as director and actor. We came together from two separate worlds, always focused on the work, and this give and take was important to shaping how I view intercultural creation now–there is the recognition that the ‘other’ is always a part of us somewhere.

Farbridge: In a way, it’s also why we’re proposing two sides to Postmarginal. First, the practical workshop explores directing and acting by examining relationships of difference in rehearsal. The  symposium examines the artistic and, to a lesser degree, systemic processes by which cultural diversity can become completely integrated into theatre creation in widely-accepted techniques.


So what does “Postmarginal” mean?

Farbridge: It’s a term that could be used to describe a new approach to creating theatre in which ‘us’ and ‘them’ can interact creatively in such a way that both become transformed.

Parsa: It’s not about replacing specific cultural perspectives–I work a lot in my own community, the Persian community, and feel very rewarded by the experience. I am proud of my roots. All these wonderful sources of creation, culturally specific or not, are so important to the fabric of the city. For some communities, identity politics are a very necessary artistic endeavour. We are simply proposing a new approach to creation that can add a layer of diversity in theatre- making.


What do you hope to get out of the symposium ‘Beyond Representation’?

Farbridge: We are bringing together some of the most interesting creators and people invested in cultural diversity to talk about this idea in a more profound way. We are interested in hearing from the community to debate its merits and its drawbacks. Our hope is that we can discuss openly about how integrating cultural diversity into the arts can be a source of creative inspiration, and not only a political necessity.

For more details on how Modern Times transforms diversity into practice, please check out this great interview with Soheil in Intermission Magazine.

Postmarginal - Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice